Monday, September 19, 2011

Loose the reins - let the volunteers do their stuff!

I am the luckiest teacher-librarian in the world! I have a fantastic group of dedicated volunteers that come to my school library to help out. I think the last time I spent a huge amount of time shelving books was when Global TV asked me to do some for filming purposes, because between my student library team members, adult assistants and high school helpers, I usually don't need to complete it. The thing is, volunteers shouldn't be considered free labour to be used only according to the teacher-librarian's whims. There were two examples last week where I found that, by loosing the reins of control in the library and allowing volunteers to make significant changes that they initiate, everyone benefits.

A.L. is a grade ten student that used to attend our elementary school. He is absolutely AMAZING. He teaches me so much and has a great combination of a strong work ethic and creative thought processes. He's one of the people that worked with me on improving our school library website - I already wrote about him in this blog here. I really appreciate the fact that I don't have to tell him what to do when he enters the library - he evaluates the condition of the library and responds appropriately. This week, he was tired of our messy graphic novel collection space. We have one of the largest elementary school graphic novel collections in our board, I suspect, but we don't have adequate storage space. I've ordered new shelves but they haven't come in yet, and in the meantime I've been using a hodge-podge of tables, old wire spinners and racks. It was just chaos, with books piled everywhere and falling onto the floor. A.L. saw that we had some space in the fiction section because we weeded our chapter books last year. He shifted some book over and cleared up three sections. He then moved series with many titles over to the fiction shelves to temporarily allieve some of the congestion in the comic area. We were able to get rid of the tables and it's now so much more manageable. I don't think I would have done what he did but it works well and even spreads out the human crowding when students go searching for graphic novels.

P.M. is the mother of another teacher-librarian in my board. P.M. lives in our neighbourhood and is recently retired; she offered her services to the school library and I happily accepted. She is marvelous at what she does and the library has never been tidier. One day, as she was working on the well-used everybody book section and she mentioned an idea she had for making paperbook picture books easier to find. In her daughter's school library, she has her paperback books stored in bins located near the hardcover versions. I had used this technique in my previous school libraries but never considered doing it here. She pointed out that paperback books get lost, even when stored among other paperback books in their section, and they get damaged on the shelf. She even offered to buy the bins and label them. I had some money in the school library "pot" and so I gave her some of the funds to purchase the bins.

The roles of a teacher-librarian are three-fold: instruction, management, and leadership. In a Learning Commons, educators need to take a flexible and responsive approach to helping schools learn collaboratively. That means letting go of the notion that the school library is "your space" in which you are the king or queen of the domain. I'm not insulted by the recommendations for change my volunteers bring to the table and the suggestions they make create a place that is easier for all users to manage. Even though last year, my shared governing style led one primary student to exclaim "Mrs. Mali, you don't do anything!", I know that together we are able to achieve more. This coming week, the book fair commences at my school, thanks to the dedication of another volunteer of mine - my mother. We talked on the phone about some new ideas; she'll handle all the sales so that I can continue teaching the classes I have. I'll help her count up at the end of the day and select books for our collection based on our earnings, but I'll let her do her stuff - something she's been doing in school libraries since I was in junior kindergarten!

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