A Day in the Life of a High School Library Clerk

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This September marks my tenth year as a school library clerk. I love my job and how varied it is. No two days look exactly the same, especially since I split my full-time schedule between two high schools. When people ask what my job entails, I say that it’s a little bit of everything. I get to do nearly all library tasks: circulation, reference, collection development, marketing, shelving, and technology help. In addition to my daily work, I help run a multicultural literature book club and serve on one school’s equity committee. I like being busy when I’m at work, and that’s certainly no problem, especially this year.

Since the past year and a half of school has been virtual, my job was primarily virtual, too. Thankfully, students are allowed back in the library this year, and I think I forgot how busy the days could be.

I thought it would be fun to celebrate my tenth anniversary by sharing what one of my workdays looked like this week. People tend to think of libraries as quiet, calm places, but that’s an old stereotype. Here’s a glimpse of what the library is like for me on an average day.

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7:00 a.m. | My workday begins at 7:15, but a crucial part of my day often starts around 7:00, when I stop by Starbucks to pick up my usual mobile order (Venti decaf shaken espresso with sugar-free vanilla, in case you were curious, which you definitely were). When I walk through the door, most of the staff greet me by name, so it’s fair to say I choose Starbucks over my at-home coffee maker most days. Sorry, Nespresso machine.

7:15 a.m. | I walk into the library, flick on a few lights, and turn on the vintage circulation computer that sometimes takes a while to wake up (I relate, so no judgment). I help with laminating at one of my schools, so I usually turn on that machine, too. There’s nothing like the smell of burnt plastic in the morning.

7:30 a.m. | I open up the library doors for students to come in. Sometimes kids are waiting, and sometimes only a couple of students come by before class. I’ll check out a few books and give students the holds they’ve come in to pick up.

8:00 a.m. | I help with laptop distribution, so kids start steadily coming in either needing a computer or needing help with a computer problem. I have several carts full of new books in my workroom that need to be processed, but I’m so busy with laptops that I only finish processing a handful.

10:00 a.m. | The first class of the day comes in for book checkout. After not having students in the library for so long, it’s a delight to have it packed and busy again. I start by giving the students a quick introduction to the space, and then they’re off to find books that look interesting. I have several displays set up and books faced out everywhere, hoping to make it easy for students to find engaging titles.

11:00 a.m. | It’s time for the first lunch of the day. We let kids eat in the library, so it fills up pretty quickly. I check out a few more books during lunch, but most kids are there just to eat and hang out. I heard a student say to a friend, “The library is where all the kids with social anxiety come for lunch.” I’m thrilled to be part of a place where kids feel safe and able to relax.

12:00 p.m. | Second lunch is happening while another class comes in for checkout. It’s a little chaotic, but the students are good listeners and end up finding a lot of books to read.

12:30 p.m. | I finally get a moment to pause and eat my lunch. I usually bring my Kindle to read during my break, but since I’ve been so busy today, I skip the book and play around on my phone instead. I knew I couldn’t focus on a book, which is a tad ironic, considering my job.

1:00 p.m. | The final classes of the day and kids needing help with their laptops fill the rest of my afternoon. I try to process a few books between students at my desk, but I don’t get very far.

2:45 p.m. | School is out, and I’ve waited a few minutes for the halls to clear. Now it’s time to take a book cart to an English teacher whose students had placed a ton of titles on hold. Kids have been so excited to have access to library books again, which makes me happy. Some kids requested one book, while several others requested five. I relate more to the kids who requested five!

3:00 p.m. | I return to the library, where the homework club is in full swing. Though this happens in the library, I’m not in charge of it, so I finally have some time to shelve, get books checked in, and straighten up the shelves for the classes coming in the next day.

3:30 p.m. | I reply to any emails I’ve missed, check the library visit sign-up calendar, and clean up my desk.

3:45 p.m. | I’m finally heading out the door! I turn on a podcast in my car while I drive home, looking forward to a (very long) nap.

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That’s what my Wednesday looked like last week! For those of you who are also library workers, what are your workdays like?

Ten Books for Back-to-School Season

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Since I work in education, September feels more like a new year than January does. When I go back to work, sometimes I want to pick up a book that mirrors my current season. If a book is set inside a school or is about a professor, I’m interested right away. I’m not sure if my intrigue stems from working in schools or fond memories of college, but no matter the reason why, I love academic settings and characters. Today I’m sharing ten books that are just right for back-to-school season. Sharpen your pencils, and let’s begin.

Adequate yearly progress book cover

Adequate Yearly Progress by Roxanna Elden

This novel presents a satirical look at a public high school in Texas. We meet an earnest English teacher who yearns for a deeper connection with her students. The principal ends up in the news for saying something controversial on camera. Other main characters include a math teacher, biology teacher, football coach, and a second-year history teacher who blogs about the school and starts to go viral.

I found this novel to be equal parts funny and insightful. Many of the characters are people I feel like I’ve met over the years. If you’re looking for a lighthearted book to welcome you into a new school year, this is the one.

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The All-Night Sun by Diane Zinna

I wrote about this book in last week’s recap, so I’ll repeat what I said then:

Lauren is a lonely, 30-year-old woman teaching college writing near Washington, D.C. She lost her parents years ago in a car accident and is still trying to find her way after their deaths. When Siri shows up in Lauren’s classroom, the two women strike up a friendship. Siri has also lost her parents, so the two feel a special kinship. Siri invites Lauren back to her home in Sweden, and Lauren, blurring professional boundaries, accepts.

The All-Night Sun follows the two women through their time in Sweden. This novel explores friendship, loneliness, and professionalism through beautiful prose and memorable characters. The cover of this book caught my eye at my local indie bookstore, and I’m so glad it did. I think most literary fiction fans will enjoy this story.

Good girls lie book cover

Good Girls Lie by J. T. Ellison

Good Girls Lie is set at a prestigious all-girls prep school in Virginia. The Goode School is for the rich and influential, the types of girls who will head off to Yale and Harvard. Beneath the impressive exterior is a secret society whose members push past the strict behavioral lines the administration has drawn for them. When a popular student ends up dead, people say it was suicide, but there are too many questions about the death for the interest to end there.

While I didn’t love this book’s conclusion, I did love the setting and the story’s fast pace. Good Girls Lie is the perfect escapist novel for anyone in the mood for a dark academic tale.

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Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking for Alaska is the first novel by young adult legend John Green. (It’s also my favorite of his books.) The story follows a boy named Miles who attends a coed boarding school. It’s there he meets a girl named Alaska. He’s immediately smitten and is soon drawn into her fascinating, self-destructive world. When tragedy strikes, Miles is forced to reevaluate everything he thought he knew. 

I’ve read all of the novels Green has authored alone, and this is the one that has stuck with me the most. He writes teenagers so well, and their desperation and strivings toward adulthood are profound in this story. 

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The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

In some ways, The Most Dangerous Place on Earth is the opposite of Adequate Yearly Progress. While that novel was satirical and followed teachers at a struggling school, this novel is much darker and primarily follows students at a school full of privileged families. The staff member readers get to know the most is a new teacher named Molly. She’s unaware of a tragic event that happened in middle school, an event still reverberating through the high school years later.

I appreciated how Lindsey Lee Johnson juxtaposed privilege and tragedy, earnestness and facade. This novel felt achingly real and has some critical things to say about how our actions can haunt us.

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My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

As the #MeToo movement continued to pick up steam in 2017, allegations come out against Jacob Strane, the man who groomed and started a relationship with his student Vanessa when she was just 15. The two are still entwined years later, even though Vanessa is in her late 20s and living her own life. Because of the allegations, she’s forced to remember what she had with Strane and reevaluate it. In her mind, she was in love. She’s not a victim. She chose Strane. Or did she?

This novel focuses on an abusive relationship between a high school teacher and his student, so know that My Dark Vanessa is not for everyone. It’s sad and disturbing, but I ended up loving it. It has important things to say about responsibility and consent.

The secret history book cover

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

This novel is set at a small, elite college in New England. A group of eccentric students grows close with an equally eccentric classics professor. Readers find out within the first few pages that one of the students is dead. The tension of this book is how it got to that point. 

The Secret History is probably the most popular, beloved book of the dark academia theme, and for good reason. It’s beautifully written and is full of memorable characters who you’re never quite sure you trust. This book is one of my all-time favorite novels, one I wish I could read again for the first time. It’ll never leave my personal library. 

Stoner by John Williams book cover

Stoner by John Williams

Stoner is a simple book with a simple story. The novel follows a man named William Stoner throughout his life in Missouri. Stoner is expected to take over the family farm, but he is fascinated by literature and becomes a professor. We follow Stoner through his work life and marriage as he struggles with the things we all struggle with: being present, working hard, and showing up for the people who need us.

This book has been called a perfect novel, and I wholeheartedly agree. Stoner is not to be missed for readers who appreciate character development and a deep look into a person’s mind and spirit. It might be a simple story, but John Williams has profound things to say about being human.

Surprised by Oxford book cover

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber

If you like nonfiction, here’s a recommendation for you. Surprised by Oxford is a memoir of Carolyn Weber’s time as a student. She begins attending Oxford as an agnostic but ends up becoming a committed Christian. This book is the story of how and why she converted. It’s a love story between Weber and Jesus, but also between Weber and her future husband.

Weber talks about faith with such nuance, intelligence, and warmth. The prose in this book is gorgeous, and you can’t ask for a much better setting than Oxford. If you’re a fan of Lauren Winner or Sara Miles, make sure to find a copy of this book and read it immediately.

Trust exercise book cover

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

This novel begins in the 1980s at a performing arts high school. The two primary characters are students David and Sarah, who fall in love. Their classmates’ rolling eyes can’t dim their passion or commitment. About halfway through this book, something changes, and readers are faced with a new reality that’s hard to explain.

Trust Exercise is a book that has kept on surprising me. The initial twist surprised me when I read it and ultimately left me disappointed. But I couldn’t stop thinking about this book after I finished it. The characters and their stories kept rolling around in my head. While Trust Exercise won’t be for everyone, I do believe it’s worth your time. (And so did the people who gave it the National Book Award.)


That’s my list! What novels would be on your back-to-school syllabus?

5 of My Favorite School Novels

We’re halfway through May now which means the school year is finally winding down. I have about four weeks left until I’m on summer vacation from my library job. Thanks to all of the graduations, tests, and year-end checklists, I’ve thought about school a lot lately, and I’m using that as inspiration for today’s post featuring some of my favorite novels set in a school or focused on students. A couple of these books deal with suicide, so if that’s not a topic you’re comfortable reading about this would be a good post to skip. Let’s dive in!

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Connell and Marianne meet in high school. He’s popular but poor. Marianne is a social outcast, but she comes from a wealthy family full of terrible people. Though these two would never speak at school, they’re brought together when Connell shows up at Marianne’s house to pick up his mother who works as the family’s maid. They soon embark on a romantic relationship that Connell is desperate to keep secret so as not to jeopardize his social standing. Normal People follows Connell and Marianne through their high school love and explores how their bond is deepened and tested throughout college. Sally Rooney has important things to say about class and gender, and her dialog is fantastic. I’d been looking forward to this novel for months, and it didn’t disappoint.

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth book cover

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

During his eighth grade year, a bullied boy named Tristan kills himself after a love letter he wrote a girl is shared on Facebook. The Most Dangerous Place on Earth tells the story of the students who were involved in Tristan’s life, examines their guilt in the aftermath, and presents a harsh yet realistic look at life in high school. In addition to the students, readers meet Molly, an earnest new teacher hoping to make a significant impact on her students. The novel switches back and forth between perspectives, and I was fascinated by each one. I haven’t heard many people talk about this book, but it’s worth your time and attention, especially if you work with teens like I do.

Dare Me book cover

Dare Me by Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott’s books are adult fiction, yet she writes teenagers so well. In Dare Me, she tells the story of a high school cheerleading squad living in the aftermath of a suspicious suicide. As an investigation into the death begins, the girls form new alliances, bond with their cool new coach, and treat each other with a viciousness masked by pompoms and the perfect routine. This book is chilling and impossible to put down. Abbott is one of my favorite writers, and Dare Me is an excellent place to start if you haven’t read her work before.

The Secret History book cover

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

In the first few pages of The Secret History, readers find out that a student at an elite college has died. The rest of the novel explores why and how. Richard is the main character, and when he transfers to Hampden College, he joins a group studying Greek classics under the direction of a professor the students nearly worship. Donna Tartt explores friendship, morality, literature, and devotion with great care and nonstop drama. The Secret History is suspense fiction at its finest, and one of my favorite novels of all time.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics book cover

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

Blue lives with her professor father and has moved a lot for his work. When she’s a senior in high school, she and her father finally settle down, and Blue falls in with an eccentric group of students and their beloved teacher. Special Topics in Calamity Physics has been compared to The Secret History because of its plot, but this book has a lighter tone, though it too involves death and mysterious circumstances. This novel is what got Marisha Pessl added to my “I’ll Read Everything They Write” list. I’ve never read anything else quite like this book. I adore it, and I think literature-lovers who appreciate quirky fiction will, too.


What are your favorite school novels? What should I read next based on these books? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading!

3 Things I Learned While Earning My English Degree

As an undergrad student majoring in English, the one question I got all the time was, “So you’re going to teach?” My answer always has and always will be “no.” Teachers are amazing, but teaching isn’t my calling. If I taught, the students and I would both be crying a lot, and I find it best to avoid mass crying.

Though I don’t use my degree to teach, it’s come in handy a time or two over the years. Today I want to share the three most important lessons I learned while getting my degree and how I’ve put them to use.

I LEARNED HOW TO REALLY READ.

I’ve always been an avid reader, but it wasn’t until college that I learned how to read through various lenses. Whenever I read anything before, I read it through the lens of a white, middle-class millennial. But in college, I learned how to read through the lens of the Victorians, the Romantics, and the audiences who witnessed Shakespeare’s plays. As I earned my degree, I learned that when I read, I need to think about context, such as:

What time period was this written in?
Who was the original audience?
What would stand out to them that can inform my opinion today?

That knowledge has been incredibly beneficial and opened up texts to me in whole new ways.

I LEARNED THERE’S A REASON WHY SO MUCH CLASSIC LITERATURE IS REVERED, EVEN IF I DON’T LOVE IT.

Reading Moby-Dick wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had, but I’m glad I read it. Melville’s story of an obsessed man going on an epic quest is a timeless story about longing and revenge. I’m not Shakespeare’s biggest fan, but it’s astounding to me that people are still analyzing and enjoying his words even now. His use of language amazes me. I might not pick up Paradise Lost or The Scarlet Letter for light weekend reading, but those stories tell us something profound about humanity, sin, and judgment. I didn’t love all the reading I was assigned in school, but I did discover books like The Monk by Matthew Lewis and Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain. I also encountered contemporary works like Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich. Good fiction always tells the truth, and those books tell it beautifully. Even though I didn’t like every text I was assigned in school, I’m better for having read them, and I was exposed to some great writers along the way.

I LEARNED WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A FEMINIST AND THAT I AM ONE.

In my last semester of college, I took two classes that paired perfectly. One was an English class teaching the theory and fiction of the women’s movement thus far, and the other was a sociology class about gender. I went into those classes pretty neutral about feminism. It wasn’t a word I used to identify myself, but if someone else used it, that was just fine with me. I couldn’t have given you a good definition of the term at all until I read the passionate words of Audre Lorde, Naomi Wolf, and others like them. I didn’t fully understand how hard women had to fight to vote or to buy a house on their own. I couldn’t have explained why feminism is so important before I watched a documentary in my sociology class about how women are objectified. I knew that was true, of course, but it wasn’t until I saw scenes of women allowing members of a rock band to throw pieces of deli meat onto their skin to see if it would stick that I realized just how little women’s lives matter to people who only see them as entertainment.  Learning about how the world has mistreated women and how so many have fought back shaped me in ways that I’m still uncovering.


What are the important things you learned in school? I’d love to hear them!


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Why Bother Having a School Library?

For the past seven years, I’ve worked as a library clerk for a public school district. I spend my time in three different buildings working with elementary and high school students. I love my work and believe it can make a difference.

When you think of a school library, maybe you think of old books, slow computers, and encyclopedia sets from 1982. Perhaps you imagine the librarian glaring at you for talking too loudly, or you still feel a bit guilty about all those library fines. If you don’t have good memories of your school library or maybe never even used it, you might wonder if they matter. I think they do, and here’s why.

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STUDENTS CAN SIMPLY BE IN THE LIBRARY.

There are many demands placed on students by their peers, parents, and teachers. There’s constant pressure to perform and excel. While such pressure is necessary for success, kids need a break from it sometimes. The library offers students something unique because when they walk through the doors, they can just be. They can come in with friends to chat and study together. They can come in and sit alone, enjoying some quiet time. They can read, listen to music, do research, play computer games, flip through a graphic novel, or create something. In short, they can relax. I don’t care about homework, grades, reading level, or popularity. I care that students can visit the library and feel free to be themselves.

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A LIBRARY IS FREE FROM JUDGMENT.

Not all libraries are judgment-free zones, of course, but that should be the goal. Students should be able to use the library to learn and discover without being evaluated. They should feel free to research what they’re interested in without raised eyebrows. They should be able to choose books about tough topics knowing that what they read will stay confidential. I hope when students use their school libraries they’re greeted with kindness and warmth. Kids know when they’re wanted and when they’re not. Those of us who have the privilege of working with students every day need to remind ourselves that our small acts of kindness toward them make a more significant impact than we know.

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STUDENTS CAN BE CURIOUS IN THE LIBRARY.

Whether a student wants a book or online resources, they can use the library to examine what they’re curious about. I’ve had students ask me for information about many different topics, including computer coding, drawing, writing, religion, mythology, and so much more. Once I had a student ask for books on World War III, and I had to reassure him that hasn’t actually happened yet. Kids are naturally curious. The library provides a place where that curiosity can be fostered.

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THE LIBRARY IS FUN!

Focus and hard work are essential if a student is going to succeed, but having fun is important too. If we want kids to love reading and learning, they have to enjoy themselves in the process. I’ve worked in libraries where elementary students have access to stuffed animals, bean bag chairs, puzzles, games, and art supplies. A high school I worked in had computers with specialized software so students could edit photos, videos, and music. The high school I’m assigned to right now offers chess sets to kids. Learning is a big part of the library, but fun is vital if students are to be lifelong library users. I’d hate to think someone never sets foot in public libraries as an adult because they were so bored in their school library.

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STUDENTS ARE REPRESENTED IN THE LIBRARY.

The schools I’ve always worked in have been predominantly white. That’s why it’s so important that when I do social media posts and book displays, I feature people of color. Students who look around at their peers might not always see other kids or teachers who look like they do, but it’s essential that they see themselves reflected somewhere. I want students of color to recognize themselves in their library’s book collection. I want them to see lives and stories like theirs in the titles we display and the posts we share. People have an innate need to feel seen, and school libraries can help as long as they make diversity a priority in both their collection and marketing.

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THE LIBRARY IS A PLACE WHERE STUDENTS HAVE A VOICE.

Another way libraries make sure students feel seen and represented is to give them a voice regarding the library’s direction. After years of research and experience, I’ve developed a little trick I like to call asking. Ask kids what books they’d like to see on the shelf, and they’ll know you care about their opinion. Ask the ones who always run toward the computers what kind of programs they’d enjoy, and they’ll know you noticed their excitement about technology. Ask the student who says your horror section is too small what books she’d suggest the library purchase next and she’ll know you care about her favorite genre. Asking for feedback is such a simple thing, but it helps students understand their opinions count for something.


I could go on (and on and on), but these issues are the ones I’m most passionate about at the moment. How do you feel about school libraries? What did you like or dislike about the library as a student?