Friday, May 3, 2013

Show Me The Awesome: An Awesome First Year

Banner courtesy of John LeMasney via
This post is part of Show Me The Awesome: 30 Days of Self-Promotion, an initiative by Sophie, Liz, and Kelly. To learn more, click those links or check out #30awesome on twitter. 

How To Have a Successful First Year in 10 Easy Steps:

1.     Get lucky- the first and most important step was to be lucky enough to have strong administrative support for new initiatives and wonderful students who were enthusiastic about everything
2.     Weed, weed, then weed more… no really you must weed
I cannot overstate the necessity of weeding in a school library.  If you have students who cannot use the library because of mold allergies, if you can’t wear black to work because of the amount of dust that clings to you, if you have no room for a single extra book on a shelf, you must weed.  Since beginning weeding this year, we have increased the average age of the collection by 20 years.  Because new things can come in and stand out on the shelves, we have had six times the number of checkouts this year than we had last year.
3.     Goals/greats- it’s important to know what you want to do and to remind yourself of things that are going well.  It can be frustrating when things aren’t the way you envisoned.  Having a notebook where I wrote monthly goals and “Greats” (things that I was proud of/things that worked) really helped me to see that great things were happening, even when I was discouraged.
4.     Communicate- I found that many students and faculty didn’t know the wonderful things that were happening, so I made it my goal to show them.  From quarterly full length newsletters to monthly “Mini-News” with new purchases, top checkouts, and who was seen in the library, to infographics about checkout increases, to announcements at our all-school assembly, to creating this blog, learning to tweet, and just generally annoying people by talking about the library all the time, I shared much and often and in many different mediums!
5.     Listen- I sent out surveys, talked to students, put up a requests board and tried to stay in touch with what was new and popular.   I tried never to say no to a reasonable request.  I wasn’t afraid to change policies that students didn’t respond well to.  For instance, DVD’s were not easily accessible to students and weren’t generally interesting to them.  I’ve worked to increase that collection and brought it out onto the main floor.  We had basically no Young Adult literature in August, but since I’ve increased that collection and given it special shelving, its’ circulation has increased seven-fold.  The physical space is more fun, with more collaborative areas and hang-out space in response to student requests.  Our renovated library will have a coffee shop and more enclosed study rooms as well.  It’s critical to listen to what our students want because they are the primary users!
6.     Have fun- The library has become a place associated with fun!  I held evening activities such as 80s Night where we danced to 80s music, dressed up and examined the 80’s books and magazines.  There were movie nights using the projector and white boards, Christmas storytelling by the giant book tree, a webcast with John Green, a Book Fair, and many other events just to get students in the library to see what we had going on.
7.     Get Help- I am a solo, first-year librarian with no paid clerical help.  The student assistant program has been an invaluable resource.  I give them lots of responsibility and train them in all areas of library service.  They help check out, catalog, do inventory, come up with the best ideas and bring their friends in to participate as well.  I love that this program brings me closer to the students and helps them to increase their sense of ownership in the library.  Who knows, there may be a future librarian among them?!
8.     Stay current/share ideas- Since I am a solo librarian in a very rural area, I have had to work extra hard to find library mentors and colleagues.  Luckily, I am a member of several professional organizations such as VAASL (Virginia Assn. of School Librarians), AISL (Assn. of Independent School Librarians) and AASL.  I am so grateful for the ways in which these associations, their listserv’s and conferences have impacted my ability to stay current in the field.  I am able to network with other librarians in similar situations and it is so nice to have new friends who love the things that you love!  Blogs, twitter and webinars have also become very important parts of my professional development now that I am on my own in the library.  It’s amazing what wonderful ideas you can find from your online peers!
9.     Be patient- I’ve learned that it is very important to stay calm and accept that it won’t all happen in a year.  There are many 2nd tier projects and Year Two (and onward!) goals.  It’s important to realize that people need time to make decisions and that you need time to get to know the school and community in order to be effective.  This shouldn’t hold you back from starting off on the right foot, but it should give you comfort when things aren’t all going as smoothly as you had hoped.
10. Finally, enjoy the payoff- I am so looking forward to coming back to a new library in August and to seeing the kids’ excitement.  I can’t wait to watch teachers working in the spaces that we’ve designed and to hear from alumni who are happy with what we’ve accomplished.  

Do you have any first-year success stories?  What’s worked in your libraries?  Please share!

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