Top 5 Lessons I’ve Learned As a School Librarian

August 15, 2017

Contributed by April Wathen, M.Ed
Teacher Librarian, Pre-K—5th grade


Whether you are in an elementary, middle or high school library, a post-secondary library, or a public library, I believe my lessons learned over the years will resonate with you.


  1. We are customer service

Everything we do in the our libraries revolves around customer service. When we are partnering with local businesses, our county or building administration, acquiring books for our collection, interfacing with parents, assisting colleagues and most importantly, reaching our main audience – our students, we MUST have friendly, top-notch customer service! People around  us need to know we are there to serve them and their needs. Sometimes you may need to branch out of your comfort zone, find your patrons and let them know how you can help them. Surprisingly it seems that not all potential patrons realize we are eager and happy to assist them in their quest.


image from Fiction or Nonfiction (Library Skills)

  1. Our roles are still the same but ever-changing

Libraries have been around for about 5,000 years. When we look a short look back to the early 1900s and the work of Andrew Carnegie to build libraries or we look at the days of the traveling libraries, we know that the goal is still the same – to educate our patrons and promote intellectual freedom. Librarians have always been ones to curate and disseminate information. We still do this. However, our jobs have recently gotten a lot more exciting with the introduction of computer science, makerspaces, and alternative facts! While we still hold our basic goals we also have the privilege of guiding our patrons to information literacy in the purest form.


  1. Libraries will take as much as you can give and then some

Whether you are new to the library environment or have spent 25 years assisting people and watching them blossom, you have probably experienced FOMO (fear of missing out) on a stellar book or series for your collection, a learning opportunity, a new piece of technology that would make life more interesting for your patrons, etc. Something we need to recognize and accept is that libraries will take all we can give and then some. Writing goals down for the quarter/year and sticking to them may help one stay focused on not only what is best for his/her library but also for oneself. Perhaps sharing these goals will allow those around you to remind you to stay on your charted course – though flexibility is key to libraries!


  1. Networks are powerful

When I first started my journey as a Teacher Librarian, I knew I felt disconnected in my space. I adored my students and could not have been happier to be in a librarian but found myself looking for places to connect. One of the best choices I made was reaching out to my state organization for school libraries. There I found others who were as passionate about their libraries as I was mine; leadership opportunities and friendships! This was the start of my strong Professional Learning Network (PLN) that I truly would not feel complete without having. Another great networking tool is Twitter. Many are Twitter averse – even at tech conferences I attend but let me just share this, if you set up a Twitter account and make only professional connections – at any time night or day, you can read your Twitter feed and in 3 minutes or less, have many applicable ideas to take back to your building. Perhaps Instagram is better suited for your needs. I urge you to add one more resource to your PLN as a result of reading this (Facebook professional group, Twitter, AASL, ISTE, state organization, etc.). Being connected is never a bad thing.


  1. We must always lead from the library

No matter the type of library we are in, we must lead. In a time where our value is questioned on a regular basis, we know we are more necessary now than ever. Please advocate for libraries. Step out of your comfort zone to lead in a new and creative way. Perhaps you can Tweet the empowerment of students that is happening in your space. Consider offering professional development to staff on tools that will take student learning to the next level. Offer to host professional development for your district on pressing issues such as digital literacy and finding fake news. Make a connection with local businesses to enhance student achievement. There are endless possibilities to lead from the library.

I will leave you with Andrew Murphy’s words, “You are only confined by the walls you build yourself.” I challenge you to crash those walls and go forth confidently leading from the library. Your people deserve it.



April Wathen holds a Master’s Degree in Leadership in Teaching from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland and a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Clarion University of Pennsylvania. In 2016, she was selected as the representative from St. Mary’s County Public Schools for the Washington Post Teacher of the Year program. Ms. Wathen has been employed with St. Mary’s County Public Schools for seven years. She was a finalist competing against other teachers from public and private schools throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.