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Conducting a Symphony

One of the recent conversations that has been coming up in my classes of future librarians is how do school librarians balance it all? There is so much to do in running a school library, but yet there is usually only one librarian (and if they are lucky they might have an assistant). It can all feel overwhelming, so how do you do it?

In trying to explain this to my students, I think about the school librarian as a conductor of a great orchestra. The orchestra is made up of many sections and the conductor's job is to keep them all moving together towards a common goal. The school librarian is doing the same thing, working on all the various parts of the library program while moving them forward towards a common goal. The school librarian has the vision for the library and all the work parts help to achieve that goal. So does the conductor as he guides all the instruments to play beautiful music.

If we take this analogy a little further, consider the different sections of an orchestra.

The percussion section is very much like the administrative tasks for running the library. The percussion instruments provide the consistent beat, but often aren't the main attraction. Similarly, the administrative role goes very much unnoticed to the rest of the school community, but at the same time it is the part that keeps the library going just like the percussion keeps the song together.

Often a piano, harp, or electronic instruments might be included in an orchestra. Technical services varies from library to library depending on the support from the district or whether you get support from your vendor when you order. Again, this is one of the sections of the orchestra that might not be as noticed much like technical services is one of those behind the scenes things.

Consider the string instruments much like collection development. Building the collection that will meet both curricular and recreational needs is a balancing act. (That often requires figuring out how to do it with little to no money, too!) Much like the bow of a violin balancing across the strings, so is it a balancing act to build a perfect collection.

Brass is the section where the instruments can be loud and really pop. Instruction should be our most important and visible role. We want to trumpet to our students how we can help them become effective users and creators of information.

The woodwinds make some of the highest notes and pop with excitement. To me this is readers advisory in the library world. There is nothing more fun and high energy than helping students find a book they will love.

Picking the right song (library program) can be so important. It may be that you need different songs at different points in the year depending on what is happening.

In the end, the conductor is helping guide the different sections to come together for that beautiful musical piece. If you look at an arrangement of music, you'll see that sometimes during a song, some instruments (or whole sections) are resting or playing very quietly while others are taking the lead. This lead often can move around between the sections. This is where the balance happens. There may be times when one particular area is driving your work, but others when you are focused on something else. Like most arrangements there are always times when everyone is playing. It is a little crazy those days, but there are other times when maybe you just have just a light hum from a section and you can catch your breath.

An orchestra is all about various pieces and parts coming together as one, much like taking all the pieces and parts of a school library and pulling them together as one program for the benefit of our students and staff.

About the Editor

Carl A. Harvey II, MLS, MS, is assistant professor of school librarianship at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. Harvey received his master's degree from Indiana University and is the author of six books, most recently The 21st-Century Elementary School Library Program: Managing For Results, 2nd Edition. He is a past-president of the American Association of School Librarians, and his school has been the recipient of the National School Library Program of the Year.


Twitter: @caharvey2

Select Citation Style:
Harvey, Carl A., II. "Conducting a Symphony." School Library Connection, February 2019,
Harvey, Carl A., II. "Conducting a Symphony." School Library Connection, February 2019.
Harvey, C. A. II. (2019, February). Conducting a symphony. School Library Connection. Retrieved from

Entry ID: 2187776

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