Motivation Monday: Back to School

Hello TSU! I am Sereena Hamm, and I’m a librarian at a classical public charter school in Washington, DC. As a new TSU blogger, I’m excited to write about readers’ advisory, library classroom management, information literacy, library teaching resources, student library volunteer programs, and using technology in the school library.  Since it’s August and the start of school is rapidly approaching, today I offer some inspiration for the back-to-school transition. 

If you, like me, are a school librarian, your back-to-school to-do list is growing by the day. It’s a hectic time of year with orders to place, processing new materials, making displays, getting to know new students, planning new research projects, and more. I find as much as I need help with managing day-to-day in the library in the first few weeks of school, I need some inspiration for my soul because I know the next few months will be full of joy and opportunity, but also challenges and changes. Here is advice that I’ve received in the first few years in my library to nourish myself emotionally during this busy season:

  1. Remember and honor your “summer self.” When my principal gave the faculty this advice in last year’s back to school professional development, I knew it was wisdom I couldn’t ignore. Even if your library was open over the summer, you’ve probably worked at a different pace and taken advantage of some needed summer rest. You may have traveled to a new place or taken a class that has given you new ideas. Perhaps you slept on a different schedule than you do during the school year or indulged in a hobby that you don’t have as much time for while school is in session. Maybe you spent extended relaxing time with partners, friends, family, or children. We need to acknowledge that it is tough to deal with the losses of freedom and time that come with a new school year, but we don’t have to give up the people we became just because school has started. If you enjoyed regular time to exercise, craft, or read personal books this summer, like I did, set aside a small weekly window to run, keep up with projects you started, or enjoy a novel that won’t necessarily be added to your collection, or go out with a friend. Sit in the sun with your favorite beverage. Take a day trip or spend some time organizing your photos from summer trips. While easier said than done, holding on to what fed your spirit over the summer will help you continue to grow as the year goes on.
  2. Gather your team. Every school librarian (especially my fellow solo librarians!) needs a support team to be successful and get through the challenges of life at school. To gather your team, visit teachers that you’ve partnered with on assignments in the past. Make welcome packets for new teachers or plan some time during new faculty orientation to show them the library and its resources. Let your administration know the exciting new things you have planned for the upcoming year. Send an email to your local public librarian. Attend a Parents’ Association meeting to get to know your biggest fans. If it’s your thing, go to Happy Hour, coffee, or dinner with school colleagues or other librarians that you trust and respect. Taking even one small step to reach out to others will help you get through any challenging times that come up later on.
  3. Make one or two small changes in your library space.  Every year, my goal is to change the library space to make it more effective and useful, but also more aesthetically appealing and intellectually stimulating. Taking the time to make changes in the library when there’s so much else to do might sound counter-intuitive, but the teenage brain craves new experiences and is challenged in a healthy way by changes, even if they are small ones. Change the directions that library tables face to create groupings for study and conversation, to create spaces for greater focus and attention, or change the flow of traffic through the space. Add stations for playing games, building with Legos, or picking up school supplies. Hang a Litograph poster in the library and put a magnifying glass beside it so that students can read the small print. Small changes gather over time to make a big impact in the way the library serves and inspires students and staff.
  4. Remember why the library is beautiful. Above all, remember the reasons why you find beauty in the library. The library is a powerful place of creation, imagination, and information. It’s absolutely stunning to think about the generations of knowledge and creative ability that is gathered in any library collection. For me, seeing a new generation of human minds interact with the great stories of the past and present — both factual and fictional — is awe inspiring. As you prepare for another year of school, remember that what you do is beautiful, embrace that beauty and draw others toward it.

Where do you see beauty in your library? How do you plan to hang on to your “summer self”? What changes will you make in your space to keep your library feeling fresh? How do you find support from your colleagues and members of the school community? Share in the comments!

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