A Portrait of the Teacher as a Young Librarian

*Guest post by Seth Carlson*

I’m going to preface this by (1) saying I’m not Christina, I’m Seth, the new Middle and Upper School Librarian at Saint Stephen’s, and (2) apologizing that there aren’t any bits of practical advice or helpful tips the way there are in most of these posts. This is just one newcomer’s impression of what it’s been like to don the librarians’ robes. If that sounds interesting, read on! If not, the regular, useful posts will be back soon! 

The students keep asking me if I’m happier in my new role as librarian than I was in my old one as physics teacher, and it’s weird to me how frustrating one small word can make a question. It’s not a comparison to me. I wasn’t unhappy teaching physics, but I am really excited to be taking on the new challenges the library offers. Because I’m in the somewhat unusual position of moving from teaching to librarianship at the same school, Christina suggested I take over her AISL blogging account and write about what it’s been like. I sincerely hope you all know how amazing and important your work is already, but I’ll try to give a sense of what it’s been like diving in during my first two months. As a nod to the Book Awards my school gives students based on their particular skills and interests, I’m going to do this Book Award style.

The Lord of the Flies Award for not knowing what I don’t know. (This was an introduction to symbolism for me, and wow did I not pick up on it at first.)

This award goes to the collection, for suddenly seeming much larger and more daunting than I realized. Christina was in charge of the Middle and Upper School library on her own for the last fifteen years, but I’ve helped out some here and there and read, ummm, a very few of the books, it turns out. How does one learn what the thousands of books in one’s care are really about? I’ve been trying to do some random book tastings (I mostly refrain from actually licking them!)  at least a couple of times a day, but often when a student comes in asking if we have a book I say, “Let’s find out together!”

Also, right now the first sentence of the last paragraph is reminding me that every time I think the words “the collection,” they’re in a booming voice with dramatic music swelling. It’s kind of fun.

The Fellowship of the Ring “Mines of Moria” Award for dark, slightly concerning corners

This goes to the Study Pod, which didn’t have working lights for a month and a half. This award might be more literal than others. (As far as I know, there were no Balrog sightings …)

The A Room of One’s Own Award

Presented to Christina’s new office (which is still in the library, but is now slightly farther away in the library) because she’s calling it “a room of my own.” I would like to emphasize that I am 95% certain that the fact she is calling it that is meant as a cheeky reference to the book title and reaching a new state of adulthood where she can close a door to the surprises of the library on occasion.

Honorable mention for this award goes to the physics lab, for really, really not feeling like my room anymore. When I go in there now, after twelve years of teaching physics, it isn’t nearly as messy as it used to be!

The From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler Award for how many more things I have to keep track of as a librarian

This goes to my calendar. I never actually had to keep a digital calendar of my own as a teacher (we have a school one that has important dates when things like comments or grades are due). I knew that would change, but I didn’t realize the true level of change. I actually have three digital calendars right now and one in print: one for the library, one for the reading room, and two for me. 

The Things Fall Apart Award

This award is given to my Google Drive and about 10,000 Post-it notes. I desperately need to reorganize my Google Drive, or future Seth is going to be really mad next fall when he can’t find any of the things from this fall. But how do I do it – by subject, then class? Do I need grade-level folders? Do I create overarching folders by month? Do I include notes on managing the space somewhere?

The Post-it notes are only for things that I want to deal with as soon as possible. Some of them are two weeks old.

Let’s move on.

The Odd Couple Award

This goes to getting to co-teach. When I worked at The Seas at EPCOT, my favorite days were the ones where we had large school groups and I would get to co-teach our conservation lessons with other instructors. It’s so energizing to get to bounce ideas back and forth with someone else building on what I’m doing in real time. When planning a lesson, I always talk to teachers about how I’d love for them to jump in any time they want when I’m in their classes, and sometimes directly ask them if there’s anything they’d like to add (especially if I know they really like a topic or I heard them say something cool in a previous period). This also ties directly into …

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Award for changing a plan on the fly

Presented to needing improv skills (and a towel). Sometimes teachers realize day-of that they’d like to do something in the library (or show up because the internet went down). Sometimes we have good plans, but they get better each period as we see how the students interact with the lesson. There’s a certain element of improv in new lessons, and while they haven’t all been new to the teachers this year, some have. And they’ve all been new to me. There’s also a certain amount of improvisation with two teachers in the room that I think can take lessons to a new level while modeling (hopefully) effective collaboration to the students.

The Sideways Stories from Wayside School Award for getting to put a new spin on things

This is for the math and science departments. It’s really interesting to me how quickly I’ve been able to jump in with the math and science teachers, and obviously part of that is the fact that I was in the science department for years (and still am … a story for another time). But I’m also extra passionate about the part of information literacy that will help students who aren’t going to be scientists understand the language of science better. I’ve gotten to use Harry Potter to teach logic in math class. In 7th grade science, we investigated satellites with online data sources leading us to think about what sorts of information we would want from a particular satellite and how to collect it. Then we analyzed data from that type of satellite using free online sources. In physical science we used the idea of … errr … stylish? … cat collars to talk about how to evaluate online information and the results of scientific studies (after, of course, talking about the Australian drop bear). And I’ve gotten to talk about how the same data could be graphed in different ways to tell entirely different stories! (If you zoom in on the y-axis, it really looks like I became a beast when doing daily push-ups for thirty days.)

Birdbesafe collar

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve also really loved working with the history and English departments, which leads me to…

The Dragon Hoops Award for getting to show people a “new” side of yourself that’s been there all along

This goes to everyone who knows that I would have 15 different degrees if I could. I joke. Or do I? 

Many people at school were, I think, pretty surprised when I told them I was applying for the library job. It seemed like a huge change from teaching physics. And of course it is a huge change! But for some of the folks who’ve known me the longest, it wasn’t quite as surprising because they knew I had a writing degree and had taught subjects like English and filmmaking before. So yes, I’ve always had a background in writing and English as well, but it’s still a big change to be talking to people about books and reading on a daily basis. Not to mention going into English and history classes and helping students learn in those spaces. I’ve been part of my first Harkness discussions, literary salons, and student booktalks. And that’s been a blast! I now have extra appreciation for how much students have to quickly shift academic gears over the course of a day.

I’ve got one more official award, and I’ve saved this one for now because (a) it’s hard for me to feel like I can do it justice and (b) I think it really gets to the heart of what I love about libraries and librarians. So, without further ado …

The Un Lun Dun Award for having a really important job and not feeling quite prepared

This goes to me as a librarian. I’ve seen firsthand the amount of trust that a school community places in the role, and now I’ve felt the – is there a word that mashes up burden, responsibility, and honor? – bursponsinor myself when someone asks for a book recommendation for something that starts fast with maybe some romance plus a bit of horror, or when a teacher invites me into a class by saying they didn’t really like how this lesson went last year, but maybe with two of us it will go better. Still, it’s not only with tough questions I get the feeling, it’s also with ones that are probably pretty easy for everyone who’s been doing this longer than I have. But I bet that no matter how many times a librarian hears a particular question, there’s still that gut feeling of bursponsinor. And I honestly hope it never goes away for me, because I want it as a reminder to take the next task, or question, or concern I get as seriously as each one that’s come before.

Okay, one more. The Marvel Comics Award and a huge thank you goes to all of you out there in the AISLverse for being an invaluable resource for me and so many others, and for answering the 10,000 (one for each Post-it) silly and not-so-silly questions I’m bound to have. This month.

4 thoughts on “A Portrait of the Teacher as a Young Librarian

  1. First, Seth, welcome!

    Second, thank you for the humor and vulnerability. TBH, when I started at my school 10 years ago it was basically the first time I’d been in a library with a significant print collection. It *is* challenging to go from “I read a lot, I’ll be fine,” to “Oh, my! I’ve never heard of most of these books before!”

    Over the years, thanks to our staffing, I’ve gotten to be more and more purely instructional. But I will suggest that seeing if your local public library subscribes to Novelist – and making use of that subscription – as well as leaning on other readers’ advisory (for example, my colleagues and our TAs maintain a wonderful Pinterest account of 6-12 gr readers advisory @castilibrary – might be helpful) can be really, really helpful.

    We are excited to have you, and look forward to collaborating with you as your new career moves forward!

  2. Hi Tasha! Thanks so much for the recommendations – I’ll definitely check those out! One other thing that I didn’t mention in the post is that I’ve been having conversations with a whole lot of our students about what books they’ve enjoyed over the last couple of years, which has been really helpful as well. In the meantime, I’m also going to keep reading as much as I can – I’m super excited to have that as part of my job!

  3. Hi, Seth! Thanks for an entertaining (and honest) look into your new role.

    I just moved from teacher to librarian at the same school three weeks ago, so I really, *really* appreciate hearing that someone else is treading these waters. It makes me feel not so alone!

    • Hi Kathleen! It’s really comforting to hear there’s someone else involved in such a similar move to a new position. I’m also really happy that we have a super supportive and helpful community to be a part of with AISL!

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