Things They Don’t Teach You in Library School…

Throughout my 15 years as a high-school librarian, currently at Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco, I have been systematically storing away tidbits I wish someone taught me in library school. Here’s a few tips from my list:

Budget for Tissues

Did I seriously start my first AISL blog post talking about tissues? Yes, yes I did. There are many of you who didn’t even bat an eye at this. “Yes, of course we need to stockpile tissues.” In fact, if this statement perplexes you, then you either are new to the profession, or you live in some alternate universe where kids’ noses don’t run 24/7.

Not only does this practice stem the spread of germs (when paired with a hefty bottle of hand sanitizer), but knowing how quickly your students go through said tissues gives you a helpful barometer to assess general illness in your community. One box this week? Low contagion factor. Three boxes? Time to put that mask on.

I’m lucky to work at a school that provides ample tissues for all, but I did work at a school where we had to purchase them with our budget, and it does add up. If you are starting at a new school, make sure you know if tissues are provided or you could have some unexpected “overruns” at the end of the year. Gesundheit.

A Lost Book is a Read Book

This may be controversial, especially if you have a tight budget, but if you can factor in a loss percentage each year, there’s liberation in not hounding students to return books. I automatically email all of them through Follett each week, but not until the end of the school year do I try in earnest to recover books. I then have face to face conversations with each student to try to sleuth where the book might be, but then I drop it. One of the reasons is that, due to the open design of our library, students can easily “borrow” books without actually checking it out. Furthermore, our self-checkout is a DIY tablet system that I cobbled together, and sometimes students genuinely think they are checking it out correctly, but not so. I can only blame myself for this.

My predecessor did ask the school to install security gates, but they said it was far cheaper to replace the lost books, so that’s the party line. I have a hard time punishing the student who legitimately checked out a book, but lost it, when there are plenty of others who illegitimately borrowed a book. Plus, at least I know these lost books were used at least once, and that’s my main point here. I have plenty of others in my 22K collection that have never been used, so it’s all relative. I tried a few times to link lost books with yearbook distribution, but this became a negative experience. We are not a punitive school in any sense of the word, so it felt wrong from the beginning. I choose to embrace the dissemination of information, and recover it only until it threatens my relationship with students.

Signage Works

Years ago, Sarah Levin (Library Director at the Urban School of San Francisco) and I were chatting about designating certain areas as “quiet.” She had a partially open room that she had tried everything keep quiet. Constantly patrolling it led to varying success. As a last resort, she posted a few printed signs designating it as a “Quiet Room” with some accompanying rules. She was shocked that the student behavior changed so quickly after posting them. Having a similar experience, I decided to follow suit.

The back of our large library is filled with eight double sided study carrels. The many stacks of books between the carrels and the main “social” study area provide a natural sound buffer, making it an ideal “Quiet Zone.” I created some signs and bought sturdy clips. For the first few weeks, I monitored and reminded students of the new rules, even including students sitting nearby in the stacks (they love this!). After that, I cannot remember having to quiet a student since implementing it six years ago. It is imperative that we provide a quiet study space for those who want it, otherwise what is the purpose of a school library? One of my proudest moments was when I witnessed a student walking away from the “Quiet Zone,” hand cuffed over the phone to her ear. Once she got to the “social” area, she said, “Oh sorry, I was waiting until I got out of the quiet zone to speak up.” Be still my beating heart….

Bean Bag Chairs are Never a Good Idea

Blasphemous you say?! My students love bean bag chairs, you say?! This all depends on the age of your students, so I am speaking to those of you surrounded by high-schoolers with newfound hormones. When I first purchased three bean bag chairs, I wanted to provide a more comfortable napping spot for students. It was innocent at first. They drug them into the stacks, which I thought was cute. Then, we found students “cuddling” after school and I’d have to give a short, yet loving, lecture about why this was inappropriate. Next, they started dragging them into the study rooms, and we’d find them doing a little more than “cuddling” behind closed doors. Yikes!

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I decided to get rid of them, but what would I tell the kids? Then the Library Gods (notice the capitalization) shone upon me. “Lice Outbreak!” read the incoming email. I had found my scapegoat. Over winter break, we quietly got rid of them. I expected a throng of couples to come asking about them, but must’ve been too embarrassed to ask. The only student who asked was a boy who used them to take actual naps. When I told him it was because of lice, he said, “Eww, yeah. They were probably so infested.” While it solved one problem, I now need something non-mobile where individual students can nap. It’s better to keep trying than to punish all for the mistakes of a few.

What’s Something You Didn’t Learn in Library School?

What would you add to the list? I’m serious about the tissues though….