I’m not employed as a school librarian but I play one on TV. Currently I volunteer at a charter school in their library. When I walked into the room I honestly thought “they call this a library?”
It was a small room, about the size of a small bedroom, with floor to ceiling bookshelves on 3 walls filled with books. There was sports equipment and random furniture stored in the corner. Some of the books had labels, most did not. I was immediately overwhelmed. Where would I start? None of my library science courses prepared me for this.
Most library courses assume that you’ll be entering an established library. I’ve yet to encounter a book or article (admittedly I haven’t searched much) that addresses building a library from four bare walls. When you enter the school library environment all fresh and new you think you’re going to come in and shake things up a little. Create a makerspace, collaborate with teachers, start a genius hour. My MLIS didn’t tell me I had to build a library from a room of books. True, most librarians will not experience what I am experiencing but it would have been nice to have some guidance.
So what is a library? Merriam Webster defines a library as “a place in which literary, musical, artistic, or reference materials (such as books, manuscripts, recordings, or films) are kept for use but not for sale.” Hey great, I do have a library in the strictest sense of the word. I have a place full of books that are kept for use but not sale. That tells me very little about where to start. In schools, the library is most often referred to as a School Library Media Center or some variation on the term. Growing up our library (which was large but had no windows) was called a learning center.
Currently the new vogue (or one of them anyway) of school libraries is referred to as a Learning Commons. This concept, championed by David Loertscher (I had the honor of taking Dr. Loertscher’s class) and Carol Koechlin (they literally wrote the book on the Learning Commons) suggests a move towards a student-centered environment where collaboration and student-directed learning can thrive. The learning commons is participatory and flexible in nature.
I love the ideas behind the learning commons but they still don’t help me know where to start with this room of books. So like every good heroine, I was going to have to save myself.
So where does one start with a room of books? I had a lot of ideas for my idea of what a school library should be, but what did the school expect of me? So step one: what are the goals of your library? I asked the administrator: “What is your goal for the library?” I was told: “I want the kids to be able to check out books.”
Great! All I have are books so I’m glad she didn’t ask me to start a multimedia program but I’ll admit I was disappointed. I’ve learned so much about all these great libraries and programs and here I was being reduced to a book pusher.The truth is, this is the most obvious and basic level of a school library, so it’s not surprising that this was the goal.
The first step in any library so that people can check out books is organization. The library was separated by fiction and non-fiction, with fiction far outweighing the non-fiction collection. Second, how do I catalog these books? There is no budget for a cataloging system and no one really knows what books are even in the library. I knew where to start. I needed to find a way to catalog these books in an inexpensive (free) way. I mulled creating a database in Access or Excel, something I did not want to undertake since my skills are not what they used to be. I wanted something that I didn’t have to build from the ground up. That’s when I found Libib. It’s not a conventional choice, it’s not nearly as comprehensive as a professional cataloging system. But it’s free and added functionality is low-cost and will allow students to check items out. There will be a searchable database, holds, more editing options. It’s just what I needed.
So far I’ve entered 1900 books into the school’s library on Libib. I’m still using the free version. After we have them in the system the real organization can start. It may seem odd to enter all the items just to weed some of them out later and maybe my system is flawed but I’m trying to find out what we have, what we need and then what we don’t need. I’m only one person, and I’m only there about 10 hours a week tops (right now) and I’m impressed how far I’ve gotten. As I go further in this adventure I’ll write more about my experiences at this library.
I was just a girl, standing in front of a room full of books, wondering where to start. And that was one of the things my MLIS program didn’t tell me.
Koren, J. (2013). School library media centers. Retrieved from: https://www.slideshare.net/joh5700/what-is-a-school-library-media-center
Libib Retrieved from https://www.libib.com/
Loertscher, D.V. & Koechlin, C. (2014). Climbing to excellence: Defining characteristics of successful learning commons. Knowledge Quest [online].
Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/aaslpubsandjournals/knowledgequest/docs/KQ_MarApr14_ClimbingtoExcellence.pdf
Loertscher, D. V., & Koechlin, C. (2012). The virtual learning commons and school improvement. Teacher Librarian, 40(1), 20.
Merriam Webster Online (2017). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/library
David Loertscher’s personal website: http://www.davidvl.org/Home.html
Carol Koechlin’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/infosmarts
Learning Commons Google Site: http://www.schoollearningcommons.info/