Contributed by Kristen Mattson, Ed.D.
School libraries are full of resources: everything from paperback books worth a handful of dollar bills to hardcover books and audio sets worth a few dollars more. Then there are the more expensive items – desktop computers, laptops or tablets, and maybe a 3D printer or a set of robots for students to code. The most PRICELESS resource in the library though, wears a name tag, not a price sticker.
The school library’s most valuable resource? Library assistants. The men and women who work tirelessly in school libraries across the country for little more than minimum wage, but have a HUGE impact on the success of the school library program. Over the years, I have come to really appreciate all of the ways my team supports the work, and how difficult it would be for me to accomplish my instructional goals without them here.
Why are library assistants so amazing? For me, they fill an important role that I cannot always do myself. Here is what I mean…
- Assistants serve children. I have watched my staff help a student locate a book and then turn around to assist another with a bloody nose while simultaneously giving a lost Freshman directions to their next class. Much like a librarian, a library assistant is willing to do whatever it takes to help meet a student’s needs.
- Assistants support teachers and other staff members. My assistants can tell you which clubs are using our space after school, who needs help setting up devices for a class, when major events like college visits are happening, and are always willing to pitch in and help. That help can come in the form of moving furniture and equipment, bar coding new text books, greeting guest speakers, contacting parent volunteers, organizing instructional materials, and doing all of it (and more!) with a positive attitude and a smile.
- Assistants support technology initiatives. They look up lost passwords, take care of printer jams, troubleshoot tech issues with students, and continue to learn and grow in their own knowledge of the tools being used in classrooms.
- Assistants keep the library organized and appealing. When my assistants are not busy with teachers and students, they are working hard to keep the library a well-oiled machine. They process new materials that come in, they maintain the orderly appearance of the materials we have, and they create the most beautiful and inviting displays to attract readers and makers.
- Assistants free up the librarian. The librarian cannot simultaneously be an instructional leader, library program developer, co-teacher AND find time to meet the moment by moment needs of each individual student. Without my assistants being the welcoming face of the library who CAN meet those moment by moment needs, the big picture planning I do would be for naught. When I know that the small details are being taken care of, I am free to work more closely with teachers on the instructional planning and learning experiences students will receive as a result of any event we may host or class that I co-teach. Without the amazing assistants in the library on a daily basis, my role would look quite different than it does today.
As we move toward models of Future Ready libraries, it will be increasingly important to advocate for our most valuable resource – the people. Amidst the technology integration, the maker spaces and genius bars, it is the people and the relationships they build with students and staff that will keep libraries a relevant fixture of our schools and our society.