Of Organization & Access

Candidates in school librarian preparation programs model, facilitate, and advocate for equitable access to and the ethical use of resources in a variety of formats. Candidates demonstrate their ability to develop, curate, organize, and manage a collection of resources to assert their commitment to the diverse needs and interests of the global society. Candidates make effective use of data and other forms of evidence to evaluate and inform decisions about library policies, resources, and services.

American Association of School Librarians. (2019). ALA/AASL/CAEP school librarian preparation standards. ALA.

The word "organization" relates to arrangement, planning, and structuring, and implies that efficiency and order are inherent in a place or system. "Access" is defined as an entrance, a way in. In the school library, both organization and access (or accessibility) impact the quality of students' learning experiences. Welcoming, functional, and pleasing arrangement of the physical space, careful planning of instruction, and effective structuring and implementation of library programs all provide learners with a way into to a wide and beautifully diverse world of knowledge.

I can recall the moment that I started facilitating better student access to library resources and making efforts to remove barriers to that access, though I don't think I consciously realized at the time what I was doing. I had probably been on the job for no more than a week, and I decided to completely reconfigure the placement of a number of different sections of books, because I didn’t think that the “flow” was right for students; it quite simply wasn’t geared toward their needs, and the way in which it was arranged seemed to actually make it more challenging for them to find the books they wanted.

For a short while, there were books everywhere.

My principal walked in, stood there in shock for a moment,

and then said, just before he made a hasty getaway:

“Well, I’ll leave you to it.”

That was only the beginning.

Prior to my arrival, there had only been a librarian on site approximately two days per week. The library was basically closed on the days that the librarian was at another location. By the time I got there, the library seemed lifeless and exuded neglect; and needless to say, this wasn't surprising, as it wasn't being used as much as it could or should have been. It epitomized the opposite of open access. Moreover, in addition to the physical, time-related constraints placed on library visits, students often felt restricted by certain library processing and policy choices, such as book level labeling, enforcement of book fines, and limitations on how many books students could check out and from which section they could check them out. I set out to reverse and rescind these by making myself and the library space itself more available, halting AR label placement, curtailing book fines, and allowing free choice and larger quantities when it came to book checkouts.

Library Spaces: From “Meh.” to “Yay!” further details, through a comparison of two rather different library plans and layouts, where our library was and where I hope it will be in the future. It also displays how I have facilitated and/or plan to facilitate accessibility and how I have addressed various barriers.

For standards and needs to be met, a school librarian must establish criteria and seek out appropriate (and, in time, favored) tools to make the best possible choices regarding books, eBooks, databases, materials, aesthetics, furniture--indeed, anything and everything that has the potential to find its way into the library. This can mean familiarizing oneself with curriculum and the student population and creating a checklist of requirements for purchases, wherein items are assessed on their merits, possibility of effectiveness, alignment with the curriculum, students’ skill level, relation to special needs requests, teachers’ preferences, their ability to fill in gaps in the library collection, and more. An alternative is to start instead with a particular lesson, unit, or standard/portion of the curriculum and determine needs based upon it.

An example of the latter is suggested by It Was Greek to Me, a collaborative lesson plan that might be adapted and used for different grade levels and features: comparisons between Ancient Greece and modern-day America, including those related to the arts, literature, government, and more; a wide variety of resources, including Pearltrees (a curation tool), both print and nonprint books, and technological tools like Google Slides, Adobe Spark, and Canva; and the opportunity for students to work in groups to respond creatively to lesson(s). All of the materials were thoroughly reviewed prior to implementation to determine their suitability.

It is crucial that school librarians constantly evaluate and re-evaluate not only their instruction, but the collection upon which instruction is often based. Doing so entails frequently engaging in activities and tasks such as simply getting one’s hands on the books (via shelving, inventory, etc.), weeding, diversity audits, reading and plundering professional journals for reviews and recommendations, and--to paraphrase Jim McKay from ABC’s “Wide World of Sports”--spanning the globe (well, virtually, at least) to bring students the constant variety of books, materials, and resources.

It is also obvious that school librarians must have a set of collection development policies in place. Having the policies and a related collection development manual, like the one I myself created initially with cohort members and subsequently revised to better suit our library, makes certain that the collection is of a high calibre and also serves to protect both the books on the shelves and the librarian who shelves them, in the event that any challenges occur.

Technical services comprise the nuts and bolts that figuratively hold the library together. Though the Wizard of Oz commanded Dorothy and her companions to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” attention must be paid to what goes on in the background and “behind the scenes” in the library, such as acquisitions and collection development.

Of course, technical services can involve anything from cataloging to classification to preservation, plus a great deal more besides, as my technical services manual describes in depth.

In seeking to improve the collection and, by association, the community, during my first and third years in our library I engaged in thorough audits of our resources. By doing so, I was able to discover that the collection was outdated (the nonfiction especially and disturbingly so) and featured gaps in subject matter and perspectives (e.g., certain historical periods, particular ethnic viewpoints and/or protagonists, etc.). In addition, I sought out students’ input regarding what kinds of books they enjoyed and wished the library held. As a result, I was able to get a clearer, more accurate picture of what I needed to do to make our collection more current, more representative, and more in keeping with patrons’ preferences.