What do librarians do at work?

I’m a high school librarian. It’s a boarding school, so our collection also serves as a mini public library for everyone who lives on campus. We also have an Archives which is managed by an emeritus faculty member who I advise on protocol.

Thursday: Got to work about 5 minutes late (the baby didn’t want to go to school). Helped a faculty member with the laminating machine. Had a bagel. Checked email and snail mail. Put out new newspapers. Called customer service about the library software acting up. Talked to our IT guy, got it worked out. Answered archives questions. Helped with the xerox machine. Helped a faculty member track down a book. Checked in books. Found “loose” books left out by students. Shelved those books. Ate lunch. Had a tech meeting about the use of iPads in the classrooms. Helped a student with research. Helped a student edit a paper. Picked new carpet for the reading room. Checked the mail. More archives questions. Directed one of the student employees. Cataloged about 30 books.


I’m weeding

This is a great blog post about weeding, especially when one needs to defend one’s reasons for doing it.

The first two months

I started working at my current job as a high school librarian last March.  After the first six weeks, I wrote up a list of what I’d done.

Library Maintenance

  • Acquainted myself with our current holdings
  • Ran reports to ascertain what sections were old, getting used the least, etc.
  • Researched current fiction and nonfiction and selected titles based on our needs
  • Made a survey form to poll faculty about the topics they teach
  • Ordered key books for the fields mentioned as classroom/research project topics
  • Ordered specific books/DVDs based on faculty and student requests
  • Bought hardback used books in good condition to fill gaps in collection
  • Bought style guides and pedagogical tools for “6 Traits Writing” for teachers and the writing center
  • Increased library holdings by between 1-2% with significant increases in poetry, classic fiction, banned books, medieval history, Middle Eastern history, economics, and Russian history


  • Cataloged hundreds of books on the cataloging shelf that were backlogged from the previous librarian’s departure
  • Cataloged incoming materials
  • Original cataloging (this entails making the Dewey call number for a book) for about 5% of acquisitions


  • Cleaned up the magazine section so that only issues from the past few months were out
  • Ascertained which magazines were getting read to shift our subscriptions
  • Subscribed to Concord Review


  • Weeded roughly 200 outdated science and social science books


  • Created themed displays with books and visual aids to draw attention to books in our collection to increase circulation:
    • Earth Day
    • National Poetry Month
    • Poetry post-1970 (for Douglas’s class)
    • National Poetry Writing Month
    • Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham (for D-Day)
    • Arab-American Heritage Month
  • Created displays to commemorate books that have served in our collection but are now outdated/broken (“Weeded Books” display in glass cabinet)


  • Got quotes for JSTOR and OverDrive
  • Assessed current database usage to determine what to renew

Social Media


  • Developed 2011-12 Library Budget

General Maintenance

  • Dusted shelves (D-Day)
  • Exercised books (D-Day)


  • Supervised the student assistant in book processing
    • Processing
    • Shelving
    • Circulation

Ex Libris
Writing Center

  • Met with Commissioners of Education to determine the course of the writing center for next year
  • Acquired materials for the writing center as well as about running writing centers

Faculty/Curriculum Support

  • (See Acquisitions)
  • Discussed writing curriculum with 8th and 9th grade teachers
  • Helped sub for teachers when away


  • Met with Academic, 8th/9th Grade Planning, and Tech Committees
  • Developed plan to marry library with tech in the classrooms (OverDrive/iPad plan)
  • Developing 10-point Information Literacy instruction plan to incorporate research education in grades 8-12

Goals for May-June

  • Inventory
  • Continue acquisition-cataloging
  • Retrieve copies currently in circulation and collect outstanding fees

Pre-August Goals

  • 10-point Info Literacy plan
  • Writing Center
    • Editing/revision worksheets
    • Tutorial/training for tutors
    • Acquire rubrics/sample essays
    • Develop orientation procedure for new tutors

Devills in the Archives

I work at a high school library. It’s not a straightforward high school library– it’s a boarding prep school, so the kids are smart, and the library is used as a combination reference library and reading/public library by the students, the faculty, and the families that live on campus.  One of my tasks is overseeing the Archives, which is managed by an emeritus faculty member (he is an amazing guy– he fought in WWII and has taught here for over 50 years). Although the Archives contain some interesting items, it’s mostly photographs of students and alumni gatherings, which I am very slowly digitizing and putting on Flickr.  That’s all fine and good, but I went to library school to think about how to digitally archive unique materials, especially artists’ books, especially 3-dimensional artists’ books.

Well, today the Book Arts Gods smiled on me, and my archivist unearthed, unwrapped, and bestowed upon me this insane little book. Apologies for the picture quality– I only have my iPad with me. The text is about the evils the Devill [sic] has brought upon the author:

I don’t know anything about this book except the recipient listed on the address label used to be employed here. The archivist contacted him to see if he wanted the book back, and he doesn’t.

“Blockbuster” Libraries need the small press

My guest post on Library Journal’s blog.

After ALA

I went to ALA this year for the first time. I used to be an academic and I’ve been to many conferences, given many papers, etc., even large conferences like AWP and MLA.  ALA was the biggest conference I’ve ever been to, but I can’t say that it was the most useful. I met some interesting people (hi) and picked up some free books for my library (thank you, presses who didn’t want to take all their books with them at 1:45 on Monday).  Otherwise, it was a 5 day conference that took place at multiple hotels, a conference center the size of an airport, and an exhibit center that rivaled the BookExpo (an event just for publishers/booksellers). It was huge! The sheer volume of information to parse meant I was walking around in a stupor, privately thinking “Is this important?  How does this apply to my library?” and most of the time the answer was “No and it doesn’t.” My library is like a mix of a public, a school, and a small academic library, which means many things don’t quite fit it. However, I did take away some ideas:

  • Sticky notes as informal poll: One of the poster sessions was about using a big board space with sticky notes where students could post their anonymous comments or responses to questions (maybe, “What book would you most like to see in the library?” Or, “Do you think the library should acquire gaming systems?”). The colorful sticky note responses are pretty and allow for greater flexibility than a SurveyMonkey poll (my usual method– which I’m not throwing out, but which may come in handy for some things while the sticky notes solution is handy for others). I can see this working next to the copy machine, which is one of the highest-use places in the library and one where students are frequently waiting around with nothing to do. Plus, the teens do this in an episode of Degrassi. If it’s on Degrassi, it must be awesome. [Sidenote: why don’t more Americas/YA people watch Degrassi? It’s so much better than Gossip Girl.]
  • Graphic novels, on the shelves and in the classroom: In many k-12 schools, lack of funding has threatened arts literacy. Visual literacy is essential for processing information, as much of communication (and marketing) is visual, not lingual. Our school doesn’t have this problem– in fact, a fine arts course is required– but heck, there’s no such thing as too much visual literacy, and graphic novels are a great way to reintroduce that to a curriculum that focuses on “things that the College Board tests.” (Actually, the College Board does test visual literacy, such as the ability to read charts or interpret political cartoons.) We also have a lot of international students for whom graphic novels might improve literacy in the more traditional sense.  I acquired a few graphic novels last year, mostly by Neil Gaiman since my knowledge of graphic literature isn’t very wide-ranging, but after touring the exhibits and listening to some suggestions I feel more empowered to choose graphic novels for the library and maybe assign one in my literature class.
  • Most of the technology I would love to acquire for our small archives is too expensive, and no one rents it. I would love to transfer our archives to a web portal where alumni could access yearbooks, photographs, etc., but I don’t want to spend $10k+ to do it. Maybe at some future date alumni could put together the money to get a nice scanner, but for now, a $50 flatbed is probably the best we can do.
  • Book recycling. We currently get rid of weeded/donated books in this fashion: sell new books to Books-A-Million, donate newish books to other schools or arts organizations in our area, and recycle old/damaged (weeded) books. Well, there are businesses that can do all this for me! Hooray! Better World Books is probably where I’m going for this, although there were many options.

Other things I picked up at the conference:

  • Librarians and New Orleansers (?) are very nice.
  • Old male exhibitors can be nice, but most of them are condescending jerks. I’m a 32 year old woman, but I look a bit younger. However, I have two masters degrees and part of a PhD and I am the sole purse-strings-holder of my library, which has a substantial budget. So it does not make me want to spend money with your business when you treat me like a stupid little girl who can’t possibly afford your product. Moreover, most librarians are women and many librarians are young women, so it’s not a good sales tactic to be sexist or ageist.
  • Librarians are kinda stuck in a rut when it comes to acquisitions. The Big 6 publishers are where it’s at, and if it’s not there, they can’t (or won’t) buy it. There are industries that cater to librarians never having to think for themselves or on behalf of their collections– businesses that completely take over your collection development. Since I have a small library, I don’t really get why librarians would allow collection development to slip from their control (it’s the most fun part!), nor do I understand why some librarians are so dead-set against small presses. But I will blog about this more in a separate post.
  • Libraries have a lot of big ideas for ebooks, but I don’t really understand what they are or how I can act on them, even after attending multiple panel sessions about them. Big question mark.

Encyclopedias Browning

I write this as I sit down to weed a set of yellowing 1994 Collier’s Encyclopedia.

I work at a private high school at which all of the students go on to 4-year colleges–a.k.a. a “prep school.” I used to teach at a college. Thus I think that students preparing for college should be taught to do research without encyclopedias. Most teachers can agree that students should not use Wikipedia– because it’s often biased or just flat-out wrong– but many will still allow the use of a “real” encyclopedia– that is, one that is not tirelessly, ceaselessly updated and is thus almost certainly outdated.

Encyclopedias are useful for elementary school students who need a basic grasp of something and for researchers who need a starting point or quick tutorial in a field they intend to research more thoroughly.  But they are not viable references for a college-level research paper, where peer-reviewed articles and monographs are more precise and more relevant to a sophisticated research project that aims to add knowledge to its field.

Thus, I want to limit my students’ use of encyclopedia in their high school research projects. My assistant convinced me to keep our subscription to the digital Encyclopedia Britannica for the moment, but as I filter encyclopedias out of their research toolboxes I hope to terminate that subscription. In the meantime, I hope to weed our paper encyclopedias that are more than 10 years old. (We do not have any paper encyclopedia less than 5 years old… but weeding the entire section might cause more of a stir than I can handle. Encyclopedias, for some reason, are revered and considered priceless no matter how old or populous they are, like collections of National Geographic.)