New School Librarian Handbook

a guide to success


You've taken the classes, dressed up for the interview and rocked it out, and now you are starting the journey of your first year in the school library. Congratulations and welcome to the greatest profession in the world! This guide is meant to help you navigate questions, resources, and ideas (some you may not have thought to even ask) in a way to helps you personalize your school library to yours and your school community needs.

While this handbook is created for new school librarians by the Georgia Library Media Association, it is open to any and all school librarians.

Evaluating Your Space, People, and Procedures

Before you plan, make, create, or do anything:

Evaluate the library space
  • How did the previous librarian setup checkout? Is it self checkout or do you do it?
  • Do you have a paraprofessional to help? If so, do you have a space at the circulation desk for both?
  • Do you have clear signage for your students to know where book return is and where book checkout is?

Meet with your principal

Have an honest conversation with your principal about expectations and goals for the library program (and you). I start each school year with this:

  • What does success look like to you for the library? For me?
  • In what ways can I and the library support your goals this year?
  • Are you expected to do lunch duty or other responsibilities?
  • Are you expected to run a book club or is there one already established?
  • Are you expected to be in charge of morning announcements?
  • What is the library budget? If there isn't one, what is the reasoning?

Get to know the staff:

  • Put people first and everything else second
  • Build rapport with staff members (especially your bookkeeper and custodians - I bring them treats throughout the year like coffee and donuts to express my gratitude)
  • Consider hosting a "meet the new librarian" event with donuts in the morning or over coffee virtually
  • Stay visible to staff and students most of the day (don't be reclusive in an office)
  • In the words of Aaron Burr, talk less and smile more - get to know your staff and the culture of the school as it will help you gauge how to make changes if necessary and how to prepare for collaborations/clubs/etc.

Setting Goals

When I start any new school year, I spend time establishing my goals for myself and the library program for the year. It can be daunting if you start with a huge goal so I focus on three things I can master throughout the year. It could be establishing a MakerSpace, becoming a Google Certified Educator or Microsoft Innovative Educator, or collaborating with at least one department on a project. Make it useful for you and your school community.

Check out these resources for setting your own goals:

Each district, possibly even each school within the district, will focus on different standards from the Georgia Standards of Excellence to Common Core Standards. While collaborating with teachers, you will naturally use state standards for content areas, but you also need to think about what you will use as a school librarian to guide your library programming. Possibilities include the American Association of School Librarians Standards, the ISTE Standards for Educators, the Future Ready Librarians Framework™, and our Georgia-specific School Librarian Evaluation Instrument (SLEI).

To help alleviate this pressure, the Georgia Library Media Association has prepared a crosswalk document between the SLEI, Future Ready Librarians Framework™, and the ISTE Standards for Educators.

Advocate for Your Role

Most staff and students will not know what your role is. Be prepared for that! It does not mean they don't value you - they just need to be informed and to keep being informed. Rarely, if ever, do other degree programs mention school library media specialists as an essential team member in the educational community. It's our job to be consistent with our work, follow through goals, and to support. We are servant leaders for the school community, but we can also help guide what our roles can be in the building through advocating.

Try a simple library services menu or a top 10 list for visiting the school library. See examples below:

Collaborate with Instructional Partnerships!

Collaboration is key component to our daily lives and the success of our students.

  • Offering a school library newsletter highlighting opportunities for collaboration and giving shout outs to past collaborations is a great way to get teachers excited about working with you.
  • Another way to do this is tagging the teachers in social media posts when you work together (and go extra by tagging your principal so they can see the collaborations taking place)!
  • Sharing these stories create ripples in your learning community. Eventually, even the more reluctant teachers will warm up as you continue to approach the school with an open heart and sharing stories of collaborations.

Instructional Partnerships

Explore the how and why of building instructional partnerships!

Build a Professional Learning Network

Even though our jobs are amazing, it can also be isolating. Most school librarians are the sole person in the role within the school and can sometimes be the only one between several schools or the whole district. To keep from burning out, as well as to connect on ideas, projects, and cross-school collaborations, I strongly encourage you to build a professional learning network (PLN). These people will be those you can lean on because they understand your job, being the only one in the building, can offer valuable feedback, and celebrate the amazingness that is YOU!

How do you find your PLN?

  • Reach out to your state level organization! In Georgia, we have a strong school librarian PLN that continues to grow in order to support school librarians across the state. We have Region Chairs that are ready to help and mentor. See the table below to find out your Region Chair. You can also reach out to the President-Elect, who is there for all member support! Find out more here.
  • Use social media to find like-minded individuals such as the Future Ready Librarians Facebook Page or Future Ready Secondary Librarians Facebook Page and Twitter hashtags like #GaLibChat, #futurereadylibs, #istelibs, #tlchat. We're even on Instagram (#librarianfollowloop, #librariansofinstagram, #schoolmediaspecialists, #mediaspecialistsofinstagram)!
  • Reach out to your district personnel to see if they have a mentor program in your district.
  • Remember, it never hurts to ask or to reach out to someone. Some of the best mentors I have had are people I have reached out to because I took a leap to connect with them through social media.
Georgia Library Media Association Regions
Big picture

You don't have to be perfect. Or try all the things.

When you're online, it's easy to see the best of people, the lessons that worked well, the best book displays, or amazing collaborations. Do not feel like you have to compete with others or that you have to do it all. We are all trying to do our best and all operate at the level we need to do in the moment. There will be times you feel like you are doing awesome, life-changing work and days where it feels like work more than a passion. That's ok. I am here to tell you that burn out is just as real in the librarian world as it is in the classroom. Practice self-care and reflect on whether perfecting the use of Canva or reading fifty books during the school year is worth yours and your school community's time and effort.

With that being said, many of us are excited to try all the things. Each year, I try to become an expert at three things - a strategy, a tech tool, something...It's helped me focus and allowed me grace to not feel like I have to be perfect and try everything I see online. Focus on your goals, your school's goals, and try to find just three things you feel comfortable achieving and mastering this school year.

Additional Resources

Martha Bongiorno, Ed.S.


Martha Bongiorno is a school library activist, national speaker and presenter, and creator of possibilities. With experience in rural and urban communities and in all grade level bands, she is currently serving as a school librarian in Metro Atlanta. Martha supports students and educators by pushing boundaries of traditional education to empower learners as thinkers and creators to make positive change in their communities. With her unique perspective from the heart of the school, she explores how the tapestry of learning is interwoven with literacy, technology, creativity, and student voice. Martha participates in the larger educational community as President of Georgia Library Media Association, serving on various library and EdTech committees, and serving as an ISTE Ambassador, Adobe Creative Educator, Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and Master Trainer, and a Flipgrid Student Voice Ambassador since 2016.