Monday, December 9, 2013

Rules.. Yes, Rules.

Wow! This was an amazing start to year two as Head Librarian of a library where I have been for 17 years. I feel as though the high school curriculum I am going for is actually happening, the professional development I am giving is making a difference, and I am learning now what to improve.

Last year, so much was new. Our 1:1 iPad initiative, our library apps, our middle school librarian, a new look to our beloved NoodleTools, and some new library privileges. This year started much more easily.

Nothing was really new, except much to some faculty's dismay, I decided to allow eating in our library. Yes, eating. Last year I allowed drinks. The kids brought in their Gatorade, coffee, tea, and water, and nothing happened! The world was still OK. And the library was still tidy. So this year I allowed food. That's right! Bring in your hamburgers at lunch! Your sushi, chicken tenders, and granola bars. And still.. the world is fine, the kids are studying, the library is tidy enough, and the kids really appreciate it.

Studying in Starbucks by quatar, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  quatar 

Some people are aghast, but I just could not figure out why food wasn't allowed in our library. I even had one faculty member say under her breath, "well I guess it it just isn't a library anymore!" I assured everyone it is still a library and I wondered if her classroom has all the same rules she has had for 20+ years! Does she still teach the same way? I don't think so!

A very happy moment for me was last week when I watched 3 junior boys studying together at a table. Another boy walked in with bagels and cream cheese and drinks. They all quietly ate and studied and cleaned up without being asked. They do not take this new rule for granted, and they were able to get work done and eat quietly. And they are teenage boys!

Another new rule is about library noise. Our library is mostly one big room, and although we have silent "areas" the majority of the library gets very loud at lunch (even before we allowed food!). This year, thanks to advice from a couple of librarians on the amazing Association of Independent School Librarians listserv, we instituted Silent Tuesday Lunches, and after a survey of the students we added Thursdays. We allow very little whispering on those days, and so group study is difficult. But the kids who need to do independent work are thrilled, and just like the other days, the library is full of high schoolers at lunch.

The survey was quite informative and we learned that a slight majority of kids need silent space sometimes to work and they weren't finding it anywhere at lunchtime when everyone on our campus is free. Very few kids wanted the library silent all the time, and some even smartly pointed out that the silence will disrupt the exchange of ideas. But so many kids were happy to have a silent place just a couple times per week, that we are happy to oblige.

One new rule seems too permissive to some, and one new rule seems to strict for some. I believe that while working with small communities we should be concerned with caring for everyone and making rules that make sense. Our rules need to show we care. Our rules should matter.

I visited another school library recently that had many rules posted: cell phone free zone, no eating, you must reserve this room, do not lock this room, etc. I wondered how those rules came to be and if my students would follow them.

I believe I gained respect by listening to the students and pondering what they need from our library. It is their space, after all. My students may tease me about teaching too much NoodleTools (do you get that?) or about being geekily excited about books, but they do not tease me about the rules and comfort they have in our library. In fact, the library is the favorite place to be of many of our students when they have free time on campus. Friendly and understanding are words I like them to use to describe the librarians and our policies.

Have you critically considered some of your rules recently? Do they have meaning? It is good practice to revisit them once in a while and see if they are all still needed.


  1. This is awesome! You know that you are one of my librarian super heroes and all ... though you are younger than I, I really hope to be just like you when I'm a full grown librarian some day ... but I just can't get my head around our kids eating in our library. Maybe it's our age group, but out on our dining terrace, I swear that barely half of the food on kids' plates actually makes it into their mouths. It, literally, looks like the majority of humans dining in the area were toddlers in high chairs. It's weird! It's like the skill of moving food from a plate to a mouth using a fork that was mastered in grade 6 suddenly gets lost for 3 years. Seriously, it's really weird!!! LOL!!!

    1. Ha! You are my hero too! I have to confess, the middle schoolers who come to the library at lunch are few and far between, so I don't really have to deal with their eating habits. Lots of 9th graders come though, and they behave really well. The middle schoolers do eat in the library after school while they study, and their parent s are happy about it. But again, not a huge amount of middle schoolers hang out, we are overrun by high schoolers, which might be good when it comes to the food rule

  2. We moved into a brand new building this year. In the old space, I let anyone in the library eat. Since I have all new furniture, and I spent the first week of school on cafeteria duty with the middle school, I do not let the middle school students eat during middle school lunch. However, I do let the high school students eat in here. During club meetings, the students can eat in the library. I really don't mind the food as long as trash gets disposed of properly. I don't want to discourage kids from using the library because they need to eat. Elizabeth

  3. We let our students eat in the library from Day 1 when we opened in 2006. While we had to have occasional reminders and chats with studentsabout responsibilities for cleaning up, we overall had very few problems. Unfortunately, I saw that the person who replaced me revoked the privilege within the first month of school.