Library Expectations

What has been on my mind lately is not the glamorous or fun part of our job as librarians (and educators in general). It is the part, though, that can lead to chaos and test our sanity if we aren’t careful. In the library we love to talk about the importance of building relationships and creating a welcoming, inclusive environment. This is at the core of any strong school library program and is something I speak about frequently. Something I always struggle with, though, is being consistent with library procedures and expectations.

Unlike the classroom, the library is a space that serves a very wide range of purposes throughout the day. I know that for me, I struggle with helping students differentiate between appropriate library behaviors during flexible times, more structured times, and direct instruction in the library. Especially because at any given time, any mix of those types of activities can be happening in different areas in the library. Finding the balance between structure, consistency, and maintaining an inclusive, welcoming space is something that I have always struggled with, but sometimes find it difficult to talk about.

Thinking through my daily schedule really highlights these struggles for me:

  • The library is open before school for 45 minutes and serves as a flexible space for students to hang out, work on homework, etc.
  • During class periods throughout the day, the library has several study hall periods, students working on independent study courses, free study (for Juniors & Seniors – more freedom than study hall), students working collaboratively, etc. This is in addition to any classes visiting the library or me going to meetings or classrooms to work with students/teachers.
  • Lunch is followed immediately by office hours, an unstructured time where students are able to meet with teachers as needed. This means that the library is a very busy space where students are hanging out and socializing. I’ve had issues in the past with lack of structure and overcrowding in the library during this time. This time adds up to an hour in the middle of the day on top of their scheduled study hall/free study built into their schedule. I would like to use this time for Book Clubs and other fun library activities, but logistically it is challenging.
  • After school, the library remains open until 5:30 each evening as a space for students waiting for practices, games, etc. It is very similar to our before school time, but longer and more active.

For my own sanity, I spent some time at the end of last school year and this summer thinking through my non-negotiable expectations. I also served on our Upper School Standards & Norms Committee — a group of faculty members looking to similarly set expectations across campus to help bring some consistency across the division. I work in a great school with minimal behavior issues, but that doesn’t mean that expectations aren’t important. We all know that students thrive in an environment where expectations are clear and consistent, so this was a great time for a reset for us all. Also, for security purposes (especially in the library) I need to know what students I am responsible for at any given time, so efforts to use clear communication between faculty members (and students) moving around campus during class times in common spaces is also getting extra attention.

I created this graphic with library expectations as much for me, my assistant, and other faculty members helping to monitor library spaces as for our students. I really dislike being a “rule enforcer”, but I have come to realize that laying out these expectations and ensuring that they are being followed is important for all of us. I also feel like many of these things should go without saying, but the fact that we frequently find yogurt containers under the couch or have to ask students not to sit four to a chair (or on top of the table) means that they do in fact need to be said.

I also created this graphic for Study Hall proctors highlighting some of our updated expectations, as well as some tips for time management. Again, putting this in writing is as much for me as it is for the students.

As a result of the work done by our Standards & Norms Committee, I am working on an interactive manual using Genially that will include our rationales, expectations, norms, and best practices for the different areas addressed. I hope to be able to share that with the faculty (and here on the blog) in the next few weeks.

So please tell me I’m not alone! What struggles do you face when it comes to expectations in your library? What effective routines have you implemented that have brought you some relief and sanity? This is year 12 for me in the library, and I still feel like I don’t have the answer (although I’m making progress).

9 thoughts on “Library Expectations

  1. Hi Tiffany,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on library procedure! I found your blog while doing research for a space to connect with other teacher librarians as I am just at the very beginning of a diploma in teacher librarianship myself. Recently, as part of my coursework, I was reading an excerpt from New on the Job by Hilda Weisburg and Ruth Toor where they were talking about some of the different responsibilities that may fall outside what we may think of as typical roles of a teacher librarian. They highlighted these perhaps unexpected or unfavourable extras as opportunities to build relationships and connections. I appreciate your reflective thoughts on the need for and how to clearly communicate the expectations of the library space, carefully keeping in mind the importance of the library to be safe and welcoming, while also being extremely flexible in the different purposes the library serves at any given time. Thanks for sharing your experiences 🙂



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  3. Hi –
    Your situation sounds similar to the one we have in our library. We also have a couple chunks of unstructured time during the day – one is for office hours or club meetings on Tues/Thurs for about 30 min to an hour, and the other is a 50 minute long lunch period. The past couple of years we have had some frustrating experiences with a large group of students that starting camping out on the first floor of the library as freshmen and continued to do so as sophomores. It got to the point where no other kids felt they could even come into the first floor of the library because it was overrun with that one group of kids who were using it as their place to hang out and socialize.

    This year, we’ve set up the expectation that the library will be an academic space during those unstructured times in the hopes that every student will feel welcomed to come in and use it as a quiet(er) place in the school to work, get help, read, etc… Kids can still come and work together, but we’re not letting them use it as a space to socialize during the school day. It’s still a work in progress because the same group of kids wants to continue to use “their space” but we’ve seen an improvement even in the first couple weeks of this school year.

    We have grades 6-8 that use our library as well, and when we need space for classes for them, we close off the applicable part of library to other students. We’ve done the same thing when we are running library programming during one of the unstructured times – kids are either are in the library for the programming or they need to find another space that day.

    Good luck and I hope your year goes well!!

    1. Thanks for your response, Whitney! I’m still struggling to find the balance. Now that you are a few weeks in, are you finding that the move to having the library be a quieter place is an improvement? I think we may need to move even more in that direction. The amount of time I’m spending just watching students “hang out” in the library is daunting.

  4. Hi there. You are not alone! My school library is a 33,000 sq ft space, so as you can imagine there are lots of places and times for students to wrestle with appropriate behavior. I would begin by saying I don’t have too many issues with this, but it can become a bit noisy. I actually liked how you labeled the types of behavior of the students. We also have a before and after school time, though nothing like your after school hours. Thankfully. I can only imagine how that becomes a quite “active” time for you. We experience three times when students struggle to make good choices about noise level and work choice. The first is our student resource time. It is similar to the time you mentioned in which students work with teachers and get additional help. Students are coming and going, practicing presentations, working on papers and recording projects, etc. The other time is during lunch time. We actually allow students to bring a lunch in from home to eat in the library. We also have a small food cart from the cafeteria that comes into the library each day. There are four lunches in a day, so at any given time it is easy for us to have multiple classes in instruction and tons of other students who are just coming in for lunch. Finally, add into all of that a group, not necessarily a time. We have a transition to college program that gives seniors release time in their days. The media center is a home base for many of these students during that time. When you add all of this together, it does become a bit noisy. Admittedly, sometimes the students are not being ill-mannered; there are just so many of them that the noise level gets too high! What we try to do is walk around and really have conversation with students about using the space respectfully so that all students can get what they need… whether that’s an academic quiet space, or a more leisurely space. Unfortunately there aren’t any black and white rules of operation that can help. With that many moving parts, it is difficult to really put policy into place that can catch all of the nuance of so many situations. But I really respect your valiant effort to do so! Thank you for sharing and I’ve got a new perspective to consider in the coming week!

    1. Hi Terri, thanks for your response! It’s good to now that I’m not alone in the struggle for balance. Over a month later and I am still really struggling with this day to day.

  5. Hi Tiffany – Thank you for shedding some light on a topic, that as a new-ish teacher and prospective Teacher-Librarian, I also find difficult to talk about; the struggle with classroom management and consistent expectations. It is reassuring to hear that a) I’m certainly not alone in finding this a challenge and b) by year 12 you don’t have it all figured out yet either! After 5 years teaching, I’ve certainly made big strides in this area but it has consistently been my main stressor/energy sucker/point of self-doubt. I am continuously trying new strategies, setting up new routines, and finding new ways to create (sometimes co-create!) expectations but as an Elementary classroom teacher, the next year you have a whole new set of students with a whole new set of challenging needs. It has been a BIG learning curve. All that being said, as I make my way in to the Teacher-Librarian world, I have caught myself reflecting on the library space and what classroom management looks like in libraries. The thing that strikes me most is the flow of traffic across grades through the library and the need to maintain structure and consistent expectations, while preserving that warm, welcoming feel! I’m not surprised to hear you have recognized this as a challenge as well. In an Elementary school, where library visits are often for short periods and transitions can be difficult (especially in the younger grades), I have wondered how much of your time with students in the library is spent going over expectations? As the dynamic role of the Teacher-Librarian continues to change and more and more is added to the job description, I worry about the very real possibility of teacher burnout! That said, before I jump in, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and some of the expectations you’ve thoughtfully created for your students. Thank you!

    Best Wishes,

  6. Hello Tiffany,

    I appreciate this reflection on classroom management in the library. I found your blog while completing a task for my Teacher Librarian diploma program, which I have just begun. This post in particular caught my eye because the TLs I have connected with in the past few weeks in my district have all mentioned the importance of behavior management in the library space. Initially, this surprised me, but your post has certainly clarified why implementing management strategies is especially complex in a library environment—because the space is used (often simultaneously) as a study hall, free study/flex space, classroom, and social space on a daily basis! Some of the other commenters added that the sheer square footage of their libraries make it difficult to see everything that may be going on behind bookshelves.

    As you write, devoting time to think through your “non-negotiable expectations” is a fantastic place for me to start when I become a Teacher Librarian. I agree with you that “Finding the balance between structure, consistency, and maintaining an inclusive, welcoming space” is a struggle, and identify with your desire to avoid being a stickler for rules. But because other comments make it clear that behavior management is a common source of stress for TLs, it does appear to be necessary and ultimately helpful for all library users and staff. Your “Library Expectations” graphic is a fantastic resource. Also, thank you for introducing me to Genially—what a fun tool!

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