Lessons From the High School Library

High school was an awkward time that I could not wait to escape while it was happening and, though you couldn’t pay me to go back, it is still a time that is filled with some of my fondest bookish memories.

I met friends who were avid readers and who shared their favorite books with me, I discovered many favorite authors, I joined the school book club, and on my own time I started book blogging. But perhaps my favorite memory of high school comes from my senior year, when I took an elective class that allowed me to be a student aid/assistant in the school library.

Let’s set the scene: my high school was going through major construction the summer before my senior year, and a new library was part of the plan. It was built just in time for the school year to start and was somewhat functional, but the moving process still had to be finished.

The moving-in offered me a unique look into what setting up a high school library entailed, and then working at the library helped me learn so many new skills that are still listed on my resume to this day. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Helping out in my school’s library is my favorite memory from that time and I always encourage high school students to do the same, especially if they have a passion for reading.

The biggest project myself and a handful of other students took on throughout the day (I was a student aid in the morning during third period) was shelving the hundreds, if not thousands, of books that had been moved from the old library and stored over summer while it was knocked down and the new library was built.

This was a process that took a few months. Carts and carts full of books were scattered across the library. We went through every single book individually, gave away the ones that were too worn to remain in the library, wiped down the covers of the ones we were keeping, and got to work organizing them in order to then shelve them. Our fiction books were shelved alphabetically, and our reference books were shelved according to the Dewey Decimal System. The shelving process alone taught a certain attention to detail and organizational skill that I only see in library people. That skill was continuously worked throughout the school year when returned books had to be reshelved.

Learning the library’s computer system and inputting books was also a big project that never ended. After all the books were shelved, we spent days re-cataloguing every single one in order to make sure it was in the computer system and had all the correct information listed. When new books were purchased, we barcoded those and into the system they went. I checked out books to students, checked them in, or searched the system to see if we had a certain one they wanted. I didn’t realize until after college that the adaptability I exercised in learning an entire system was something I carried with me in the years following high school and used any time I was introduced to a new computer program, for both school and post-college work.

While I learned the traditional library skills like shelving books, checking them in and out, and implementing new ones into the computer system, I also learned how to use a copy machine and help students with computer problems, and I even figured out how the sensors are put into library books so that they aren’t stolen. However, the most surprising set of skills I acquired were event planning and set up skills.

The library was now big enough that it had the space to host more events and meetings than it previously had been able to. During my year in the library, we had events ranging from lunches for athletes or the book club, traveling exhibitions to teach about historical events, movies and snacks during lunch around Halloween, activities celebrating the diversity on campus, and end of the year banquets. My librarian went above and beyond for everyone on campus, which meant that as student aids it was up to us to help set up and be a part of these events as well.

I learned everything from helping prepare lunch for a hundred athletes to making posters, from setting up window displays to being a volunteer helping students navigate a civil rights history exhibition. I set up tables and their centerpieces for a book club banquet, I decorated the library for nearly every holiday, and I even helped set up a book fair.

Every event, meeting, and exhibition I helped with offered me new knowledge in event planning, exercised my creative muscle, and sharpened my attention to detail. I took those skills with me when juggling a million different hats working at my college paper, and after college in my personal life with things like throwing a party for a friend or family member, or going all out on holiday decorations.

Working in the library in high school gave me a wide array of skills I took with me into my adult life. It also gave me friends, a librarian who encouraged my writing and love for books, and a place to take a break from the stress of high school. I knew almost every day, for at least an hour, I was promised some peace and quiet. That was valuable to me as a high school senior juggling classes, friends, and extracurricular activities.

If you’re in high school, and you find yourself reading this, I encourage you to see if you can earn some credit as a student aid in your library. It was my best high school experience. Even if you aren’t a huge reader and don’t find yourself someone who loves to visit the library, I guarantee the knowledge and skills you will acquire and take with you into adulthood will be worth it.

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