5 New Back-to-School Hacks for 2023

5 new back-to-school hacks to help you get ready for a new year in your library. Orientations, surveys and more.

My Back-to-School Hacks post from 2015 has been getting a lot of traffic lately (maybe because of the School Library Journal article with a similar title?) so I thought it might be good to write an updated version.  A lot has changed for me since 2015 – I’m at a different school (Tampa Prep, where I’ve been since 2017).  We had to completely redesign the beginning of the year multiple times with COVID.  So it seems like a great time to share a bit of how my back-to-school strategies have changed and evolved.

New orientation station
I added a new station to our back-to-school library orientation this year to match the number of advising groups in each grade.
(Post contains affiliate links.  If you make a purchase using them, I get a small commission that helps support running this blog.)

Upgrade Your Back-to-School Library Orientation

In July 2023 I had the pleasure and honor of talking with Amy Hermon (who’s also in that SLJ post) on School Librarians United about my library orientation. You can check out that episode over here.  The post from 2021 is over here.  I continue to tweak and evolve this.  This year, I added an additional station because I realized that two grade have six advising groups instead of five, making it more complicated to split up groups.  I also edited some of the videos to make them shorter, so each of the six stations can be done in three minutes.   These changes helped to streamline the process and gave us more time for checkouts at the end.

I also ran into a new obstacle – my QR code generator now has monthly scan limits, so by the last orientation, they weren’t working.  I’m looking into a new option now, but I’m also adding shortened urls onto each sign so that students can type them in if the QR codes don’t work. Building in redundancy will help to save me stress further down the line.

Share your (summer) reading life

One of my favorite evergreen library displays shows the covers of books I’ve read lately.  I talk about how I make this display over on this post.  There’s so much value in sharing your reading life with students and teachers right off the bat, and it makes for great conversations.  And it’s so easy to do and makes your library more welcoming.  I also like to make some posts for our library Instagram sharing what I’ve read.

Student survey data
I’m using data from student surveys built into my orientation to create potential purchase lists

Build surveys and data into your purchasing

My back-to-school orientation includes a couple of quick surveys – one for fiction suggestions and favorite genres, and another for favorite non-fiction.  I’m building a list of these books with one of our library vendors to keep a running student wishlist.  I’ve saved a chunk of my library book budget and I’m planning to work with my middle school library leaders to choose what items from this list they want to purchase this year.  We can’t buy EVERYTHING on the list (I think it’s at about $4,000 right now) but we can still get a good amount, and I love that they’ll all be student suggested and selected.  Whenever you can, survey your student population and use this data to help you make purchasing decisions.  Doing this at the beginning of the year is especially importation because it sets the tone that you listen to student voice in your library and that you take action on their input.

Book recommendation card at Barnes and Noble
I want to try creating book recommendation cards like these with my student library leaders.

Try something you’ve been meaning to get to

The beginning of the year is a fresh start and a great time to try out an idea you’ve been wanting to get to.  This year, I have two that I’m working on right away – book recommendation shelf cards and a visual book lists display.  My student library leaders (who will be presenting at AASL 23 this year!) have been talking about wanting to make book rec cards like the ones at Barnes and Noble and other bookstores.  I created a Canva template and everything last year, I just never got around to actually having students write them and post them.  So that’s on my right-away list.

I’ve also been loving Melissa Corey’s visual booklists (she’s in that SLJ article too).  She graciously offers up her Canva templates for free.  I got one of these desktop reference organizer things (<–affiliate) and my next right-away is to adapt her templates for our collection and get this up at the checkout desk.

Planoly is a great tool for planning out your IG posts, and it saves time.

Schedule your library social media in batches

My beginning of the year schedule is always crazy busy.  Orientations.  Displays.  Research lessons.  Book orders.  It’s hard to find time to get things done.  When it comes to our library social media posts, it’s easy for things to fall by the wayside.  I’ve found that I do better if I create and schedule my social media in batches (like during that half hour of quiet in the morning before the kids get there). I use Planoly (<– affiliate link) to schedule our social media posts so I can space them out and not have to remember to make something new every few days.  I’m also trying something new this year – we’re purchasing a paid subscription to the Starter version of Planoly (I’ve been using the free one) and I’m designating two high school students as our “social media interns”.  They’ll get a login to Planoly so that they can help upload content and write captions.  I can then approve it, schedule out and post.  It takes some pressure off me and gives more space for student voice.

What are some of your favorite back-to-school strategies?

Here’s a bunch of other back to school posts I gathered together back in 2019.