Behind the Shelves: Help, I’m transitioning to my first K-5 library!

the art exhibit

Hello Sarah,

I am transferring from high school to an elementary school next year as the librarian. The school is Pre-K – 5. This is very broad, yet would you please have any advice to offer? Are there any specific books, blogs (other than your own obviously), etc. I should read/follow? Thank you so much!


Congratulations on your new gig, Jason! My first librarian position was in a K-5 school, and I have fond memories of talking with those 5th graders (I won’t mention how old they are now..) about everything from stories to Tweeting to slang. I loved the challenge of transitioning from kindergarten readalouds to fifth grade projects. The elementary school library is one of the most magical places in the world – especially when run by a certified school librarian that loves what they do. Welcome to the very distinguished club!

Moving from a 9-12 space and young adult literature to a K-5 space with beginning, developing readers will be a big transition. Here are some profiles on Instagram that share great books, reviews, lessons and activities that you might find helpful:

As for my advice, it could fill a set of encyclopedias! Being a librarian is a complex and multifaceted job, and it’s never the same two days in a row (forget years!). So as not to overwhelm you, here are four pieces of advice that I wish I’d had when starting out.

Make it Magic

My best advice with K-5 is to focus on the love and the magic. Students are getting Screen Shot 2019-08-15 at 9.02.34 PMhammered with reading skills and drills in their reading and language arts classes, and for many, it’s challenging, frustrating, and exhausting work. It can be so easy to lose sight of why reading is fun and worth the effort. So everything I do, especially with kindergarten through third grade, is all about why reading is fun and exciting. Additionally, I explicitly state – early and often! – that reading is for everyone, no matter who they are, what they look like, where they’re from, or where they are in their process of becoming a reader. Math and science often take center stage when it comes to growth mindset, but it can make a big impact in reading, too.

Prioritize Reading for Pleasure

Another suggestion is to give every class at least 20 minutes of time to check their books out and read independently. The goal is to give them the time and space to be excited about their new selections. Students get to read whatever they want, wherever they want, every single class, for as much time as possible. If you have control over your timeline and curriculum, you could even surprise students with a full day of time just to read every now and again (My readers go absolutely bonkers for what we call a thunderstorm day). Lessons and curriculum are important, but in my experience, time and choice are the key ingredients to creating lifelong readers.

Create an Essential Question

Working with multiple grade levels at once is incredibly difficult: and when I’m in the trenches, it can all start to blend together, making me lose sight of the unique needs of Screen Shot 2019-08-15 at 9.03.09 PMeach grade level. Scope and sequence documents work for some, but in terms of planning, my teaching was transformed when I began creating a set of essential questions for each grade. After crafting each question statement, I was able to base my lessons, projects, and readaloud choices on that critical idea and skillset all year long. I create my questions in response to what my readers need developmentally and socially to fall in love with reading, and to meet the school’s core purpose of inspiring and preparing the next generation of exemplary citizens and visionary leaders. Although I don’t explicitly share it with my classes, we spend the whole year investigating the answer to the guiding question together.

For example, my kindergarteners are new to the school, and they don’t yet understand the purpose of the library or why it should matter to them. So we spend the whole year exploring: What is the library, and why should I go? What can I do there, and why should it be my favorite place? As readers get older, the questions grow and change with them. It can be different for each group, each year. Sometimes, we have to pivot and change things up mid-year! Last year, I noticed right away that my third graders were struggling to find the right books for independent reading. So our essential question took on a new shape: What do I like? How do I know? And how do I find it? Teaching according to an essential question created specifically for my readers means that my classes are always at the center of my planning.

Walk the Walk

My last piece of advice? As teachers, we can talk all we want – but true learning takes Screen Shot 2019-08-15 at 9.03.57 PMplace when we back it up by walking the walk. Read with your students. Read what they’re reading, what they suggest to you, and the newest books in their favorite series. And if you can, find a way to showcase what you’re reading and what you have read (keeping a cover wall has worked like gangbusters for me). So many adults in kids’ lives tell them to read, but don’t do it themselves. Modeling a love of reading matters. While it might feel necessary to preach even if you don’t practice, when it’s not genuine, kids sense it immediately. The best way to create a reader is to be a reader. If you read what they read, and experience the books that they love and hate and cry over right along with them, it will create amazing bonds that will really draw kids into your library space.

Wishing you all a magical start to the new school year, whether you’re transitioning a new library or returning to a space that you love! Have a library, book, or computer science related question? Shoot me an email, and I might feature it in an upcoming Behind the Shelves post. 

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