Week 1 in a new library: the behind-the-scenes work

Week 1 of 2017-2018 at my new school is in the books.  But before the lessons and teaching, here’s a bit about how I got there.  It is with careful thought and hard work that Week1 happens.  If you’re opening a new-to-you library, I get it: It is HARD and likely feels overwhelming, as though you don’t know where to start. Tears were shed as I struggled to learn the school culture, ramp up on the new technology AND sort the library.  But we must start.


The library space is different this year, but notably in that there is no place for a mobile white board for lessons to be written (and I LOVE a white board) and no wall space.  There is an AppleTV, which will be used to display a daily PowerPoint of our lesson.  Sharing our daily plan gives students a heads-up on what is happening and often answers any questions (like “are we checking out today?”). It builds accountability to the library program.


Something new I’m trying this year: a no-limits policy in regard to circulation.  Called “take what you need”, it allows children to do just that: take the books they need for the week. Some weeks, children need more books.  Some weeks, less.  Overall, it’s about meeting their needs and giving them full access to the library collection.  I’ve not done this before, though it’s been percolating for some time.  Look for a mid-year update on how this goes – especially in regard to getting books returned.


Speaking of self-checkout: we’re going for it, even though it’s never been done in this school  I believe in giving students control over their own account, starting as young as possible. This hasn’t always been the case, but time has been a lovely teacher.  How does it work?  With preK/K/1st grades, I’ll be alongside them as we scan their barcode pass and their book(s) together, taking a moment to find their name on the computer screen.  With 2nd/3rd/4th grades, I’ll be nearby as they scan their own items. From past experience, it’s with a hushed awe that they’re “allowed” to do this by themselves.


In order to facilitate self-checkout, children get library passes.  Constructed of heavy posterboard (railroad board), they’re about 3″x11″ in size and have the child’s name and barcode printed on an Avery sticker (the student barcode report can be exported in Destiny, sorted by homeroom). Passes are sorted by grade and color: grade K gets pink, 1 is aqua, 2 is green, etc.  Teacher names/numbers are written in pen in the upper corner to further sort. Some people laminate them to further their life, but I leave them as paper. The library pass doubles as a shelf-marker, too.


Self-checkout gives children a chance to practice our most important words in the most meaningful way: they Do Their Best and Help the Rest. When someone is stuck, another child usually comes to the rescue.  If they forget the order of scanning (pass first, books second), a child often steps in to assist.  Building a community of engaged learners and kind helpers is the most important to the success of the library.  Social-emotional learning is vital to the success of my library program. I’ve “borrowed” the words from my former school to incorporate into my new library: 

These words are part of every lesson for every grade for the first two months.  They’re framed and displayed throughout the library.  We’ll use them as critical thinking stems as we begin to read and think about books. They’re ways to behave, both in school and in life.

Students and teachers often ask if there are any “library rules” aside from the phrases above.  The closest “rule” in the library is “Act Like You’re in a Library”. With an international community, it’s a chance to talk about if libraries are the same across the world.  Students will be asked to explain what these words mean to them.


As for the books, there’s a lovely collection that’s been curated – from series to I Can Read titles to world languages to fiction to picture books and more.  On (good) problem: there’s no wiggle room on shelves and books are bursting out of closets, awaiting shelf-space.  Weeding is Job 1.  Along with weeding, books are being streamlined into fewer categories, rearranged, and given similar call numbers.  Library barcodes are to be in the same spot on all books.

All of this is done for one reason: to best meet the needs of the students.  Self-checkout is easier when a barcode is in the same spot every week.  Finding fiction/nonfiction titles is easier when they’re all in the same general location.  Books are easier to find when the shelves have some space in which to browse and display. Behavior is easier to manage when we’re all on the same page regarding expectations and value the social-emotional learnings.  The library experience and learning should be enjoyable and memorable because the child and his/her developmental need is at the heart of every decision.

Again, I write this to share that it’s with careful thought and hard work that Day 1 happens.  If you’re opening a new-to-you library, I get it: It is HARD and likely feels overwhelming, as though you don’t know where to start.  So pick one thing and START.  It’s not magic, and it’s not pretty.  It’s messy and sweaty and time-consuming. And it will take a long time.  But START.  You can do it.  And if I can help, please ask.

Cheers, y’all! –arika

10 thoughts on “Week 1 in a new library: the behind-the-scenes work

  1. Pingback: #LibrarianInLondon | Elementary Library with Ms. Arika

    1. ajdickens Post author

      I’m here now, teaching and learning. Will be back in the States in the next couple of years. There’s much behind the scenes work that, while not glamorous, is vital to making a space user-friendly for patrons. The longer I work, the more I understand. Cheers, arika

      1. brilliantviewpoint

        Well, it’s is wonderful. My sister lived in London for 13 years and loved it. Great experience for your children too. Always LOVE you posts! I just wrote about being in Dublin for my daughter’s graduation from the University of Limerick. She is continuing to live in Ireland, really enjoys it there. http://www.brillliantviewpoint.com Look forward to more posts from you and book recommendations from England. I am working on a children’s picture book to publish, so enjoy learning about children’s book Internationally and what THEY enjoy reading.

  2. Susan Finnegan

    Thanks for the great post. I have been following you since a started my school half way into the year last year. Now that September is here, I feel like I’m really beginning my year. I was wondering if you would share some of your rhyme time ideas with me. I love Ks, but I struggle with keeping them engaged. This year I will have more time with all my students (yeah!), so getting some movement and the idea of incorporating the more participation is exciting. Best to you in your new environment.

    1. ajdickens Post author

      Absolutely! I usually begin Rhyme Time around weeks 4-6 (depending on the class/year). There’s a large flip-chart with hand-written rhymes that made years ago. I show students “rhyme time fingers” (like spirit fingers), which lets me know they’re ready. Then we count “One, two, here we go”, patting our legs on the words “One, Two, Here, Go”. Keeping the rhythm of the rhyme, I pat and chant the rhyme by myself for the first time a rhyme is introduced, then have students join me for a second run-through. Week 1, I’ll do 2-3 rhymes – always one they should know like Humpty Dumpty, and one they may not know like To Market To Market. The goal is to work up to 3 rhymes, which we’ll do for 6-8 weeks before doing new rhymes. Some weeks, we’ll brainstorm more words that rhyme (like in Humpty Dumpty, we notice that WALL and FALL rhyme…but I’ll ask if they know any other words that rhyme with those two – like BALL, ALL, CALL, etc). Some weeks, we’ll make boSody movements that match the rhymes.
      I have a video of what this looks like in Week 1 somewhere in my files. If I find it, I’ll post it in a Rhyme Time Tutorial. Thanks for the question, and good luck this year! (I, too, was a late hire in my first year as a school librarian.) Cheers! –arika

  3. Pingback: Library Lessons: Aug 21-21, 2017 | Elementary Library with Ms. Arika

  4. Donna

    Hi! Thanks for your thoughtful post. I am just transferring to an elementary school library from a middle school library in a neighboring district. There is much to learn! Are you originally from the US? I am curious what some of the differences are for materials, reading interests among the children and the requirements of your curriculum. Looking forward to following your progress.

    1. ajdickens Post author

      Hi Donna! Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, I’ve spent my entire life in the US. I didn’t expect to work in London – I was a trailing spouse – but got very lucky. The library curriculum is based on the AASL standards at this school, which is very helpful! Reading interests – a great question! Week 1, kids checked out the exact same books that my former WA students were reading last year (Amulet, Sisters, 13 Story Treehouse, books by Ben Clanton, Dav Pilkey & Mo Willems) as well as books popular in the UK (BeastQuest series, Tom Gates series). Kids from the US ask for popular US authors like Stuart Gibbs, Mike Lupica, Raina Telgemeier, Katherine Applegate. It’s tougher to get some books here, as Amazon UK isn’t the same as in the US, and UK bookstores stock different titles. There is no more popping out to the bookshop to grab the newest Dog Man 🙂 Ask any more questions you’ve got, and good luck this year! Cheers, arika

  5. Pingback: Seattle -> London, a Librarian sets up an Elementray School Library (books for children) | Brilliant Viewpoint

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