Wednesday, January 9, 2013

What They Didn't Teach In Library School: Overcoming the Pied Piper Syndrome

'What They Didn't Teach In Library School' is a series of guest-authored posts,
written by YA Librarians  from around the country, highlighting situations or skills
that were never addressed in formal Library School, but that are integral to librarianship.

Overcoming the Pied Piper Syndrome:
Never Work Harder Than Your Students
by Holly Gillum

Had known my transfer to the high school library would make me a pied-piper of teenagers, I might have reconsidered my application!  I am still learning how to adjust to my sudden “popularity” and it’s a constant battle to maintain my professional distance, coordinate needed and interesting programs, and retain my sanity all at the same time.  Long story short, I was able to transfer to the high school library last year after 10+ years in elementary.  I began physically redecorating and watched to see what was used, needed, and/or desired.  Oh, what I have learned!

As former students, there is a level of familiarity with these kids and what I call “automatic respect.”  I don’t have many discipline problems and I seem to attract the at-risk and/or “different” students.  Just my cup of tea!  (Frankly, I’ve never met a completely sane librarian anyway.  How boring would that be?)  I love my new environment.  I love reconnecting with former students.  I love the fact they read BIG books.  But there are some drawbacks to being the "Cool Librarian"; I'm followed every step of every minute of the day!  Most of you are aware the being a Library Media Specialist is somewhat of a solitary job.  Many of our students, teachers, and yes, even administrators, have no idea what goes on in our libraries.  Through the library's doors lie a mysterious vault of knowledge that one ventures into only when one must.  I enjoy the mysterious persona, but my kids have discovered my secret.  I get paid to play with books all day.

In making my library an interesting place to visit, I’ve introduced a seating area with an attractive book display.  I added a BOGO (bring one, get one) paperback exchange shelf, and on a whim, picked up some card games and board games.  Little did I know it would only double my population and turn my lunch times into a circus!  I love being surrounded by teens, but it’s exhausting.  So, to preserve my sanity, I’m learning to set boundaries.

In finding ways to fill their time constructively, I’ve developed a set of easy guidelines and put them to work.  I have a student who runs my coffee shop in the morning before school.  I have another who manages my computers – turns them on/off and makes sure they are logged out appropriately.  I have a student who shelves books and because of her love of ABC order, does random shelf-checks.  One of my guys likes to keep the periodicals in order and I have another who “stickers” and “wraps” all of my new books.  I have a “Tree of Talent” painted on an entry wall where I’ve hung picture frames featuring poems, short writings, and drawings by students and a student who manages it.  Five periods out of seven I have a volunteer library worker who runs the circulation desk for me and collects passes.  I have managed to out-source all of my more tedious jobs, leaving me time for the behind-the-scenes maintenance that only I can do.  I still end up eating lunch at my desk with an audience, but I can do so knowing my library is being cared for appropriately.

My first rule for my new semester this New Year: Never Work Harder than the Students.  I’m learning as I go and it’s definitely a work in progress.  Don’t be afraid to trust them to help - teens can be one of your greatest resources and supporters.  Even better, they are training others, tweeting on little pied-pipes of their own.  Turn loose of the reins and give them a chance.  You’ll be amazed at what they can do.

About Holly
Holly Gillum is a first year High School Librarian with 10+ years of elementary librarianship under her belt.  She began her career as a 4th grade teacher but ran screaming from the classroom as fast as she could into the Best. Job. Ever!  Holly's hobbies are reading, reading, oh, and reading!  (She's really trying to cut back and work on more writing, blogging, and anything that would involve sunshine.)  She loves to cook, dust, and do the bidding of her feline companion, Sassy, whose attitude could give Grumpy Cat a run for his money.  Holly and her husband live on a "working ranch" (only a slight exaggeration as it entails LOTS of work) in Southeast Arkansas.  She can be found on her personal blog,, twitter as @crossetthslib, or on facebook - search for Crossett High School Library.

Want more posts on issues not covered in Library School?
Check out Teen Librarian Toolbox's series Behind the Scenes @ the Library.

What They Didn't Teach In Library School Post Schedule
January 1, 2013 - Overcoming the Pied Piper Syndrome
January 16, 2013 - Finding Balance - The Enforcer vs. The YA Librarian
January 23, 2013 - Dealing with Peeps Not Like Me
January 30, 2013 - Mousy & Mild Won't Cut It
Feburary 6, 2013 - Community Service and the Library
February 13, 2013 - Dealing with the Angry Folk
February 20, 2013 - Mistakes as Opportunities
February 27, 2013 - Librarians as Social Workers
March 6, 2013 - Adapt or Perish
March 13, 2013 - No Do-Overs
March 20, 2013 - Promotion & Programming