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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

To dust or not to dust

Thank you to all school custodians! The school year is ending. Teachers have packed their rooms leaving you boxes and cans of trash, piles of surplus materials, tons of obsolete technology to dispose, and refrigerators to clean. During the summer you and your staff will haul every item out of each classroom, scrub every surface, open & clean every light fixture, fix everything broken, polish buff & shine every floor, tolerate all the children & teachers for summer school who mess up your clean floors, repolish, rebuff & reshine every floor, move all the desks & items back into the classrooms, help teachers move out of their rooms, help new teachers move in, help new administrators locate everything, water the stray plants abandoned, scrub fingerprints off every window, paint, completely strip and refinish the gym floors (working around the summer school and YMCA afterschool care programs), and be willing to drop everything you are doing every time someone asks for help.

Yours is an awesome task, yet you do it with such good cheer. You tolerate me swiping your large rolling trash cans to trash and recycle a year's accumulation of catalogs and flyers. You quietly tiptoe around me as I snarl my way through paperwork. You even lock the door from the outside to keep the teachers from coming in for a "quick chat" when you know I am trying to hide to finish my special projects.

But why do I love my new custodian Tammy (photograph to the left by Michael Tyler) the most? Because she dusts. She dusts, everyone! She wipes every surface. She moves keyboards, wipes monitors, and actually scrubs behind the computers. She takes a damp cloth and wipes off every bookshelf regularly. She actually wipes the tops of shelves, window ledges, even lower parts of chairs. She cleans. Ahh! A clean, nondusty library. A heavenly place where children who suffer allergies (like I do) can actually breathe. A place where no teacher or administrator can run their hand across a surface and look at you with that raised eyebrown.  This is the first time in ten years I have had a custodian come dust willingly and without being reminded.

You see, I do not believe school librarians should be dusting their libraries. I believe we should be teaching, working with children, helping parents, and collaborating with teachers & administrators. If we spend our time doing those proactive tasks, we are perceived as vital team members. On the other hand, if we spend our time dusting, someone will comment on our having too much time and make comments like, "I wish you would come and dust my room." The dusting needs to get done. Computers and electronics share my allergy to dust.

Alice Yucht in her blog Alice in Infoland includes the following tip for Starting a New School/Library/Job:

Make friends with school custodian(s). Ask questions about cleaning schedules, use of library space after school, etc., and what kinds of cookies they like. (Even if you can’t bake, you can provide. . . .)

Alice, I would like you to know that my custodians don't want any sweets. They would prefer an extra sandwich, a piece of KFC chicken, a sub sandwich, an extra taco…. anything besides the leftover pizzas, cupcakes, and cookies they receive from teacher's classrooms throughout the year. I have even been known to bring in a pie and gallon of Sweet Tea just for them during the summer.  I need to take care of the people who take care of me.  Thank you Tammy, Fred, Jerrell and Mr. Willie.

Short list of books with Custodians:
The Custodian from the Black Lagoon
Hey, Al
Finding Buck McHenry
The Janitor's Boy
Welcome Comfort


  1. Alice Yucht says:

    Diane — you are absolutely right: school librarians need to be seen in action as *professional educators,* not as dusters and stampers (or even shushers).
    FWIW, my favorite custodian didn’t want sweets, either. To him the most delicious goodies were books and articles about marine archaeology… and I made sure to always keep him well supplied.