I took a personal day today in order to shadow my mentor in her high school library. I’ve always worked in a middle school library so I was really interested to see the differences between middle school and high school libraries.
The morning was busy with students coming to buy scantrons, printing and paying for pages they printed. Students were scattered around the library studying quietly. They were actually whispering. (I don’t believe middle school students know how to actually whisper yet.) It was eerily quiet, pleasantly quiet, except for the soft jazz music playing from one of the circulation desk computers. The end of Zero hour bell rang and students quietly left. None ran. None hit their friend on the way out the door and go running down the hall. The energy level was so very different. Not that the students were perfect, but more on that later.
Once zero hour students cleared out a history class came in. The student came in, the teacher gave instructions, and the students got to work. It was amazing. No one fought over seats, poked each other, yelled, or ran. And all the students were so tall!
Call Number Mystery
Now the library had a little bit of a lull. Mrs. Rich, my mentor, said that awhile back they discovered in their literary criticism section, many of the labels had the first three letters of the author’s first name. She did some research into why that might be. There was not a good answer, so she did what librarians do: thought about how to make the section better and started pulling books from that section needing a new label.
In this section, many of the books are written by various different authors. Since users would be searching for books critiquing a specific author like Tolkien, she decided to label it by the critiqued author’s last name in most cases. So the Literary Critique label about Tolkien’s work would read 823 TOL. Next, she looked at Shakespeare’s section. Yes, he pretty much has his own section. In order to group similar items together (again for the user’s convenience) she sometimes made different calls. For example, since Shakespeare is several rows long that would be a ton of 823 SHA and it wouldn’t guarantee that like books would be together, so she sometimes assigned a call number according to character, such as 823 HAM for Hamlet items. She did the same for Frankenstein since there is not only Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein but others as well.
Mrs. Rich handled each book, looked up information as needed, and carefully evaluated the best way to label each book. She taught me how to use the DYMO label printer. Ah-Maz-ing!
For the rest of the afternoon, we all bounced between helping patrons and labeling the books.
Trouble in Paradise
It is not all roses though. The first semester of this year, the librarian at my school had only 1 aide for 45 minutes. I don’t know how she survived the first semester learning a new library with almost no help. Bless her!
At the Senior High where Mrs. Rich works, she has a full-time assistant and a student library aide for each period. She has a task list so the aides know exactly what they need to be working on when not helping patrons. Another idea I’m going to steal!
The trouble in paradise is when you have an aide that is there for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes aides come thinking they can skip out to hang with their friends instead of going to the library. Sometimes they have an unhelpful, sour attitude. This is a part of librarianship I do not look forward to, but it is part of the responsibilities. The good thing is when you have an administrative team that is supportive.
3 Ring Circus?
We stayed constantly busy, but it was not a 3-ring-circus busy like teaching in the classroom days. My classmate Heather Picciuti said it first here, but let me echo her words here because I was thinking the same thing yesterday. In the classroom, it is like being on stage for 8 hours straight. There are constantly students needing your attention, needing redirection, and asking questions all the time. Even when you stand back to let the students work and everyone happens to be on task, you are thinking about tomorrow’s lesson, or which students turned in yesterday’s assignment, or Suzy Q is really struggling to read this book so how can I help her with that… and it all seems to be done right now. It is frantic. It is exhausting. It is rewarding and fulfilling too though.
I know the library is not a job where you put your feet up and eat bonbons either. As I said, we were busy all day. But it wasn’t the frantic kind of busy that the classroom tends to be. Mrs. Rich said as much also. When I left at the end of the day, I left exhausted and aching from using different muscles than I usually do. And yet, I was so much calmer than a normal school day. I did not leave with a tension headache. I think librarianship is going to be a delightful change.