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Advice to library-lorn (again)

Now and again, I get an e-mail from someone in the field who asks for help or advice. I am humbled by being asked and try my best to respond. But now with the Blue Skunk, the person asking advice might actually be able to get something of value - from you the blog readers! Below is a slightly edited version of an original e-mail, identity removed, and posted with the original sender's permission. My response  follows the e-mail, but I am hoping that readers will add better suggestions. Thanks!


Here is my dilemma.  I am working in a HS library in an affluent district [in the US].  I have worked in HS libraries my entire career.  I am very frustrated because the library is used as a lounge, the noise level is like that of a loud night club.  I have no administrative support.  Frankly the building is bursting at the seams and the students have no place else to go.  I try to maintain some order to no avail. We do have classes coming into the library but with all the noise it is hardly conducive to teaching.  My question: do you think there is any way that I can create some semblance of order from this chaos?  I have pleaded with the powers that be and cited studies stating that a strong library program is tied to student achievement, they yes me to death and do not allow me to ask students to leave for any reason. 

Is there any hope for this library?  Are most HS libraries facing the same issue?  I am really considering working in a Public or Academic Library, at least those patrons are appreciative of what we do
Any insight would be greatly appreciated.


My response...

I can feel the frustration in your e-mail - and can identify since I've been there myself. My standard response to a question like this can be found here:

But I'll add a couple things...

First, it may very well be difficult for administrators to find other places for students to be during lunch periods, study halls and before and after school. Unless there is an alternative space you can suggest, there may not be much you (or anyone) can do about the crowding that leads to the noisy atmosphere.

In terms of behavior, I suspect you will need to get the help of all your building staff in developing norms of student activity in the library. Find ways of asking your site council, student council and parents about the sort of library rules would best suit the needs of the school - and then ask these groups to help enforce those rules.

None of these things are quick fixes and I believe there are situations in which a non-productive  culture is so deeply ingrained in a library that it can't be changed (or is not worth the effort). If that's  the case, one might be advised to look at other positions. I would.

 Readers, your insights and suggestions?

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Reader Comments (6)

The book, The First Days of School, by Harry Wong, can be helpful when trying to establish discipline.
The librarian says that they can't leave for any reason. Can she prevent them from coming in in the first place?
The library is her classroom. How do the other teachers maintain discipline in their classrooms?

October 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

If it makes you feel any better...I know what you're going through. A friend is dealing with this sort of situation after she was given double responsibilities after staff cuts for this school year. Some sort of sign in procedure has worked for me in the past...the students need to sign up to come in before the school day begins or before the class period they want to come.

Appealing to a site based management team I think would be appropriate too.

October 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNathan

Our library is also quite loud but has been that way for a long time and I tend to view it as learning going on (homework, talking about homework, looking online, typing projects while talking, reading while eating, etc.). So I don't necessarily expect that the library will be a quiet space and that does relieve stress just expecting that it can also function as a student union type of space.

However if you are teaching classes during the same time as lunches, that can get stressful, I know.

Luckily, I was able to build a new space and define areas for different activities a little more clearly which has helped considerably.

So that's one suggestion I was going to make. (Not rebuilding the library...but reapportioning your space.) Is there any way you can rearrange so there is a delineation of some "classroom" space or "quiet" space versus "talking space" in your library by moving bookshelves, buying partitions, using the table arrangement, using a standing screen, etc.? I think that helps students to know what areas are designated for what. If that's possible, then make a big pr effort and gain help from administrators to enforce it the first week or two--retrain the students somewhat.

Another idea--some years we have asked for the library to be a teacher "duty" station--I don't know if your teachers have duties assigned during lunch periods or not, but that was helpful because we had more people in here to supervise especially when we were trying to work with classes.

If classes are in the library, they should be first priority. I would enlist administrators to understand the role of the library as a teaching space.

Hang in there and keep trying.

October 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn Foote

Great advice so far. I particular recommend looking at ways to repartition the space (we did that this summer, and we've seen major changes in noise and traffic flow that are encouraging student work in great new ways - though our students do have other places they can be in the building.)

If you can't move much furniture, I had luck using cardstock table tents color coded to indicate the intention for that space (so some tables were quiet study, some were group study, some were study hall, etc. placed in the most logical sections of the library for that use.) I found that it's weirdly a lot easier for me to say "Hey, this is the quiet study space: if you guys are going to work together, can you move to the group study tables over there so that the people who want a quieter space can focus?" than to say "Hey, can you please be quiet?" sometimes. And often, kids would either go find another space, or they'd settle down much more quickly.

I'd also recommend finding ways to document what's going. Keep stats, even if very rough, of a head count each period (plus before/after school, etc.) Keep notes of what's going on each period (students who need some place to be, classes doing research, etc.)

See if you can get an administrator to stop by - even for 5 minutes - a couple of times during the week, to see what it's like. You're not looking at them to fix everything immediately (it'd be nice, but that's probably not realistic), but the first step in a long-term solution is people recognising what's going on. If they're resistant, try getting comments from students and teachers who aren't able to use the library space they way they want (due to noise, disruption, etc.)

I definitely also agree with the comment that the librarian should have the same recourse to kicking a student out that a teacher does. (Same basic practice, whatever that means: if teachers get to send kids out after X warnings, you should too.)

And then ask someone who can be a supportive voice to the administration (a respected teacher in the school, an administrator who recognises there's an issue, even if they can't figure out a fix right now) and ask them to come visit the library a couple of times during the next few weeks, so they can see what's going on. Go to them with "I don't expect you to fix things, but I am looking for ways to frame a better use of the space." and ask for ideas, bringing some of your own. Even if you don't get a fix (and it sounds like you might not), it will at least document what might be worth looking at down the road as other things change.

October 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Arnott

Hi Janice,

Thanks for adding this suggestion. I hope all the responses are of value to the person who asked the question!

All the best,


Hi Nathan,

Your site-based management team suggestion is right on. I've always argued that a school gets the library it asks for - for good or bad!


Hi Carolyn,

Wonderful, practical ideas. I can't believe I forgot to mention the "zoning" approach since it was a recommendation I just made for a library renovation project this spring!

All the best,


Thanks, Jennifer. Wonderful ideas that you've put in practice!


October 21, 2009 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Thank you all for your responses. We (or the previous librarian) have tried all the suggestions. I suspect that the problem is so ingrained in the culture that little can be done. The room has been divided, the space has been defined etc. The real issue, which I guess I neglected to mention is not only the lack of support from administration (all they want is for us to close the door and contain the masses) but the Library staff are not on the same page. There are five of us in here, 2 librarians and 3 aids. The aids are running the library, they have their favorite students and make concessions for them and their behavior. Unbelievably they are not accountable to anybody that I can tell. It is a hopeless situation. In this economy I am stuck here, I just hope my health doesn't suffer because of atmosphere. Many times there are over 100 students in here that are just hanging out. It is very sad because this is an affluent community that cares very little about the future of their youth.

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFrustrated

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