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!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is BeanBag-768x1024.jpg

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….

17 thoughts on “Things They Don’t Teach You in Library School…

  1. Oh my gosh. I have a tissues budget, but the thing I didn’t anticipate was needing to budget for mints! Who knew that mints were the way to high schoolers’ hearts? I just bought 18 lbs., and I hope it gets me to spring break. Maybe.

  2. Yay, for the first blog!!! Well done!!!

    Something I’d add… Thank you donuts or other snacks with a thank you note to your facilities crew, the administrative assistants who keep the lights on and the trains running on time around campus, and your Business Office crew never ever made a library program’s future worse!

    Buy and have on hand your own “flood/leak mitigation” supplies and keep them on a shelf in your workroom. When that A/C unit drain suddenly backs up and starts pouring water over your nonfiction stacks you’ll be glad that you spent $50 on blue tarps that you could use to cover your collection until the facilities team could get across campus to address things!

    • I inherited a beautiful space with a huge domed ceiling with skylights. Lovely, but leaked around the entire perimeter every time we had a hard rain. I wish I’d thought to have tarps in my desk! As it was, I got really good at quickly moving book displays. Eventually I gave up and asked our facilities staff to move the most-affected book cases. Last summer they finally found a company to fix the leaky dome!

    • We were lucky in our old building: Facilities actually started to anticipate leaks and come drape the tarps before the first drop fell (out and inside)!

      At two of my former schools we used to pay for a 6′ long sandwich, chips and soda for the B&G people before every long break. Not only did they appreciate it, it may have helped bump us up to the top of their To Do lists.

    • Thanks Dave! I could write a whole column on leaks! Luckily after 5 years of hit or miss fixes, we have been leak free this year! My favorite was the one directly over the giant copier/printer.

  3. Love this! Like Cheri, I also have a tissues budget, but I can’t imagine the cost if I didn’t. Unfortunately when our AC pan overflows, it dumps onto the fiction books—from Suzanne Collins to Ally Condie. I wish I had known to buy the blue tarp!
    We got our first bean bag chairs last year, and like all our furniture, we ask for one person per seat. Where I’ve been surprised is the number of times students have taken the bean bag chairs under tables or on top of tables when they want to rest. Looking forward to your next post!

  4. Our AC overflow is over my desk. Thanks, Dave, for the tarp idea!

    And more, Danielle, I am so very glad to get to learn from you here! As a local colleague and a parent whose child got to thrive with you as their librarian, I am so excited for all of us to get to grow from your experiences!

    Our tissue is off in a part of the library where students will not cough/blow their noses on us, but I had not really thought of the replacement rate as a way to track health on campus — great insight!

    • I have a giant desk in the middle of the library, and there are small countertops at each corner where I have things like the aforementioned mints, hand lotion, office supplies, etc. I made the rookie mistake of putting the tissues boxes there too until I realized that they were essentially blowing their noses in my face! I caught Covid for the first time within 6 weeks of being in this library. I moved the tissue boxes when I returned from that sick leave, LOL.

    • Thanks Tascha! I moved our tissue table after I read this. Wish I thought of that years ago. It was right by my office.

  5. No bean bags in my library, but I do love comfy seating and floor chairs (BackJacks). My students know that the first (and only truly enforced) rule of the library is: two cheeks per seat. This ‘cheeky’ saying has ensured the safety and comfort of hundreds, nay thousands of middle school students. I teach it to them at orientation. We all giggle together. Then the kids take it upon themselves to enforce it, gladly reminding one another, “It’s two cheeks per seat! Go sit somewhere else.” And back each other up. I love that it gives them agency over their space and their bodies at the same time.

  6. I did not anticipate how many banana peels I would find shoved in between the books on the shelf! Every time I take inventory, it’s an organic farm’s worth of mummified banana peels. One year in my despair I shouted into the abyss of Twitter and the British Library its very own self replied and said they had the same problem! At least they’re eating healthy snacks, but I wish they’d find a trash can.

    • I think my favorite find was a brittle, moldy sandwich. I placed it on a stool at the library entrance with a little display sign.
      I have to admit: once we made eating an ok thing to do in the library, the sneaky trash piles stopped completely!

  7. At one school the Health Center provided all the tissues (I think to keep track of usage and possible outbreaks). When I first came to Milton, I had to budget for copy paper – that changed when a couple of departments were seriously eating into the supply (like, one ream per class section!) and I complained.

    Other things “they” didn’t teach me? The importance of getting out of the library for more than just lunch: attend games, dance concerts, chaperone field trips, etc.. The more you become part of the students’ lives, the more they’ll come to you for information (not just research!). Also, KISS – Keep It Simple (for) Students. The fewer words or steps, the better.

    • I agree Laura. I would add that if you have the opportunity to be an advisor, take it! It embeds you in an entire grade level.

Leave a Reply

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