Dear School Administrators Lets Talk About Flexible Library Schedules.

Elissa Malespina
Jun 2 · 3 min read

Dear School Administrators,

It’s time we had a frank discussion about flexible schedules for your school librarians.

I often hear administrators talk about how the library is the heart of the school and how they truly value librarians. That is awesome. I love to hear that librarians and libraries are valued, but when I dig a little deeper, I often find out that librarians are put on a fixed schedule and as a result, libraries are not open to all students and teachers on a daily basis.

The ALA’s 2014 position statement on flexible scheduling makes it very clear that “open access to a quality school library program is essential for students to develop the vital skills necessary to analyze, evaluate, interpret, and communicate information and ideas in a variety of formats. Inquiry skills are taught and learned within the context of the curriculum and may occur in the classroom, the library, or at home with 24/7 accessibility to a wide range of resources, technologies, and services. The integrated library program philosophy requires an open schedule that includes flexible and equitable access to physical and virtual collections for staff and students.”

The National Policy Board for Educational Administration’s Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (2015) includes equity in its core values. Standard three, Equity and Cultural Response, suggests that “Effective educational leaders strive for equity of educational opportunity and culturally responsive practices to promote each student’s academic success and well-being … and that effective leaders ensure that each student has equitable access to effective teachers, learning opportunities, academic and social support, and other resources necessary for success.”

Without flexible scheduling, fair access to resources and learning opportunities is no longer possible. Students can’t reliably come to the library to check out books or do research. Teachers can’t reliably collaborate with librarians on lessons.

The argument I often hear from administrators is that librarians are required to cover prep time and provide release time for educators. I understand where that argument comes from, but I disagree. The ALA seems to disagree in their position paper as well, saying “Classes must be flexibly scheduled into the library on an as needed basis to facilitate just-in-time research, training, and utilization of technology with the guidance of the teacher who is the subject specialist, and the librarian who is the information process specialist. The resulting lesson plans recognize that the length of the learning experience is dependent on learning needs rather than a fixed library time. Regularly scheduled classes in the school library to provide teacher release or preparation time prohibit this best practice. Students and teachers must be able to come to the library throughout the day to use information sources, read for pleasure, and collaborate with other students and teachers.”

That cannot occur when librarians are on a fixed schedule and must teach classes. I implore you to look at different ways to cover those classes rather than taking your librarians out of the library.

This school year my schedule went from the flexible format described above as best practice, to one which required me to teach three classes. Prior to this scheduling change, students and teachers had the ability to visit the library or use the library during every period of the school day. Once my schedule changed I was only able to keep the library staffed two out of the 7 periods each day. Suddenly the library was largely inaccessible more than 70% of the school day. Equitable access was gone for our students. Teachers lost the ability to have me work with their classes and I heard many complaints from my students because their safe space was gone.

Administrators, please remember that your library can only function as the heart of your school if it is equitably available to all students, teachers, and classes. As you draw up your schedules for next year I implore you to look at ways to make your librarian’s schedule as flexible as possible. By having the library open continuously before, during, and after school, you are truly showing your commitment to provide equitable access and a truly supportive environment for your students.

I am happy to help you make it happen. Send me an e-mail and I will help you work through the process.

Elissa Malespina

Written by

Award Winning Public School Librarian