Reflecting On Your Role As Librarian – Time To Change?, Sarah Pavey

Schools run within a safety structure of rules and regulations many of which have been in place for decades. This provides continuity for the ever changing personnel within the community. But seldom are these edicts challenged or adapted because to do so entails the bravery of stepping out of your comfort zone and sticking your head above the parapet. So the school adds to regulations and hence workload but rarely reflects and takes away what is no longer necessary. As librarians we are often in danger of picking up the tasks no-one else wants to do because, as natural organisers, we can present as if we are able to add more to our day or maybe it is because there is no-one else for people to delegate to. We run the risk of being overworked and stressed and the jobs that maybe we should be concentrating on fall by the wayside. This can impact severely on our perceived role. Time to change! 

What we need in place to effect change

There are certain things that we need in place if we are going to be able to reflect effectively on our role, reduce our stress levels and make more impact. 

  • A job description which reflects what we actually do
  • A mission statement for the library stating our aims and objectives and outcomes
  • One year and five year development plans

When constructing these important documents we need to make sure that they fit with the aims and targets of the school. It is worth looking at the way the school presents itself to the wider world on their website and also reading the recommendations of the latest Ofsted report and seeing how the library can contribute. 

Within this blog, however, I will be concentrating on the importance of re-evaluating your role through your job description. 

How accurate is your job description?

When was the last time you read your job description? For many of us it might be when we were first appointed to our job. For others things may have been added sneakily without any consultation. Do you know which version of your job description is held on file or which version your line manager has? Job descriptions should be reviewed at least once a year and more often when changes take place and more demands are placed upon you. Any changes, no matter who suggests them, need to be mutually agreed. 

Because librarians are organised people by trade, we tend to be good at multitasking and fitting in extra tasks in response to change. This can give the impression that we have time to spare to others so it is important to make what we do explicit. Getting a new book shelf ready for the non specialist may seem a simple and quick task whereas we know it can take some time with cataloguing, classification, and labelling let alone the financial recording and selection. It is amazing what we manage to fit into our limited time and we need to demonstrate this skill to others in the school community. Enter the lists…….

Surprise yourself by writing down EVERYTHING that you do during the school year. If possible add a rough estimate of the time you spend on the task. Don’t forget to add your breaks that you are entitled to as well – this is very important for your wellbeing as will be discussed later. Now select which tasks are most important to you and which tasks you feel are not really your responsibility. 

Using your job description to effect change

The Pareto Principle of workloads states that

“80% of our work time contributes to only 20% of the results.”

Therefore if we concentrate on the most crucial 20% of our workload, i.e. the tasks with the highest priority then our overall performance will still be strong but it will take less time.

How do we identify these tasks? You might think you know, but a common pitfall is that we hide behind tasks that keep us occupied and which are comforting because they do not challenge us and we avoid some of the jobs we really need to do. Try fitting the tasks you do into the following grid.

How does this reflect your contribution to the school’s aims and objectives? It is now worth taking this to your line manager and asking them how they see your priorities. Do they differ? Having this information on paper allows for a non emotional discussion that is task orientated rather than personal – the discussion revolves around getting the job done in the most efficient way using your skills and identifying any training needs you may have. 

A similar approach might be used when thinking about longer term planning. You might devise a grid covering what you do now (tasks and time allowance), what you will need to do in the next year, and what you would need to add in to develop the library and its services in the future. Similarly this can initiate a discussion about prioritisation and help remove tasks that are no longer necessary for you to do. 

Following this type of approach questions may be raised by your line manager such as “why do you have to do this?” and it gives you the opportunity to explain the impact it has on teaching and learning and consequence if it is not done.  It might also raise issues about whether it is the right task for you to be doing or whether it is really someone else’s responsibility – this is certainly the case with some administrative jobs that can be quite time consuming but actually could be done by someone other than the librarian giving you more time to devote to your specific role. 

Workload and stress

As librarians we like to present as the ultimate service but if we are not careful we can become overloaded because we do not like to say no. In part this may be a fear of rejection of our library service in the long term but actually being more assertive can help others see the value in what we do. The problem is when we feel under pressure and stressed it can make us try and work harder, skipping breaks, working unpaid extra hours just to demonstrate how superhuman we are. When we add in our domestic commitments too it becomes impossible and we run around in circles achieving less and pleasing no-one. Eventually something has to give. Short term stress can be beneficial and enhance creativity and productivity but when it becomes long term and routine it has a profound effect on our physical and mental health. 

Stress can be caused by a number of issues but the three main triggers are:

  • time
  • demands
  • change

Using the job description exercise we can help combat all of these potentially inflammatory areas and lessen our risk of stress. We can organise our tasks more efficiently so we only spend time on what we actually need to do to support the school community. The demands put upon us cause stress when either we feel we do not have enough knowledge to complete them or when we feel the job is beneath our capabilities. The exercise will highlight training needs or will make apparent to the line manager that the job might be more suited to someone else in terms of efficiency. The exercise also helps plan for change in terms of what tasks might need to be prioritized and given more time in the future. 

In conclusion

Reflecting on your job description is worth a bit of time as it may give you new impetus for your role within the school and re-energise you as well as reducing your stress levels. In a blog post we can only touch upon some of these important areas but you might wish to look at my Working Smarter online course. The new edition of the Innovative School Librarian also includes a chapter on “becoming integral to teaching and learning” which demonstrates how important it is that our role fits in with the wider aims of the school community rather than our own personal wish list. 

Sarah Pavey, MSc FCLIP

@Sarahinthelib, SP4IL


Chapman, A. (2017) Pareto’s principle Available at: 

Markless, S. et al (2016) The innovative school librarian 2nd Edition London: Facet

Pavey, S. (2019) Working Smarter Online Course. Available at: 

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1 Response to Reflecting On Your Role As Librarian – Time To Change?, Sarah Pavey

  1. Anne Shaw says:

    While agreeing with every word, I feel the main problem is that many of us know that each year our job and library is under threat of closure so causing ripples in an already choppy sea is perhaps just too stressful. I no longer have an assistant and teach all the library lessons to Year 7 & 8 myself as well as being a form tutor. I feel fortunate to be paid as a Chartered Librarian but I also feel that as a 50 something professional with over 20 years as a school librarian, new opportunities are few and far between. I cope with my work load by prioritising and accepting that there is only so much one person can achieve.


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