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Thank you to everyone who took time out to offer ideas on how to run/manage
a library and teach without a clerk/assistant/aide!  Below are some great
ideas and some humble reminders about our profession.  I removed names from
the responses, as some folks requested such.  If any other ideas occur to
you as you read this, I'd still appreciate hearing from you.  A continued
happy summer to all.


Sara Strobin

Library Media Specialist

Brookdale Elementary

Tacoma, WA


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I just finished my first year. I have no help in my library so here are some
things I did to help survive:

I taught the kids 1st grade and up how to shelve the most popular items
themselves (if they checked it out). I had signage for them and actually
practiced 2 or 3 wks before starting it. They shelved the Junie B jones bks,
Magic Tree House, Seuss, Skippy Jon Jones, plus several non-fiction I had
pulled to a special area because of their popularity--sports, drawing, and I
Spy. This covered almost half my shelving. I checked in books as they
entered the library, telling them to either shelve it themselves (and where)
before sitting down or what shelf to place it on the "return bookcase". I
had 4 shelves on that bookcase--one for Es, Fs, 000-599, and 600-999. 

Sometimes when my shelving was backed up, I'd limit the kids to choosing
books from the ones that needed to be shelved. I tried to not do this very
often, but it did help. 

I hate not having help. I'm one of the few in my county that doesn't even
have parent volunteers to help. 

My biggest backup now is processing new books. I'm WAY behind with that. 

Good luck and hope you get lots of good advice. 


Are you near a college that might teach library science?  This might be a
great way to give those wanting to go into librarianship a chance to help
you out and get some great experience.  Something to think about.


Best thing I did: I got white dish wash bins at Target, (I say those from
Target, because they are big and not flimsy) I then went and got 4 inch peel
off alphabet stickers. When the classes come in with their E books, I send
them (as young as Kindergarteners) to put the book in the A bin (etc) after
I discharge the books. The bins are on top of the shelves for the E books. I
had a circulation of 14,200 books last year, with no clerk and no volunteer.

It is crazy, and my principal told me n my review she would like to see
books shelved in a more timely manner. I just smiled when she said would you
like to add anything to the review, and wrote down the circ numbers, with
the note that because we added AR the circulation was up 900 from the year


As for following overdues, no can do without a clerk. Start working now to
tell you principal that you will need a sub to come in for at least two days
for the inventory, impossible to do with no help!


Let me say first, that I feel your pain! I have a similar aide (3hrs/day)
who helps me out so much, and it sounds like your and my role (the whole
21st century info literacy/tech skill teaching role in addition to doing
traditional librarian things) are the same.  Are you also the school's tech
troubleshooter?    First of all: do you have any parent volunteers?  If not,
make a flyer, talk about the need for some at open house, and tell the
students themselves to ask their parents to come in for 1 hour 1 day a week.
If you do have parent volunteers, they should do all your shelving and help
check the kids books out.  Speaking of which, what are your checkout limits?
I raised mine by a book  when I began my position to K/1 - 1 (same), 2/3-2,
4/5-3  but this number greatly affects how many books there are coming back
to shelve!  Perhaps you could reduce your limits?  Or not allow students
with an overdue to check out ANY books til it comes back, is replaced, or
paid for.  (My students sign an agreement promising to care for/return books
or pay.)  Do you have student volunteers?  I have 5th graders come in before
school to help little kids look for and check out books, sharpen pencils,
run errands, make announcements, clean tables, etc.  They are also able to
shelve the everybody fiction books but that's about it.  Twice a year I
treat those who worked to parties and give them goodies in June.  I have a
tech team of 4th and 5th graders who, after I teach them the basics, clean
the classroom computers and the computer lab each Wednesday for one period
while I eat lunch.  Every few weeks I show them some new tech skill
(photobooth, podcasting, ichat) or give them the digital camera to take
photos of their classmates who are at recess and they can do that instead.
I also have a photography club for 5th graders since I am responsible for
the end of year/graduation slideshow.  They take the pictures and go through
them to be sure there's at least one good one of each child and some to
represent field trips, etc.  I "finesse" the slideshow.  These are the ways
I "delegate".  But, I have to say, I work a lot of OT (my choice) but my job
is my hobby, as well as a means of escaping worry!  Hope something here
clicks with you!  You'll be fine!! 


We use parent volunteers to get the books back on the shelves, for xeroxing,
and checking in orders that we then process.  Our set up is similar with
teachers having their planning time while the students have library for 40
minutes.  We are a large school so we have two librarians with 12 classes
coming each day.
Our planning time is used to get teacher collections together, process
materials, ordering, etc.  We have all our books returned first thing in the
morning in a book crate from each class that is coming to library that day.
We check them in and in about two hours our volunteers have the books
I send home at the beginning of each school year a sign up volunteer sheet
with each student.  They indicate what day they want to work and the time of
day.  We have found it best to have them all work mornings.  We are a
teaching library so trying to do lesson plans and preparing materials for
the lessons and provide a service to our staff provides for long days.  Our
automation system, Destiny saves us alot of time.
Our library is open from the first period on the first day to the last
period on the last day.  We have managed to get an extend contract with five
days before school starts and five days after the school year ends which
helps some.
You will need to provide training for your volunteers so they are really
good helpers.  We have mother volunteers who return even after their
children have gone on to middle school.  Fortunately three years ago, we got
an aide for three days each week.  We share the aide with the K - 1 building

When I was in a school and threatened with this situation (as opposed to
being presented with it, as you have been) I made a  list of all the things
I did wearing the hats of curriculum leader, information services manager
and information specialist - the three categories for the teacher librarian
suggested by the Australian School Library Association.  My library manager
did the same for her duties - you would have to do this for your now-absent
assistant - and then these were circulated to the staff with the explanation
that now there will be one instead of two, which services are they prepared
to no longer have because of this.  It was in table format and the staff had
to rate each duty on a 5 > 1 scale so we could get an accurate account of


Not only does this give you a prioritised working brief of duties which you
can use to defend against any complaints or claims of inefficiency, it also
gives staff an eye-opener to the range of things you do but they don't see.
In my case, we were successful in maintaining the position because of the
cries of outrage, but in yours, you may well get your library assistant back
or some other suitable arrangement made.


I hope you get some good ideas, but don't be afraid to leave jobs undone.
You are not going to be able to complete things in the same way with less
help, and people need to know that.

I'm so sorry for you but I fear that many of us will face the same situation
as time goes on.  When I don't have sufficient paid assistants, I have used
my students (4th and 5th graders) to check books in and out.  I select
library assistants as a reward for behavior and performance in class.

Encourage parent helpers for shelving.  I've had mixed results with this.

Some parents are great, and reliable.  Others sign up but don't show up, or
are clueless when it comes to understanding call numbers.  Those volunteers
can help with stamping new books, covering or pulling books, dusting,
organizing on a cart to aide you in shelving later.  If you have some older,
more responsible students, you could try letting them shelve as well.  Good


  One thing that you might try is explaining to your principal that you
can't possibly do all of the things that your clerk had been doing and teach
40 minute classes.  Suggest that classes be cut to 25 or 30 minutes.  This
will help you with getting things done but more importantly, since this is
release time for teachers, it will get them in your corner as support for
rehiring the clerk.  Release time is so valuable for classroom teachers that
they will yell loud and long if it is cut.  

Good luck.


I know how important clerical help is to keeping a smooth running library.

Here are a few things that might help:

In the morning before classes start, 5th grade library helpers could travel
to the rooms that have library class that day.  They could collect and then
check-in those books for you.  If time, they could sort them into
piles...easy, picture, chapter, nonfiction, etc.  and left on tables/cart to
encourage students to check them out (before you have to shelve them!)  


Pull books for K-1  students and don't let them go to the shelves.  Have
table or shelf to display a picture book selection and a nonfiction
selection for them.  As they return their books, they can just be put back
on display so someone else can check them out. 


Create some displays/tubs for series, historical fiction, graphic novels,
army/war, princess books, etc.  so they are easy to put away...even students
can put them away correctly.


I don't know how much time you have before classes begin each morning, but
perhaps there would be enough time to quickly run a class overdue list for
each teacher at the beginning of the day.

At the end of each class you could read out who needs to check out books and
have the rest of the students sit at tables and read a magazine or play
checkers or dominoes.


Teachers may need to gather their own books or they could send down 2
students to do it for them.  Give teachers a short inservice on how to use
your patron's catalog.


Parents or grandparents might be willing to volunteer to help shelve books.
I have had only one for about 1 1/2 hours each week but it does help some.
Perhaps you could find a reliable, discreet parent to run and deliver
overdue notices once a week.


Put up a smiley face on the door if/when you are available for open
checkouts.  Give teachers a list of "open checkout" times when they can send
pairs of students.  This MIGHT help with some interuptions.


Close the library at lunchtime and go somewhere else to eat.  Don't stay any
later than you are used to.  Go home and relax.


Good luck.


Forgive my typing; I'm recovering from shoulder surgery

Same thing happened to me last April.  i made a list of some of the problem
tasks and met with the principal/vp to go over them.  some items were given
to others (not nearly enough) and principal, who keeps telling me not to
stress, said the only time teachers can ask me for help is the half hour
before classes start when I'm required to be in the bldg but not teaching.
They will have to learn to be prepared further in advance.  Because of my
shoulder surgery I said I couldn't do all the shelving.  Suggestions have
included senior citizens, parents, and high school interns.  If I have to
have them, I'd pick only the parents I get to invite.  There are too many I
don't want.  Principal doesn't seem to get it when I say some people should
not be shelving books.

Question of whether or not volunteers have to be fingerprinted and who pays
for it

Obviously services have to be cut

It's truly a horrible feeling

I said (in writing) I'd have to cut classes short so I could do checkout

Problems with keeping an eye on the kids while I'm checking in/out

I feel your pain


I am lucky enough to be on flex access, with a somewhat set schedule of
class visits, I still can not get it all done. I have taught my teachers to
run the circ system, my kids shelve their own books. I read the shelves 2-3
times a year for accuracy. Don't think clean shelves will happen the first
year or even second year, but it isn't too bad, and also provides some great
talking/teaching points when a kid can't find the book they just shelved, or
someone is looking for a book that is not where it belongs. You might also
want to start a "friends of the library" club, or ask for parent volunteers.


Being a librarian is like doing laundry, dishes, or eating an elephant.

Laundry and dishes are never done, and you eat an elephant one bite at a
time. Get used to things not getting accomplished and prioritizing your
to-do list.  Do what you need to accomplish, meet your deadlines, and just
don't worry about the rest. BTW, rest may be a thing of the past! I work
long hours when needed, shut my door after school, and they think I am gone.
I have stayed until the custodians kick me out, but no one knows I am there
unless I walk into the hall and then there is a gasp, though I have been at
school all week or month until after 5 or later, but they just don't see it,
nor do they understand the need.


I'm on vacation now, and when I was called by the summer school principal to
come pass out equipment I told them where everything was, and to return it
all when classes were over.


You'll survive.  I had no clerk at all last year and it wasn't nearly as bad
as I thought it would be. I also serve a "special" and I saw every class
twice every six days for 40 minutes.  Here are some things I did.  I'm not
proud of all of them, but they allowed me to focus on teaching rather than
clerical tasks. 


1) I really talked up the books that were being returned and encouraged the
kids to look through my cart of books waiting to be shelved.  Usually those
are the books everyone wants anyway.  


2) I minimized seasonal displays of books and displayed books as they were
returned instead.  Much easier to stand a book up on a shelf for display
than to shelve it normally.  I displayed LOTS of books on tops of my books
shelves and windowsills.


3) I did not send out overdues until June.  I did speak to students with
overdue books during the year, and that seemed to be enough.  I was
surprised by how few there actually were at the end of the year.  I didn't
end up losing any more books than I've lost in years when overdues went out
every two weeks.


4) I made library cards for the K-2 students with their name and barcode.
When they arrived at the library I would "trade" with them.  If they had
their book, they would get their card and could borrow a new book. I put a
little sticker on their card when they checked out.  The stickers motivated
them to keep bringing their books back to get new ones. This killed two
birds with one stone - attendance, and I knew which kids could get a new
book without having to check them all in.


5) I set a timer and limited myself to 10 minutes per day of shelving.  I
did not go to graduate school to shelve books and I don't think it is a
prudent use of the dollars spent on my salary.  Don't get me wrong - I
actually LIKE shelving books - hence the need for the timer - but I was
there and being paid to teach. The books did not pile up as much as you
would think.  Probably due to strategies 1 and 2 above.


Good luck.  The worst part for me was actually the loneliness. 


I like the idea of listing everything we do. I was without a clerk at the
beginning of last year due to a retirement.  I felt like I was running a
sprint all the time.  I was just told last week that the clerk who came in
October is going to another school (where she will run the library - that's
another issue) and I will be 'on the wheel' (specials) for all grades.  Last
year I only had 3rd and 4th...  I usually 'just do it' and get as much done
as possible, but I know I was reaching the breaking point before they got a
clerk last year and I don't want to feel that overextended again.  It helps
that my children are grown and I could stay at school until 8:00... but I
shouldn't have to do that on a regular basis...



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