Five Tips for New School Librarians – A Guest Post by Cathy Potter

January 2012 marks the one year anniversary of when I started my first position as a teacher librarian. In celebration and in way of thanks for all the help I’ve been given in that year, I am hosting a series of posts this month for new teacher librarians.

Today’s post is by Cathy Potter. I love getting reading recommendations from her and seeing what is happening in her library.

Being a school librarian is a rewarding career. Each day is new and different, especially when several classes are working on research projects at the same time. There are days when I go home feeling like I’ve been stretched in a million directions while my to-do list doubled, but that’s a good sign. It means the library is being used and is an important part of the school. Over the past five years, I’ve learned a lot in my role as a school librarian. Here’s some advice I have for librarians new the profession.

Five Tips for New School Librarians

1) Collaboration is Key!
The library does not function in a vacuum; it’s an integral part of the school. Look for opportunities to work with teachers whenever possible. Start with teachers who express interest in collaborating with you. Word will spread, and soon other teachers will want to get on board. I try to eat lunch with classroom teachers at least once per week. It’s a great way to connect with your colleagues and may lead to opportunities to work together. Don’t forget about staff members such as art, music and physical education teachers. Some of my favorite units of collaboration involve the arts. This year the art teacher, 4th grade teachers and I worked together to develop an interdisciplinary unit involving children’s literature, writing, photography and social studies.

Make connections with librarians at the public library. Over the past several years, I was fortunate to form a great working relationship with the youth services librarian in our town. We planned library card drives, field trips, and a Mock Newbery book club. Don’t forget to invite the public librarian to school at the end of the school year to promote summer reading.

2) Read, Read, Read!
Read often and read widely. In order to recommend books to your students and teachers, you need to know children’s literature. If you’re not sure where to start, begin with books that are part of your state’s book award program. Set goals for yourself. I try to read one or two graphic novels each month. Read outside of your comfort zone. I do not naturally gravitate to fantasy, but I know that fantasy is popular with the kids in my school. I read middle grade fantasy books so that I’m able to make book recommendations to students.

Listen to your students! Kids know what they want, and they will let you know what you’re missing in the library. I try to keep a clipboard handy so that I can keep track of titles and topics kids ask for each week. If a student recommends a book that he or she enjoyed, I add it to my to-be-read pile. I first learned about Diary of a Wimpy Kid in 2007 from a fifth grade boy who loaned me his personal copy.

Read reviews regularly. I read a variety of journals (Kirkus, School Library Journal and Horn Book), but I also find kidlit blogs invaluable in helping me stay up-to-date. Use to keep track of what you read and what you plan to read. It’s free, and it will help you stay organized. I often refer back to my Good Reads shelves when I’m ordering books for the library. If you have a question about a book, just send a message to one of your friends on Good Reads.

A Few of the Kidlit Blogs I Follow:
A Fuse #8 Production
100 Scope Notes
A Year of Reading
Brain Burps (podcast)

3) Create a web presence.
It’s an ideal way to communicate with students, teachers and parents about new books, online resources, and library programs. Be sure to update your site throughout the year. Adding new content will encourage users to return to your site regularly. Students visit our school library site to view book trailers, photos of students working library and video projects created by classes.
Mr. Schu’s Watch-Connect-Read site is an excellent resource for book trailers:

4) Reach out to parents.
You are a resource to the families in your school. Offer to be a guest speaker at PTO meetings. Welcome parent volunteers into the library. They will become your biggest cheerleaders in the community. Write about library lessons & units in school newsletters. Parents are often surprised when they find out their children are learning how to evaluate web site, create content using technology, ethically use information, and research using print and online sources. Many adults remember their school libraries from thirty years ago. They have memories of kind ladies sitting behind desks stamping books. I love showing parents how school libraries have evolved over time.

5) Develop a support system.
Join your state library organization and reach out to other librarians in your district. It’s helpful to have a network of people you can turn to for advice. There are many experienced school librarians who will offer support if you ask. Use social networks as part of your professional learning network. Twitter is an effective (and free) way to connect with others in your profession. Look for librarians, teachers, technology integrators, authors and illustrators to follow. I constantly learn about books, resources, and apps through Twitter. My students have taken part in a number of Skype author visits because of connections I’ve made on Twitter.

Remember to smile and share your love of books and technology. Your enthusiasm is contagious and will encourage kids and teachers to return to the school library day after day.

Cathy Potter is a K-5 school librarian in Maine. She spent twelve years teaching 5th and 6th grade before making the transition to the library. Cathy co-authors the Nonfiction Detectives blog along with her good friend, Louise.

Look for Cathy on Twitter @cppotter .

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7 thoughts on “Five Tips for New School Librarians – A Guest Post by Cathy Potter

  1. Laura

    What a great guest post for one of my favorite librarian blogs! I am half way through my first year as a new elementary school librarian and your advice is spot on. I’ve been reading up a storm this year, which definitely helps me connect with students. I do, however, need to work on developing a web presence at school. Your advice inspires me to keep working hard!

  2. Great post and thanks for all the links. I agree that enthusiasm is contagious even if you go out on a limb to look a little, er, extra hyper about books you’ve recently read.

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