I entered East last fall with the bright-eyed enthusiasm of a first-year librarian and only one goal: get kids into the library. Without much knowledge of my audience, and in a building without any kind of established library culture, I spent the first month of school establishing the library as a welcoming place without too many rules. And I was happy to quickly see that easygoing attitude pay off; by September, I had several kids ask me how they could help out in the library, which I found to be awesome for these middle schoolers I assumed were usually adolescently apathetic.
The result was the birth of our Library Ambassador program. Interested students were to fill out an application that included a brief statement of why he/she wanted to be an Ambassador, a short review of their favorite book, and a teacher recommendation. I ultimately chose 22 students from all four grade levels as Ambassadors. By accepting the job, they were committing to working in the library one day a week during Advisory block following a schedule I carefully crafted with input from their Advisory teachers.
The responsibilities of the Ambassadors initially included such tasks as shelving books, checking in and out books, and helping other students in the library. Ultimately, though, the goal of the Ambassador program wasn’t only to have library helpers—it was to create student representatives that could share the goings-on of the library to the rest of their peers. It was a great leadership opportunity for students, helped me reach students outside of the library space, and provided students the opportunity to share their ideas and collaborate with the library. Throughout the year, Ambassadors ended up also creating displays and recommendations, delivering in-house and Limitless Libraries holds, organizing a mobile library and giving book talks to classrooms, assisting with collection development, collecting overdue items, and organizing and assisting with library activities and events. We very much flew by the seat of our pants this first year—we handled issues with the program as they arose and added tasks as they were needed!
Ultimately, the program worked very well this year. The students took GREAT pride in their role as Library Ambassadors, remained committed throughout the year, and barely missed a day of work! They were viewed as leaders and experts to their peers, and many students continued throughout the entire year to express regrets at not applying, seeking assurance that the program will be repeated next year. Despite a wildly successful first year, there are a few things I plan on changing for next year. If you’re looking to implement a similar program in your school, here are my tips for you:
- Create a group of a manageable size. My 22-person group was too big (my own fault—I couldn’t say ‘no’), and I plan on doing only 2-3 per grade next year with only 2-3 students working each day. If the enthusiasm is there in your school, consider doing a separate Fall and Spring group. This is a way to get more students involved!
- Assign each student a schedule. Make sure they stick to it! (This includes preventing them from coming in MORE OFTEN than their scheduled time!)
- Emphasize that academics come first. It’s the easiest way to keep them from arguing with you when you send them to take a make-up test during their Ambassador time.
- Organize their training. Start their role as an Ambassador with extensive training on shelving, checking in and out books, etc. Make sure they master these tasks before hopping right in.
- Assign them specific tasks each day. It saves you a headache from their hovering and pleas to do a specific job! (We know, we know—you ALL LOVE THE BARCODE SCANNER!)
- Get them out and moving. My Ambassadors reveled in being given the responsibility to run errands around the building. They feel like big shots…and it gets them out of your hair!
- Celebrate them! Having students on your side is a great asset to the library. Make sure they know that you appreciate them.
My student Ambassadors this year weren’t always my biggest readers, but they were involved with the library in a way that gave them ownership to it. Through this program, I was able to build better relationships with the student body as a whole, and I know, especially, that these 22 students will be library supporters for the rest of their time at East.
On to next year!