The Life and Times of a Middle School Library Media Specialist

Congratulations on earning your shiny new library media specialist credential! You’ve completed the projects, written the papers, and shadowed some of the best in the business. Even though you’ve done the work, some hard truths will most likely hit you in the face as you navigate your way through this new endeavor. Here are 5 things I learned during my first 3 years as a library media specialist. 

1. The job can be Isolating 

 After being left out of one too many Secret Santa drawings, after school gatherings, and planning period baby showers, I realized that I was now on my own island per se.

Teachers have each other. Administrators have each other. The custodial staff have each other. The lunchroom staff have each other.  See where I’m going with this?   Each department creates a peer group that you can commiserate with about the pitfalls of the job, even if you don’t like each other that much. 

The library staff may only consist of you and maybe your clerk, if you are blessed to have one. Unless you work at a huge school, it may just be just you and one other person on your new team.  

It can be a little jarring and lonesome to go from being a part of a tribe to a singular team of one or maybe two. 

2. School provides a modicum of what you’ll really need to know. 

Okay, so I’m about to share an honest , yet embarrassing fact.  

Even though I had taken 6 semesters of coursework, completed an internship, and passed 2 certification tests, I didn’t know how to check out a book on my very first day as a media specialist. It’s true. 

A lot of what I know now came from on the job experiences. You won’t learn how to change the film in the laminating machine while getting your degree, but believe me when I say, it’s a very valuable skill to have in your new role. Each school needs different things, which means your role will change from school to school. No matter how comprehensive your grad school program appears, there are empty pockets of knowledge that can only be filled by doing the job. 

3. Don’t buy library books from Amazon

This is not a slight towards Amazon as a company. Just stay with me as I explain.

During my first month as a library media specialist. I needed books for a regional reading competition like yesterday!

I quickly learned the hard way that library binding is a “thing” and that regular hardback books will be coverless before the end of the school year. Over time, you will come to depend on one or two vendors who can get you the books you need, when you need them, with good sturdy bindings and replacement guarantees should they fall apart.

4. You Must Advocate for Yourself and Your Library

I have a secret to share with you. That secret is that the vast majority of people, even those at your school, probably even your principal,  still think that librarians are simply the keepers of the books. That’s all. That’s it. 

They don’t know what you do. They don’t know what you can contribute. You will have to show them how awesome you are. 

In Georgia, we have to earn an instructional technology degree with a library media add on for certification. This means that I had very few courses on actual “librarianship” but a lot of instruction on how to design courses, write curriculum, and  incorporate  apps and websites to enhance the learning process.  Books are important, but I have the education, experience, and desire to offer so much more. 

You will have to assert yourself and show everyone what you bring to the table in many instances. Also, get in the habit of documenting all of your collaborations and events and publicize them as often as possible.  Don’t be shy about tooting your own horn. Advocacy is key in our profession. 

5.  “Other Duties As Assigned” Can Be A Slippery Slope

This sort of goes along with the above as far as being your own advocate. 

No two school library media specialists are the same. Different schools require us to wear different hats. However, be mindful of which hats you are being asked to wear constantly.

You are the library media specialist. Your job requires a unique set of skills and competencies. You are a certified professional. Do not allow yourself to become the fill in person for everything that’s missing at your school.  

We all know that being a team player is very important. I know you don’t want to be inflexible or unable to “pivot” when needed. However, it is so easy to become the substitute teacher, the babysitter, and everything else except what you were hired to do. 

Be cognizant of what your position is being molded into. Oftentimes, it’s hard to come back from being the universal peg that is used to plug every hole. If you find yourself being utilized in ways that don’t jive with your library brand or what you want for yourself, don’t be afraid to speak to your principal or direct supervisor about your concerns. You are not wrong for wanting to do the job you’ve been trained and hired to do.