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Balancing Act: 5 Time Management Tips for School Librarians Working Alone

How to manage your time more effectivey.  A hand with a clock in it.
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In this week's Library Lowdown on X one of the conversations was about time management and the difficulty in finding time to do it all. One of the librarians told us that their SLT (Senior Leadership Team) had recognised that if she was supporting teachers across the school her time to focus on the practicalities of running a school library was limited. They arranged for her to have some time out of lessons. This was good to hear but what if your SLT is not seeing this? I hope the 5 tips below might help.

School librarians wear many hats, from managing the library's resources to teaching inquiry skills and supporting literacy initiatives. Finding a balance between these responsibilities can be challenging and often overwhelming, but with a focus on time management strategies, you can ensure a clearer headspace and opportunities to decide what needs your time and what doesn't because none of us can do it all. Let's get started...

  1. Prioritise and Plan: One of the first steps in effective time management is setting priorities and creating a plan. Unfortunately, this in itself takes time but it is time well spent. Start by identifying the core responsibilities of your role as a school librarian and allocate time accordingly. Schedule dedicated periods for tasks such as cataloguing, shelving, and maintaining the library's smooth running. Use digital tools or planners to create a weekly schedule that includes both routine tasks and designated time slots for teaching inquiry and supporting literacy. Use your school calendar to colour-block time for these tasks. By having a clear plan in place, you'll be better equipped to manage your time effectively.

  2. Delegate Where Possible: I know that finding help is very difficult but it is important to recognise that you don't have to tackle every task on your own. Consider delegating certain responsibilities to library assistants, volunteers, or even student helpers. Empowering others to help with routine tasks like shelving, checking in/out of books, or creating displays can free up valuable time for you to focus on teaching and supporting students in their academic endeavours. If it is impossible to get any support and help it is important to recognise what tasks are essential and what is 'nice to be done'. Having such a list means you can clearly explain your reasoning if ever questioned.

  3. Integrate Inquiry and Literacy into Library Activities: Instead of viewing teaching inquiry and supporting literacy as additional tasks, find creative ways to integrate these elements into your daily library activities (this is a common problem when schools see the library as an add-on rather than integrated). For example, develop inquiry-based projects that align with the curriculum and encourage students to explore resources independently. Host book clubs, reading challenges and author visits to promote literacy. By incorporating these aspects into your routine, you'll have more chances to enhance the learning experience for students without feeling overwhelmed.

  4. Utilise Technology to Streamline Tasks: Take advantage of technology to streamline routine tasks and maximise efficiency. Use your library management system to automate cataloguing and tracking processes. Explore digital tools and platforms that support virtual book clubs, online research, and interactive learning. By leveraging technology, you can reduce the time spent on administrative tasks, allowing you to allocate more energy to teaching and literacy initiatives.

  5. Continuous Professional Development: With better time management you may find you have more time to stay abreast of the latest trends, resources, and methodologies in school libraries, inquiry-based learning, and literacy education. Attend workshops, webinars, and conferences to enhance your skills and discover innovative approaches to teaching and managing the library. Networking with other school librarians can provide valuable insights and practical tips for time management. Investing in your professional development not only benefits you but also positively impacts the students and school you serve.

Managing a school library while also teaching inquiry and supporting literacy requires careful planning, delegation, integration, and the use of technology. By focusing on what you currently do and recognising what is essential and what is 'nice to do', you can strike a balance that ensures the smooth operation of the library whilst looking after your own mental health and wellbeing and actively contributing to the academic development of your students. Remember, finding the right balance is an ongoing process, so don't hesitate to adjust your strategies as needed to meet the evolving needs of your school community.

If you have already put a time management plan in place please do share it in the comments below. Sharing is important.


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