Liz’s Library Dozen

Liz’s Library Dozen


Today is the first day of the rest of my life, and I am spending it reflecting on the past! I guess that’s not such a bad thing, particularly since my reflection is a written one, and I plan to spend a lot of the next two years writing a memoir.


As I packed up my office this past summer and handled every document and object I had saved for 37 years, I realized just how much information I had accumulated in my time as a independent school librarian.  Some of it is useless or mundane, but a lot is not, and I absorbed it into my practice over time. This post is a distillation of some of the practical things I learned, and I hope it will be of some use to those of you working in the field, particularly as you start a new school year and face the challenges that come with 21st C library territory.


  1. Toot your own horn. Accept it—no one other than another librarian will ever truly understand what it is that you do. That means you have to draw attention to your successes and accomplishments and use them as a jumping-off point for library advocacy. Don’t brag, but be bold and clear and visible.
  2. Spend all your money (and a little bit more) and don’t let anyone else manage it. Even in a school, money is power and should never be neglected. You have probably worked hard to get your budget where it is or you are in the process of building it to where you would like it to be. Once you are given responsibility for a budget, stay on top of it and use it all up.  Going a few percentage points over your allotment shows the bean counters how much you need every penny and will likely result in a small increase (even in a no-budget-increases climate). There’s always something else you can buy for a library!
  3. Keep trying new things and tweaking old ones. The former keeps you fresh, stimulated and less likely to burn out; the latter allows you to build on successes and give yourself some room to breathe.
  4. Volunteer for committees and special events on a regular basis. Getting involved outside the library shows how much the library and librarians matter everywhere. It also keeps you in the loop so that you find out about upcoming initiatives while you still have time to get in on the ground floor.
  5. Set your default mode to “yes” rather than “no.” Even if what you say yes to doesn’t work out—or fails miserably—your willingness to try new things will not go unnoticed.  This trait is particularly appealing to administrators. Enthusiasm and positivity is like karma; it comes back to you in unexpected good ways.
  6. Negotiate with vendors. Most of what they are selling you can be had for less if you ask; most people don’t ask. This doesn’t apply to everything, but prices on many items and services, particularly expensive ones, can be adjusted. If you are part of a professional consortium or group of any size, a price reduction is practically guaranteed. But only if you ask.
  7. Be a squeaky wheel.  You can be pleasant about it, but don’t be shy about speaking up whenever you have an opportunity. Share your opinions, disagree if disagreement is warranted, and ask for what you need when you need it. You ARE the library brand and visibility is the name of the game.
  8. Share—with your colleagues, with other librarians, in person, on listservs, at conferences, via social media. Your generosity, like your enthusiasm, will come back to you tenfold.
  9. Make professional development part of your life and require it of your staff. Our profession is constantly in flux and we work in schools that regularly focus on specific initiatives (global education, diversity, LGBT rights, community service); professional development recharges our batteries and gives us the tools we need to stay current, be credible, and fully participate in the life of the school.
  10. Take care of your space, physical and virtual. As we all know, it’s human nature to judge a book by its cover, and people will judge you and your program by their impressions of the physical library and its online image. Obviously, there are factors beyond your control that inform the library’s appearance.  However, there is also a lot you can do:  institute procedures that streamline daily functions, spend five or ten minutes at the beginning or end of each day tidying up, and check your webpage regularly for layout improvements and for spelling and grammatical errors.
  11. If you have a good idea and the tools to make it happen, just do it. As computer programming pioneer Grace Murray Hopper said, “It’s much easier to apologize than it is to get permission.”
  12. And finally, be nice.  A warm and friendly manner goes a long way to helping you achieve your goals.  Students and faculty are much more likely to seek out the librarian who smiles at them, genuinely cares about their needs, and makes them feel welcome.


Now, back to that memoir…


Liz Gray

Writer, Library Consultant and Lifetime AISL Member

More than just answering the question “where are the Hunger Games books?”; how I wormed my way into teaching Library Skills and became part of the curriculum

I’ve been a Librarian for a long time and have seen and been a part of a lot of changes. Not only has the technology changed – sometimes right before my eyes – but everything I do is somewhat different than when I first started in this wonderful profession (36 years ago!).  I came to my current independent school via a public school where the administration’s idea of using the Library meant closing up for a breakfast or a lunch for a group of region administrators or visiting teachers.  The laminating machine was used more for covering pretty placemats than for anything else.

Imagine my joy and delight when I came to this middle school and students were in the Library – doing research, working on class notes and reading!  Teachers were bringing their students to use the books and computers.  The students were checking out books and loved talking about what was good to read. Oh, was I happy!  I also started teaching, which was something I hadn’t done in any of my previous Library positions (Law, Business, and Public Library).  The 6th grade schedule includes a rotation of classes during the last period of the day and Library Skills is a part of this plan.  The previous Librarian left a few notes, but I have changed the lessons many times over (I just improved the lessons this week!) to keep up with the current technology and current projects.  Everything was fine for a while until I started to get restless; I felt there was more I could be doing.  I wanted to get more involved with what the students were researching, showing them all the ways to use the Library as effectively as possible so they could be successful.  I wanted them to be able to know how to find information on their own. But I wasn’t sure about how to go about getting this information to them in way that would work for the teachers as well.

As luck would have it, the rotation changed and the 6th graders weren’t getting the information from the Library that they needed for their first projects of the school year.  Now there was a definite need to get the information to the students in a timely fashion so they could have the tools they needed to research and complete their first projects.  I approached the head of the English Department and asked (really begged & pleaded) to have the Library be a part of the first 6th grade project.  The teachers agreed (reluctantly).  The plan was that the students would come to the Library for 3 half day Library Lessons.  The lessons focused on where to find information and getting familiar with the Library, using search terms, plagiarism, web evaluation and bibliographies.  The lesson plans also included 2 worksheets that the students would hand into me; after grading the worksheets, the teachers would include the grade for the project.  This would insure that the students would actually pay attention while I was teaching! I also presented the information in an entertaining and informative way so that the students wouldn’t be just sitting and listening to me talk.  I began this process about 7 years ago and it has become a solid part of the English 6th grade project. The teachers now schedule time in the Library that will include the lessons for the task.  This success gave me the courage to ask all the teachers when they were scheduling Library time, “What can the Library do for your class?”, and then we give them a list of Library & Research Skills to choose. We’ve been successful and  have created lesson plans and teach for the 7th and 8th grade interdisciplinary projects, as well as creating TIP sheets (handouts that have information on using the OPAC, which databases to use for a particular project & bibliography information) that get handed to almost every teacher for almost every project that is done here at the school.  The lesson plans and TIP sheets are updated on a rotating basis and new ideas are always brought into the plans (especially after attending an AISL conference).

I’ve noticed that the students are more independent when they come to the Library to do their research, so I’m glad we pushed and pushed to get this going and have managed to keep it going.  After teaching a lesson, the teacher receives a copy of the TIP sheet, the power point, and whatever else we’ve used for the students.  My superiors also get an email with the information. The other change that has occurred is that teachers are now making sure that the Library is part of their projects, I get contacted to create a lesson and present to the students as they begin a new project.  I’m hoping that someday, the teachers will contact me as they are preparing and planning a project – one must have dreams!

For the most part, the teachers have been on board with all of this, of course, it doesn’t hurt that I thank them with homemade chocolate covered pretzels!