Until cloning is perfected

I serve both middle and upper school students, and in what I suspect is probably an unusual arrangement, the two populations do not have schedules that mesh neatly on any given day. Neither are school policies exactly alike for both groups, which is as it should be – there are a lot of differences between 12 and 17. I’m the only librarian here: no assistant, no clerical help, just me and my trusty barcode scanner.

What this means for me is that I am often in the position of having to decide where I should be at what time, and who I will have to neglect in the process. Until cloning is perfected, there isn’t a way for me to divide myself when I’m needed at two meetings at once, for example.

Back-to-school meetings and orientation days were a major challenge: often there were equally important meetings in both divisions happening concurrently, and during orientation I found myself dashing across campus to start one session and dash back to finish another. (Any lay person who maintains the fantasy of the tweed-skirted lady librarian in a heeled shoe and crisp blouse will be saddened to know that flats and khakis are my typical uniform, since my role is more action hero and less schoolmarm.)

So, how to serve all masters at once? It’s complex, but so far I managed to make most people happy. I did as much maintenance at home as I could before school started, such as updating patron files or tweaking our library page, to free me up and make me feel less frantic. I entered every single meeting into my calendar to see where the overlaps were and contacted all relevant people well in advance to alert them to my conundrum, and also frankly to avoid inadvertently offending anyone with my absence – everyone likes to believe his or her meeting is the most important one of the day, after all. In plenty of cases, one or more parties stepped back and let it be known that one meeting was less important than another, or that my own preference could guide me. In the end, I chose to attend what was most informative to me and where I could be the most helpful. As far as I can tell, this worked but it was indeed the product of careful, thoughtful management and planning.

As well, I created a library page strictly for middle school students. Last year all library services were parked on a single page and it felt somewhat strangulating to introduce the library and then immediately tell them what they couldn’t use; for example, we only buy Questia for upper school students, but there it was, teasing them. Instead I set up a page only with materials available to sixth through eighth graders, and it seems much more welcoming and useful.

I am pleased to say that the result is a satisfied faculty in both divisions: they know my schedule presents certain exigencies but that I am committed to serving their needs and will find a way to do so . . . even without cloning.

5 thoughts on “Until cloning is perfected

  1. You are definitely more action hero than school marm! I am betting that it’s not actually that uncommon for divisions to have policies and schedules that overlap or mismatch in surprising ways. I agree that organization ahead of time is key, as is letting all “masters” know of the conflict. Librarians are in a strange position because you’re administrator of your own domain but you can’t have successful collaboration unless you’re keyed in with departments and divisions.

  2. I found this so interesting (and affirming) as we have a shared space for upper and middle schools and our own set of logistical challenges. However, we have several people on the staff and I would find it very very challenging to be a one-woman library…..sounds like you are managing the situation extremely well, however. Best of luck for the year! Mary B

  3. Alyssa, I also have both divisions, though I am fortunate enough to have an assistant who staffs one or the other three days a week. I try to spend at least one of those days in our Middle School library to be a visible presence and get to know those students, but often as you say it’s juggling priorities and making decisions about which library to leave. You’re right – careful calendar maintenance is key. What is also helpful is flipping the library when possible. If you can’t be in the room physically, can you be there virtually and asynchronously? I think creating that separate page for Middle School was smart and it’s something I’ll consider too. It’s great that your faculty sees you as the indispensable resource you are!

  4. Thank you, Alyssa! It is nice to know that I am not alone! I never imagined that the logistics of serving multiple divisions would FEEL so overwhelming. The faculty, staff, and administration here are incredibly supportive and understanding, but the service needs of elementary, middle, and high school constituencies are so diverse that it’s hard to even get a handle on where one should start! I’d love to hear more about your progress as the year progresses!

  5. Chiming in with everyone else who wishes they could clone themselves! We have a shared library space for MS and US students. I am also a MS advisor which requires me to leave the library to be with my homeroom while other students are in the library. It requires constant awareness of my colleague’s schedule so the library can be “manned” in spite of our obligations elsewhere on campus. Even running to the dining hall for a “to go” lunch requires coordination, am I right?

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