Things I Learned in a School Library

I worked in a secondary school library for just over one year, not very long in the scheme of things, but that experience taught me a lot and also helped me into my current job. Apologies for quite a long post but I thought I would share some of the things I learned.

Customer service

  • I gained so much customer service experience and improved my skills as a result of working in a school library. Verbal communication was a daily challenge. Explaining library procedures to 12 year olds required real care so that they could take in the information. Instructions needed to be as concise and clear as possible, if-then statements worked, and always say please and thank you!
  • Which brings me to the improvement in my manners because treating people how you want to to be treated is essential when working with young people both to model good behaviour and maintain credibility. If I had to tell a student off, I then tried to be extra nice to them to show that even though their behaviour/attitude was out of line, I still respected them as a person and wanted to help them as best I could. It’s unrealistic to expect to be respected if you’re disrespectful yourself.
  • Consistency is another important aspect of customer service, especially in a school library. Consequences for overdue/lost books had to be applied consistently and information given had to toe the line as well.
  • Creative thinking was another aspect of customer service I developed because I spent a lot of time helping reluctant readers find books. This involved asking questions, figuring out what they were interested in outside school, making comparisons to pop culture, connecting improving reading and literacy with a life goal (like passing your driving theory test)…you name it, it was worth a try. Those experiences forced me think creatively and develop my interpersonal skills.

Teaching and instruction

  • Observing many teachers teach every day, something was bound to rub off. Through my school library experience, I learned a lot about teaching, learning styles, different instructional approaches and special educational needs, as well as Ofsted, school governance, assessment and national curriculums. I did also gain some experience in instruction and delivering material myself, which was one of the main goals I had set for myself for that year. I delivered training on the Accelerated Reader scheme to students and staff, both formally in training sessions and informally across the library counter.

Behaviour management

  • This was a major aspect of the job as I was working with students most of the day in lessons and supervising them in the library outside lesson time. I had very little experience of behaviour management previously, so I was learning on the job. One advantage was that since I worked with so many different teachers, I could observe what they did that worked (or didn’t) and then try to implement that myself. I had to be very proactive about improving this skill as the behaviour was quite poor. This meant asking advice from others on how I could have dealt with a situation better and blagging my way onto a behaviour management training day put on for the teachers. I also had to learn to shout and sound angrier than I was, neither of which I ever got very good at.
  • The key thing I learned was that you had to be consistent all the time, because if you let a student off once or ignore something, you then undermine the whole system. However this was extremely difficult as it takes so much energy and of course everyone across the school had to be on board.
  • Positive redirection was another important concept. For example if a student was off task, instead of saying, “Stop doing that. You’re not doing what I asked. Why aren’t you doing xyz?”, you would get them to think and redirect themselves back on task by saying something like, “So what are you going doing to do next?” Smiling and looking really expectant helped too. Basically the idea was to focus on the positive rather than emphasising negative behaviour which only reinforces that this is what gets attention.

Solo working

  • Though I supported lessons and teachers all the time, it was really a solo job. There was no head librarian, it was just me. This taught me about taking initiative, seeking advice and feedback, and time management. I also got involved with support networks such as SLN who were a vital lifeline when I needed support from other school library folks.

Subject knowledge

  • The library collection focused on titles that were on the Accelerated Reader scheme that would be of interest to our users. Unsurprisingly, most of the stock was young adult fiction. I was familiar with many of the books such as Harry Potter, Eragon and Twilight, but I sure did learn a lot about this subject area and the many wonderful authors who are also great library advocates – Alan Gibbons, Cathy Cassidy, Neil Gaiman, Tom Palmer, to name a few! I wish I could have read more of them (The Book Thief is still on my list). Whenever I go in a bookstore now, I enjoy having a quick browse of the teen section to see what’s new.

So there’s a year distilled into five points. I hope it was informative. If you are interested in school librarianship, here are some more resources to check out:

Heart of the School blog – A blog by school librarian Caroline Roche.

Barbara Band blog – Blog by school librarian and current CILIP President, Barbara Band.

CILIP School Libraries Group – useful if you’re a CILIP member.

SLA (School Libraries Association) – supports anyone involved with school libraries not just professional librarians.

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