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

8 thoughts on “Liz’s Library Dozen

  1. Liz, thank you for sharing that! As a librarian at the beginning of my career, I will take your advice to heart. Good luck with your writing!

  2. Liz — Thanks for this distilled wisdom. I honestly agree with everything you’ve said, but haven’t sat down to reflect on these truths for a while. It’s time. Thanks for the wonderful reminder … and good luck with the memoir!

  3. I add my thanks to the pile, Liz. In your wise words, I read that you have adapted to and and nourished the wonderful growth we’re seeing in library science in the independent school. I’m a second-career teacher-librarian (having taught in the classroom for years), and although I’m not a spring chicken, my professional experience is! Your thoughts are wonderful guideposts.

  4. What a wonderful post. I love that this is a timeless list. We can get caught up in device, social media, selection issues that seem very “of the moment,” but change from year to year. You have focused on the human side of librarianship. Knowing your students well is a huge benefit of working in an independent school. It often means the chance to say yes, see students in activities outside the library, and develop meaningful relationships with other faculty.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *