Student Focused Libraries

Many people don’t know exactly what school librarians do.

Your administrators don’t know, your teachers don’t know, your students don’t know ... not even your family and friends know. And when you were studying library science in college, you THOUGHT you knew. 

School librarians are managers of programs, paper, and most important—people. But sometimes the housekeeping aspects of libraries get in the way of teaching, which is what we are initially hired to do.

Librarians are masters of multitasking ... setting, stirring, and watching proverbial pots of boiling water on a stove.

Some of us are fortunate to co-teach with another librarian or to have a staff. Many, or maybe even most, of us do not.

At the end of the day, there will always be books to shelve, lessons to write, and classes to schedule. The key is to create systems that are time-saving, meaningful, and fair to our students.

Shake Up Those Policies, Procedures, and Protocols

Are you new to your position and afraid to rock the boat with your administrators and faculty? Have you inherited policies that you don’t agree with?

Or are you a veteran librarian who has had the same procedures in place for the past twenty years?

Now is the time to consider how to transform your library program for today’s students—regardless of how new you are in your job, or how things were done before.

Gone are the days of “sit down and shush.” Today’s libraries are vibrant places of learning where we need to encourage students to share their voices, while also creating collaborative connections with faculty and administrators.

Let’s start with the tried-and-true statement of “Yes, but.” Think about it: When you interact with patrons, are you using yes to say no?

“Yes, but you are only allowed to take out two books at a time.”

“Yes, but the library is closed after school.”

“Yes, but you need to know how the Dewey Decimal system works before you can borrow a book.”

Let’s get rid of that old way of thinking and move forward into something more helpful.

Take a moment to consider using “Yes, and” to open the conversation instead, and go from there.

Where else can you change things up so that they work better for both you and the students?

Create new policies and procedures to provide the structure you need, while also making the library a welcoming place for all.

Making the Library Exciting Again

Make orientation memorable.

One of the most important things a school librarian can do is to have an exciting library orientation for new students and their parents—even if libraries didn’t do this in the past.

Make the experience interactive with a Breakout EDU game. Create puzzles for students to solve by using library resources and services.

For instance, offer a simple puzzle based on the library hours as a game for classes to compete to solve. With each solved puzzle, new users learn about library services and procedures.

Breakout EDU is a great way to teach library skills to new students or to introduce the library to parents on an open house night, and it builds new processes for the library.

Create a dynamic website.

In our opinion, nothing is worse than visiting a school website and not seeing a library online presence.

A website is a launch pad—a resource for the entire learning community—but it is too often ignored. Popular website creators for school libraries are LibGuides, Weebly, Wix, Google Sites, and Adobe Spark.

School library websites should be updated as necessary to accommodate the growing needs of teachers and students.

Topics you may want to include are a mission statement, library rules and policies, and an email address and other contact information. Include links to digital resources (online catalog, databases, ebooks), a research handbook, pages for school projects or pathfinders, links to the public library and other community organizations, and screencast tutorials.

Share weekly or monthly news, favorite apps and web tools, makerspace information, book recommendations and trailers, and links to author tutorials. These resources will encourage your students to visit the library.

Post a scheduling calendar and a teacher collaboration needs assessment form for the teachers.

Adding cool features to your website can build the “wow” factor. Consider adding interactivity using the ThingLink app to tag camera images, or use the TouchCast app to create smart videos and share any file. Use the enhanced Teleport 360 Editor app to create interactive 360 stories.

Add the SpeakPipe widget to your website so your visitors can leave you voice messages.

Just imagine how they’ll react when you reply back with the answers to their questions! Create tutorials to access the databases and ebooks using the Screencast-O-Matic web tool.

You can upload the videos to your website, and share the links with your faculty. Even better, hosting these on your website will free you up to do other things in the library.

Run a well-oiled machine.

The more engaged students are, the more smoothly your library program will run. If you have a flexible schedule, record student visits with a sign-in book or through a Google Form.

You will be able to transform these statistics into an infographic for your annual report. As adults, it is our responsibility to serve as role models for children. A sign posted at the library entrance and sharing prompts for manners will remind your students to say “hello,” “please,” and “thank you.”

Instead of raising your voice, clap your hands, play some chimes, or briefly beat a tambourine. You can also use a simple bell, or invest in a wireless door chime. Set up a self-checkout station. Your students will learn independence and enjoy having the “power” to circulate their own books. It will also take this responsibility off your shoulders. 

As an incentive to return books on time, distribute punch cards to your students. When your students have a designated number of punches, stickers, or stamps, give them a small prize.

Gamify classroom management with ClassDojo or Classcraft so that your students take ownership of their behaviors and see a correlation between their choices and their successes.

Create a moment for your students by establishing a milestone ritual in your library. When your students ask you to sign their yearbooks, ask them to leave their mark on the library rocking chair, a book cart, or your desk blotter.

That item will become your most prized possession when you retire, and the action will help them invest in the library itself.

Assess student learning. 

Assessments may take place before, during, or after a lesson. Use simple assessments like paper exit tickets written in the form of emails, texts, or tweets, or let students use dry-erase boards, or hold up signs that say yes/true, no/false, or I’m ok/I need help.

For an online version of an exit ticket, consider allowing students to respond on a Padlet or a Flipgrid. They can also document their learning using the Seesaw app. Other options include Kahoot, Quizizz, Quizlet, Quizalize, Nearpod, Socrative, and Plickers.

These assessments will tell you what the students think of the library and its programs and will help you to improve and streamline them.

Extend library hours.

Some families haven’t developed meaningful connections with library culture, and part of the problem is that they can’t get to the library within the restricted traditional hours.

Work with your administration so you can offer extended hours one day each month for those families to visit your library. Offer these hours during conference days or meetings, when parents will be visiting the school anyway.

During this time, provide opportunities for students and their families to use the computers and check out books. Students can also use that time to teach technology skills to the adults in their families.

Ask members of the honor society to supervise students’ younger siblings.

Create a family collection of resources about parenting, career exploration, and college information, and host special family game nights and parent-child book clubs. Invite college students to help high school seniors write their application essays.

Show parents how they can access the online databases at home. To prevent the “summer slide,” allow students to take home books to enjoy during their vacation.

Give all of those bags you receive during conferences to your students, so they can carry their treasures home.

Open the library once or twice during the summer so your students can exchange their books. You’ll be reaching students you were never able to reach before, just by bending a few of the old-fashioned rules.

Shaking up your policies, procedures, and protocols is necessary if you want to shed the dusty library past, wipe out negative library perceptions, and move forward with structures that make it easier for you to engage all learners, consider your audience first, use your time efficiently, and keep patrons coming back for more.

By welcoming your students, teachers, parents, and administration into your library for activities, or by engaging them with technology and apps, you are creating a vibrant learning hub where all stakeholders will want to be and learn.


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