January Best Practice of the Month: Flexible Scheduling

Jeannie.Standal's picture

The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) counts flexible scheduling among best practices for school libraries.  The other scheduling methods include fixed scheduling and mixed scheduling.  Before discussing those options, it is best to set out definitions of the terms:

A flexible schedule provides open access to the library media center throughout the day, rather than only during a scheduled "library time."1

A fixed schedule fits "library time" into a regular schedule with each class visiting the library at a set time for a standard amount of time.  This method is commonly used in elementary schools as a "special" or a class that provides prep time for classroom teachers.

A mixed schedule is some combination of the two.

Of course, each method has benefits and limitations.  Some benefits of a fixed schedule:

  • helps school administrators accommodate planning time for teachers (often fulfilling a requirement of the union contract);
  • ensures that every student visits the library once in the schedule cycle; and
  • the librarian works within a predictable set schedule.

Some not so great things about fixed schedules:

  • a fixed schedule accommodates classroom teacher planning time, but leaves no planning time for the librarian;
  • leaves little time for the students to select a book and check it out when paired with some sort of story time or lesson;
  • leaves no time for research or project work for students and teachers;
  • leaves no time for teacher/librarian collaboration or team teaching; and
  • provides little or no opportunity for librarians to bring lessons, booktalks, or any other library services to the classroom.

Some good things about a flexible schedule:

  • students and teachers have access to the library and the librarian at the point of need;
  • students and teachers can use the library as a more flexible space than merely a clearing house for circulating books;
  • the librarian has the time and opportunity to teach library and research skills and students have the time in the library to learn about and use the resources in the library;
  • librarians and teachers have time to collaborate, plan, and teach together, giving students the best opportunity for learning in the library;
  • librarians can become more flexible in taking library services out of the library and take some lessons to the classroom (including those classrooms with teachers who do not bring their classes to the library); and
  • since the library and the librarian are not tied up with classes all day, it increases library access for everyone.

Some drawbacks with a flexible schedule:

  • some teachers may not allow their students to go to the library without a regular appointment, and therefore, will not get lessons on research and library skills, and may not be able to check out books.  You can't teach who you don't see. 
  • librarian will not have a routine schedule, if that is considered a drawback;
  • administrators will have to find alternatives to provide planning time for teachers; and

According to AASL's Position Statement on Flexible Scheduling:

Classes must be flexibly scheduled into the library on an as needed basis to facilitate just-in-time research, training, and utilization of technology with the guidance of the teacher who is the subject specialist, and  the librarian who is the information process specialist. The resulting lesson plans recognize that the length of the learning experience is dependent on learning needs rather than a fixed library time. Regularly scheduled classes in the school library to provide teacher release or preparation prohibit this best practice. Students and teachers must be able to come to the library throughout the day to use information sources, read for pleasure, and collaborate with other students and teachers.2

It goes without saying that lesson plans depend on the material to be learned and practiced, not on the number of minutes the class has for "library time."  For example, say a class of 4th grades is working on research on Idaho and looking for primary sources.  This kind of reseach might be new for a 4th grade class, requiring a lesson on where to find these resources, which sources are primary, and how to determine if information is reliable.  Then tack on the time needed for each student to find and check out a book.  It will require more than 30-45 minutes in the library. On the other hand, if the teacher can schedule, perhaps, one hour blocks on three consecutive days, this could be a real mini-research experience preparing students for more advanced projects ahead.

Librarians preach the importance of reading and access to books.  One of the more problematic limitations of fixed scheduling is that it limits kids' access to reading materials.  In fact, multiple studies show that circulation rates go up when a school library moves to a flexible schedule.

Mixed scheduling can work, given there is daily open check out time allotted so students have adequate access to reading material, as well as a lot of options for flexibly scheduling research time.

To learn more about fixed vs. flexible scheduling and how it might be implemented, check out these resources:

1McGregor, Joy. Flexible Scheduling: Implementing an Innovation. School Library Media Research. Volume 9, 2006. Viewed at http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/aaslpubsandjournals/slr/vol9/SLMR_FlexibleScheduling_V9.pdf  on 1/5/15.

 2AASL. Position Statement of Flexible Scheduling.  Viewed at http://www.ala.org/aasl/advocacy/resources/statements/flex-sched on 12/30/14.