What is a Whamster?
My first year as a librarian, my assistant left less than halfway through first semester with a torn rotator cuff in her shoulder. I was by myself in a midsized middle school and I’d never been in a middle school before. I also had never been a librarian before. I was pretty clueless myself and needing help to do heavy lifting, massive shelving, gathering textbooks. I was learning everything from scratch and generally making it up as I went along. In that fashion, I muddled through fairly well (although some teachers who remember that first year might have a different opinion) until late April. Then it was time for textbooks to be returned. Okay, this was a huge hairy bearish deal. I had to pick up the textbooks from all the teachers, get the textbooks checked in, and, worst of all, get all those books down three flights of stairs to the “dungeon” — our basement textbook storage room. Also, the whole time this was to take place, I still had classes coming in to check out books and do year end research projects. I had NO ideas on how to get it all done alone.
That was about the time a young boy named Tim and a young girl named Summer showed up in the library bored, finished with a test one day, and wanting to help me. They were regulars in the library already and I knew them to be pretty reliable, so I gladly accepted their offer. The rest became the stuff of legends and spawned a continuing tradition. Every spare minute they could find or weasel out of their teachers, they spent in the library helping me. The two of them worked harder than a couple of galley slaves from that scene in “Ben Hur.” I never could possibly have imagined two eighth graders could do all that they did, lots of times without me directly supervising. Still, even though I wasn’t always right over their shoulders, the two of them didn’t mess up a book the first time. They got all sixty-three blue gagillion textbooks checked in, CLEANED out (I didn’t even ask them to do that), sorted, ordered, and put away in the Dungeon in two short weeks. In all that time and during all those unsupervised trips, I never once had a teacher complain to me about their behavior.
Well, while they were schlepping carts up and down the halls and toting stacks of books up and down steps, they got noticed a good bit. I called them my library helpers, but one of my ELA Goddesses (we had an all female ELA faculty that year) started calling the two of them “Mr. Wham’s Whamsters” and the name just stuck. They also helped me do inventory and get the shelves straightened up for the next year. Unfortunately, they both were eighth graders, so I lost them after one year. I missed the two of them mightily . . . still do. Tim used to stop by on his bike every now and then to check in a load of books “just for old times’ sake” but then he discovered all young mens’ first love — a car — and I don’t see him so much anymore.
Luckily, the next year, I got Chris as my assistant and Lord knows he was (and is) amazing to say the least. Still, we discovered that textbooks were still a bear for just two people. Then, a few students showed up and just like Tim and Summer, they threw in to help out at a time when I really needed help. I called them “My Whamsters” whenever I sent an email about getting books back and once again, they did yeoman’s work getting the textbooks back and put to bed for the summer.
So a Whamster is someone who has helped me in the library, not as a library helper or as part of a class, but out of the kindness of their hearts and a desire to do something for someone else. I’ve had many Whamsters over the years and I couldn’t get all the things I need done if I didn’t have them. They’ve always shown up, just in time, when the work needed doing.
Well, last year, I missed about six weeks with an ailment and Chris had the library to himself. Just like I was that first year, he was overwhelmed. Now, he hit upon the idea of recruiting Whamsters, which was something I’d never considered. By the time I got back on my feet and back to school, he had a force of about six or seven students running the library like a well-oiled machine. These youngsters changed the announcements on the computer scroll, shelved books, cleaned computers, read shelves . . . they were little junior librarians. I told Chris I should just go on back to bed and let him and the Whamsters run the place.
He didn’t think that was funny.
So this year, he and I actively recruited a group of students for the first time. I sent out “try out” letters and about forty five students took the time to fill out the application packet, answer a short test, and talk to me or Chris for a bit about why they wanted to work in the library. At the mention of “work” about half the applicants fled like scalded cats. The rest stuck around and we selected seventeen of them to be this year’s Whamster Corp.
Looks like we’ve got some great ones in this bunch as well. One tremendously welcome addition was our seven sixth graders. They’ve been extremely enthusiastic about coming in before school and at lunch to help with the library chores. With a little luck, maybe I can hang on to them all three years!
So, my Whamsters are part library helpers and part library mascots. Looking back, I don’t know how I’d have made it without their willing help over the years. My only hope is that I’ve been a good role model for them and that they have good memories of the library. With any luck, maybe the seeds of future librarianism have been planted in one or two of them and they can carry on the Whamster tradition in their libraries. I can only hope . . . and try to keep my feet washed! 🙂