Libraries and Back to School Time

It’s Time to Head Back to School – the Library Missed You!

back to school work supplies

I STILL stock up on supplies every fall

I know, I know, summer reading just barely ended and you’ve been working on/in your library all summer anyway. But fewer hot, humid sticky days, the return of football on my TV and endless flyers, coupons and emails for notebooks, pens and folders says it must be Back to School time! After so many years in various levels of school, my brain still operates on an academic calendar and I think of September as the New Year. Back to School applies to libraries as well, so time to get your booktalks prepped, your new folders ready, your orientations oriented, sharpen your e-pens and fill up your 3D Makerbots. Let’s get schooled!

Top thoughts, trends and topics I’ve seen and read about on libraries at back to school time – ideas for you to use

School Libraries

books on lockers Biloxi

Featured on the Mighty Girl site and Facebook page

  • Does your library do a special back-to-school event, meet-n-greet, table display, festival or other outreach and promotional events? This isn’t limited to school or academic libraries, public libraries can and should get in on this by pairing with local schools and community organizations, neighborhood groups or associations or PTAs.
    Is your library prepping for (or has already done) something like that this year?

    • Open House style – ideas from other libraries:
      • Set up a table with other ‘non-class’ groups – PE, music, the Arts, sports teams, clubs, after-school groups. Band together and gain voice and visibility.
      • Use the opportunity to survey parents about library awareness, resources and use. Hand out goodies and info.
      • Get parents involved – craft time! Make bookmarks – card stock, stamps, stencils, colored pencils – or print coloring book type patterns out on heavy paper or card stock and let them color those. Origami with book themed paper?! Lucky enough to have a 3D printer? Make 3D bookmarks! Or … much more clever and attractive bookmarks in simple DIY crafts in this video [retro cassette tape, ribbon+bungee, cats and more – beware the paper clip though – they can leave stains]
      • Do a quick scavenger hunt or other game to introduce basic resources, library spaces, lesser known collection items – to parents, staff and students. You can give parents the same scavenger hunt (shortened for time) you give their kids – see how well they do!
      • Slideshow loop (or infinitely scrolling slideshow):

  • Parents attending each class – do they get library time? Be sure to lobby your administration to include this!
    • Consider having a table outside the library (esp if your library isn’t open during BTS and these ‘classes’) so parents still see you while they ‘go to class’ near you. Handout bookmarks, posters or flyers to passersby.
    • Maybe roam to the classes and drop in – plan with a few teachers to stop in and talk for a minute about how the library and teacher collaborate and the projects the students will be doing research for this year.
    • If you can open the library, maybe use a running loop slide show of your services, databases, tools, events, pictures of your happy kids and more!
  • The tween and early teen years can be tough – how about welcoming middle schoolers back to school and to the library: – don’t forget to include staff and all teachers (especially new ones) in your back-to-school welcome and outreach. Have you done new Teacher orientations as well as new student talks?
  • Have you thought about video(s) for your orientation or welcome? Such as Solon HS (Iowa) SCSD Media Center’s ‘This/NotThis’ intro to staff and expectations (several years old – you could take similar idea and update it). Or their more recent Zombie/Walking Dead approach?!
    • What about getting your middle and high school students to make the intro/orientation videos themselves – giving their perspective and talking directly to their peers.
      • Consider having a different team/group make a short video to introduce different areas of the library, concepts, a tour of the physical space or spell out policies.
      • Ask your students to give their favorite spots in the library, fave book read, how the library helped them with a project, what they wish they knew at the beginning of the school year (can make it seem like a secret they are passing on to new students).
      • If you don’t have time to make this video now – start planning to get your students involved throughout the year so you’ll be ready for next BTS time!
    • See this example of an orientation/welcome video from West Hills High School Library

  • More thoughts and tips for outreach to your teachers and your larger community for the beginning of the year from Knowledge Quest blog of AASL. Examples:
    • Have you contacted local businesses to specifically support the library via donations, materials, coupons or to buy needed supplies? Many have kids in the local schools and want to see the kids and school succeed.
    • Meet with all the new teachers at the school as soon as possible – go to them, offer your help and gain a new advocate and friend.
  • Orientation and Getting Ready for Action – a collection of resources, blog posts, tweets gathered by author and expert Joyce Valenza from NeverEndingSearch. Orientation, welcomes and BTS nights are an opportunity that librarians can’t miss for advocating, promoting and raising visibility.


back to school the libraries missed you

College/University Libraries

  • Are you talking citations, proper sourcing and avoiding plagiarism
    • There’s this Plagiarism Spectrum discussion/infographic from TurnItIn on the 10 common types of plagiarism – each given a clever name and examples. E.g. The Ctrl+C – when students just copy/paste chunks of text with no changes, edits, paraphrasing
    • Then you might want this awesome infographic/chart [$14.99 for poster size] and share it with teachers, put in the computer lab, include in your syllabus, etc. (psst – he also sells a poster for ‘Can I Use That Picture?’ – another common library marketing issue).


  • Open Houses, Welcome to Your College Library ideas:
    • Temporary tattoos for students (and staff) at high schools, colleges, medical libraries! Let your users and fans help do your marketing for you! Loved seeing this idea online from a librarian in Kansas [the comments include a how-to and here’s temporary tattoo paper from Amazon and more laser printer tattoo paper from Papilio and they looked AMAZING – well done KU!]
    • Charts, infographics, flyers – use the cool available graphic tools (e.g. Piktochart) to make useful flyers to take home, hang up, insert in welcome folders or kits, send in emails, etc.
      • g. from the Kaplan Family Library and Learning Center at MSMC (Mount St. Mary College):
        LMAO-Park-MSMC-welcome back library flyers
      • Love that they don’t forget the transfer students! This special group needs extra love since they haven’t been on campus as long as other students, may not be getting the same ‘new student’ experience but still need to know about library resources.
      • Great discussion of the flyer in the comments – maybe use fewer fonts and colors, add some images or photos? Would this need some tweaks to make it a readable poster vs. a physical handout? Does your library have to use only university-approved colors or fonts because of branding concerns?

college students on the path back to school library

  • Academic library friends – how do you deal with those face-palm, head-shaking moments when students – and their parents – seem genuinely surprised the college or university HAS a library, and it has books, and DVDs, AND computers and why it is loud?!
    Or parents who seem sure their student won’t need it ‘because everything is online’ (uh no, but also yeah – you know the library and its catalog, resources, guides and databases – they’re online!)How can we make ourselves more visible and known to parents as well as their students? Are you using the tools and platforms that both the students and their parents use, to SHOW them the real library at work (and not just tell them or hand out pamphlets, bookmarks or guides)?
    What’s working best for you?

Great response from an academic librarian seen online:

“yes the students still use the library. Tons. Or I wouldn’t have a job here. And it would be very lonely and I would feel silly …”

Oooh, ‘snap’! Another tart but timely response:

“Well, yes, the serious students with the good grades do (use the library). Those are the ones who have an easier time finding work after they graduate – on time.”

Do be sure to smile and use this politely. After all, you’re just noting the truth and hitting a point parents care about.

If parents come to orientations, remind them when their student calls in a panic at mid-terms, ‘send ‘em our way to the library! We’re in the best position to help them succeed in their studies.’ Give parents a business card, bookmark, magnet or postcard with the library’s phone number, email, online chat info. Give them prompts to tell their kids “why don’t you make an appointment with a librarian to go over this project?” or “have you looked to see if there’s info on at from the library website or their databases?” – help the parents point the students in your direction.

  • I’ve seen several presentations in past few years about gamification of library instruction and library awareness by a variety of colleges and universities. Here’s nice local press pick up on another instance of a popular game used to help students understand library resources (Kansas State, Hale Library, life-sized Monopoly).


Public Libraries

  • Of course September is Library Card Sign Up Month – so a perfect time to remind parents to get library cards for the whole family to boost the odds of a successful school year. [You can get a blank version of this if you click the image or go to the ALA Library Card Sign Up Month page(s)]

Happiness is a library card

  • New school year excitement might mean noise levels are amped up – is this an issue in your public library?
    • What are your noise level policies? Do you have a policy?
    • What is your signage like?
    • Is there a designated quiet area or group study rooms for the noisier studiers to go?
    • Do you issue warnings? How many before additional action – such as ban for the day, week or month?
    • Or do you remind other patrons that ‘hey, today’s library is a busy place! We try to accommodate everyone, but don’t actions to interfere with other patrons’ and hope it balances out?
  • Can you put together a display with books or DVDs about starting school for the first time, going to school, making new friends and other ways to ease the anxiety of the new school year? Help the kids in your community ease the transition.
  • Are you visiting local schools as part of your outreach, offering literacy help, read-alongs or after school programs? What works best for the librarian on the go? STEM related programs, LEGO clubs (ooh, build something from a recent book they’ve read? LEGO book reports!), Pokemon Go activities, science books – what’s hot in your town?
  • Examples of Public/School partnerships – Haverford Township (PA) Library presents a case study and tips.
  • Ack, no! When will awful librarian stereotypes like this die?!  Sure, the Mental Floss articles says why school in the past was rougher than today, but did they have to use this image for the header? Sheesh.

mental-floss back to school librarian shushing

Additional Resources and Programming Ideas:

Madelyn’s Library Programming blog – from a Youth Services librarian – ideas for tots to teens; e.g. movie and a craft (Shaun the Sheep), Make-and-Take (Pokemon Go t-shirts), life size outdoor (or indoor) games and much more. Site is regularly updated and features tons of photos of activities in progress and how-to’s.

School Library Journal’s Back-to-School Resources – because you knew SLJ would feature tips for this crucial time of year, right?! Featuring Joyce Valenza and Joy Fleishhacker’s tips, trends, tech, tools and book selections.

I like the idea of school librarians writing a ‘back-to-school letter’ to all parents, taking advantage of this fresh start of the year for advocating for library use, resources and visibility. A model letter is shared in this older post.

From Joyce and the SLJ post found her LessonPaths collection of BTS resources, and discovered fun, quirky, lively blog of Nikki Robertson, The True Adventures of a High School Librarian. Love the tons of photos showing examples of what’s going on her library – Bookmark the site now!

LoC WPA Back to Books back to school poster-3f05199v

From the Digital Public Library of America back to school help – e.g. info on using their 100 primary source sets (this is big to me personally as this was the area I was doing my dissertation research on, once upon a time!). new digital exhibitions on a variety of topics, ebooks and more. If you haven’t explored the DPLA resources, back-to-school is a great time to start!


Artstor Digital Library has K-12 LibGuides (joining existing higher ed guides) – how to use the Artstor resources, incorporating into the classroom, incorporating the primary sources, using the database for research, presentations, test prep and more.


Has your library added makerspaces, tech labs or other innovative spaces – and now you’re worried about quirks, patrons misusing the tech, the need for added insurance or other issues you didn’t know you needed to know?! ALA has new titles offering legal guidance on makerspaces, using meeting rooms and staying ‘safe’ with displays.

The Library of Congress welcomes teachers and the new school year. Don’t forget to check out the LoC’s ready-to-use materials, news and more – a great way for your library to partner with the LoC and your teachers. [Plus the page has this spiffy, clean, postmodern poster for Back to Books from a Chicago, WPA art project]

What Ideas Will You Be Able to Use?

I’d love to hear how Back to School goes for you and your library – no matter what type – and how these activities help your library marketing and outreach.