Confessions Of A Volunteer Librarian – Part 1
The idea of being a teacher in any capacity makes me tremble. Lead a Parent-Teacher Association? Sure. Do an hour of social media reminders each week? No problem. Speak at a local conference? Absolutely. Shape the minds of young, loud, testy, unmanageable kiddos? That takes a special kind of person that I. Am. Not. Teachers should receive a million dollar award each year.
Yet, the private school my daughters attend had a major need. Mr. D., principle-and-upper-grade-teacher extraordinaire stepped forward in gray sneakers and a bright tie, a list of needs in his hand during the first staff meeting.
“We need a volunteer P.E. teacher, a cook for lunchtime, and, oh yes, a librarian. If anyone you know can fill those positions, please let me know,” he finished.
My heart lurched. No librarian? No library time? What a gaping hole in their school experience. My childhood story time flashed before me, squished with classmates in a corner, surrounded by spine stocked shelves, laughing and frowning as my school librarian, Mrs. Yeagal, regaled us all with story after story. I couldn’t let the lack of a leader stop this from happening.
To say I’m busy is an overstatement. If there is a hole in my schedule, I’ll fill it. This volunteer position required an entire day each week, six hours of time I couldn’t use to write, work, or run errands anymore.
I approached Mr. D and signed up.
Later at home, my husband looked at me and sighed. “Well, you finally got your library. The one you always wanted.”
It’s true. As an author of children’s literature, I’ve dreamed of readings in schools and libraries, introducing old classics and new favorites to students and hearing how much they loved the stories. Building my own library and living in it.
I had no idea what I’d signed up for.
The Library Molded
Not twenty-four hours after claiming my new position, I walked in to find rugs yanked up and furniture pulled back from the wall. Ms. Whitney, a spunky new 2nd and 3rd-grade teacher, hovered over the area, occasionally squashing arachnids as they scattered from their disturbed perches.
“I knew I smelled something,” she stated. Her room adjoined the library room. She pointed to black spots littering the wall and carpeted platform stairs where past students lounged to read.
Several phone calls later, my library had hypothetical police tape across the doorway. I spent two dangerous afternoons with the help of a friend packing up hundreds of alphabetized volumes and covering shelves, desks, and computers with sheets. Less clean up later that way. Between the mold and the new drywall that would be needed, a future mess loomed.
Students treat librarians like substitute teachers
The ideal version of how things will go when “X” finally happens? Not accurate. First day back in the library room threw me back into the real world like a rock in a slingshot.
Librarians get the good and bad that substitute teachers often experience. Except for some reason, only having students once per week means they have just enough time to forget the rules and try to dominate authority.
One student in an upper grade tried bullying me into letting him borrow a computer. Seriously? If you need a computer, you’d better discuss that with your parent, Dude. Though you probably don’t deserve one. Now back away from my desk.
Students try to swindle their way into bending the rules or straight up defy you. I asked one 5th grader to please leave the books on the table, and she dropped them on the floor as she walked out the door. Man, we’ve got to get her hearing checked.
On the other side of that coin, students sometimes show excitement at a new face, and the same childhood love of stories reincarnated into our cute little library. Just this week, I helped a kindergartner discover the hilarious that is Amelia Bedelia. Another got to show off his reading skills as I scanned his choice into the checkout system.
“Ca-ca-cat!” he proclaimed with a big grin.
For the Love of Books!
My third week as librarian, the book doctor (A.K.A. me) performed a melodramatic show about all the ways books can “get sick” at home. We discussed keeping drooling pets and baby siblings away, keeping books in the house and out of the weather, not eating or drinking around library books, and washing hands before reading them. After all that effort, the students would take care of them and return them in great working order, I thought.
“Are you sure you want the preschoolers and kindergartners taking them home?” a wise lower grade teacher asked.
“Of course! They all love reading so much. It will be fine,” I replied.
On book return day one, fourteen never made it back for check-in or recheck. Two ruined hardcovers limped into the return bin, and one managed to tear itself up during library free time.
On the other hand, dozens of remembered books slipped into the check-in, and eager faces asked me about what else they would like. My knowledge and the little bit I’ve learned about the students helped me prescribe some great word candy. Book hugs prevailed as students walked away from my desk. Some students slid onto the turtle pond rug with pillows or a quiet corner to enjoy their treasure.
At the End of the Day
Even with all the mishaps, the good parts of being a librarian still outweigh the bad. Is that why teachers keep doing this year after year? That swelling sense of fulfillment in the heart? Yep, it came as each student left the library, either in anticipation of their new read or determined to return their book next week to get a new one. I’ll keep on volunteering, using every Thursday as a new try, a better attempt, at teaching students to lose themselves in a worthy book.