Ms. Arch Changes Gears

Cover image of Merci Suarez Changes Gears
Hat tip to Meg Medina

I have been a bit quieter than usual on this blog since September (except for the Banned Books Week post) because I was somewhat overextended: taking two Master’s-level classes toward earning my school library teaching license, working three days a week in a school library (for grades 5-8), writing reviews for School Library Journal, parenting…and there’s still this pandemic going on. I never officially announced my shift from public libraries to school libraries, so…here it is!

So much of what I learned in grad school the first time around (not to mention in a decade of working at three different public libraries!) is transferable to school libraries, but there are some knowledge, skills, and abilities that are specific to working in K-12 school libraries, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) requires additional coursework, practicum work, and testing to certify K-12 library teachers. So, this year I took “Fundamentals of School Libraries,” “Collections & Materials for Children,” “Curriculum and Instructional Strategies” and “Evaluation & Management of School Libraries.”

Main takeaways:

  • School libraries usually have significantly less funding and staffing than public libraries (and public libraries are not typically rolling around in piles of cash). If there is one full-time certified librarian in a school, that’s good – even though a better guideline is one certified librarian per every 500 students, with appropriate paraprofessional support.
  • School librarians wear many hats: we are teachers, administrators, and leaders within the school. School librarians are responsible for managing the entire school library program, which means we’re in charge of the collection (choosing, ordering, and processing new materials, repairing damaged ones, and withdrawing old ones), programming and teaching, budgeting, displays, communications (e.g. newsletters), annual reports, advocacy, and more.
  • Collaboration is important. The more librarians and classroom teachers can collaborate in lesson and assignment design, the better outcomes for students! However, especially in elementary schools where a class’s library time is the classroom teacher’s prep period, this is difficult.

Photo of a Ms. Arch Recommends book display For me personally, I have also found that middle school is way better as an adult than as a kid! And fifth- to eighth-grade is a really interesting range. Our whole library is open to every student, so while we mostly collect materials targeted toward the 10-14 age group, some books skew a little younger and some are YA. In my book talks to each class, I take their age/grade level into account, and always try to provide a diverse array in terms of content, format, and level.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to! In the “spring” (mid-January through mid-May) I’ll be doing my first practicum, at the school where I’m already working, which will count for my grades 7-12 practicum. Then I will need to do an elementary practicum before my current provisional license becomes an initial license. I’ve really enjoyed entering the school library world this year; we’ll see what next year will bring.

If you’re interested in reading more about school libraries, check out my friend Maya Bery’s blog. Maya is an expert school librarian; I’m lucky to be in a book group with her (her recommendations are always fantastic), and I also got to interview her and observe her teaching (virtually) for one of my courses this year.

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