Tears streamed down my cheeks as I surveyed my library for the last time today. We accomplished so much, this room and I, in our 5 years together. My school transformed me, and I transformed it in return. I spent 14 years teaching in the same district, 5 of those years in the high school library. The library went from a quiet, sit and check out books place to an active hub for creativity, learning, connecting, and reading. I taught students how to wrap gifts. I reveled in our discussions about books we had read. I nearly burst with pride when our ELL students began to use the library independently and appropriately.
And all of that is coming to a close. I hope it was only the beginning of a snowball of amazingness for my school. I pray that the incoming librarian takes hold of our momentum and our record-breaking numbers and uses it to her advantage to bring things to life that I dare not dream of. I cross my fingers that my teachers find a passionate collaborator to continue to push the envelope with to give our students memorable learning experiences.
The library was stripped of everything making it "me". My photos, quotes, and strange collection of buttons were packed away. No coffee had brewed in weeks. The very last of my greeting cards were in the box on my hip. In the one swift motion it took to lock the door from the outside, it was over. I felt it in my stomach.
Saying goodbye was much more difficult than I thought it was going to be. I had weeks to prepare and we had been at home during COVID. Foolishly, I supposed these would make it easier. It wasn't. I have people I will miss so fiercely that it brings tears to my eyes.
However, I have a lot to look forward to. My new position is completely different than what I spent the last 5 years doing. I'll be serving preschool through twelfth grade - meeting four year olds and staying with them until they walk across the stage at graduation. I'll be partnered with a public library in my school library, sharing space and ideas. My population will be completely different. The major draw of any new opportunity to me is the new experiences I'll get to have. This new place offers a new world of librarianship to me and one that isn't common. It lights my fire.
So, anyone who has left or is thinking of beginning a new era of your life, I feel you. The duality of excitement for your new position and grief over what you are leaving behind is a strange companion. It's okay to be both.
You'll be okay. So will I.
I made a promise to you to let you know how some of my ideas from reading "The School Librarians's Career Planner" panned out. One idea in particular was very timely! I proctor college courses at the high school where I teach. For some reason, my college students never seem to think that I can help them with the databases their professors want them to use in college. So, rather than ask for help, they flounder or fail assignments for using the "wrong resources". This semester, I reached out to the college's head librarian. She and I made quick work of deciding what my students need to know to be successful in their courses. (I am only proctoring 4 different courses but have students enrolled throughout the school day in each course.) I then invited her to come speak with all of our college course enrolled students at one time. This required me to touch base with every single student's teacher to receive permission to pull them from class that day. My high school teachers were AMAZING about this - having students test either before or after that day, excusing them from the period entirely, communicating about attendance. It was a beautiful thing. Every single student affected had the opportunity to be at this meeting. Most of them showed up! The college librarian was very helpful with handouts and answering questions. She also showed my students the college library's ability to provide assistance via chat, which they were really excited about. When she left, the students were in agreement that their time had been well spent with her and they felt more prepared for the research portions of the classes they were taking.
Now, could I have done a similar presentation? Yes.
Having a guest speaker was fun, not only for me, but for the students too. She had personally spoken with each professor and gave tips for each course that you would only know if you were sitting in that room. Her connections and experience were completely worthwhile, and I enjoyed having her visit. Librarianship can be such an island. For one hour, we were both occupying the same island, working towards the same goal, and it felt really good.
An added bonus is the support this provided to my students as they finished their courses from home due to COVID-19. We were pulled out of school in mid-March and did not return. Yet, none of my college course students are having trouble keeping up. They had a support network and a couple of months using their resources with support before being cast out alone. I am so proud of them for their hard work in a time when it was hard to work.
I love School Library Month. It gives me an excuse to brag about - oh I mean, advocate for - school libraries. I'm in a small school district so I include my building administration, superintendent, and school board in my packet-of-goodies style campaign. Here's what they receive:
A letter about school library month and our school library in particular (This is last year's)
A little qr code to more resources
I've included two. The one I will send this year is about my state's libraries in particular. The one I sent last year was more general.
This article printed out
My building administration will also receive a thank you card and an infographic highlighting circulation, activities, collaborations, and outreach events we have put on this school year. For them only, I am including a short wishlist along with reasoning of what the library needs to continue progressing. The first items I will be requesting are an additional staff member and the reupholstering of our bench seating. The other item won't cost money (continued encouragement of teachers to collaborate with the library).
School Library Month is the perfect time for getting others on your team and taking stock. Look back. Look ahead. Aim. Fire!
Of course it's that time of year. We're all re-girding our loins to make the second semester of the 19-20 school year our best yet. We're revitalized. We're...
maybe perfectly on track?
Each school librarian is having a different experience.
I'm all of the above. After my awesome library aide left to pursue other career opportunities (she is doing great, by the way!), my services cut way back. I had to do her job and mine. Plus, there were some services we were only able to offer because she is bilingual. So I started break feeling like a library loser.
I ordered this book and waited for it to come in during the holiday hullabaloo. "School Librarian's Career Planner" didn't fix everything. About half of the book was aimed towards points in my career I had already passed, so I only glanced at them. This would be an amazing read for someone considering library as a career or still attending library school. I got something really great out of it though. Five fresh ideas to suite my new role! (I'll let you know how they pan out in future posts.) I also got confirmation of what I was working out in my brain already: it's time to prioritize instead of whining, complaining, and pushing for another aide. It's time to look at what I can do all by myself again, not berate myself for what the dreams WERE vs. where the library is right now, and really decide what is worth my energy. I'm realizing my energy is finite - at least right now - and I need to be honest with myself and my program about what is the most important. It all matters. It's not all the best thing for right this second.
So no matter where you are in your career, this is a nice read. It isn't a fix-it book. It's not packed with lists of ideas. I purchased my copy used from Amazon for only $14, and it's likely I'll only read it this once. I plan on giving my copy to the library program I graduated from to see if they can pass it off to an interested student.
During Banned Books Week, of all weeks, I received the first irate parent phone call of my library career. This involved father was already psyched up because his boy had taken a photo of a book on display at the library and sent it to his dad. That book - "Yay! You're Gay! Now what?". He had some very passionate concerns and an expectation for how our conversation was going to go. I hate to say it: he was angry. He was pushy. He had very strong feelings and very strong words. However, it is important to note that he was NOT disrespectful in any way.
I asked the basic questions: what book was it? What were his concerns?
And then I just listened. For about 20 minutes. Until he had everything out.
Then I acknowledged him, his concerns, and his involvement in his son's life. I explained our selection policy and what had lead to this particular book being selected. I made sure he knew his son wasn't required to read it, but it was available if he chose to. Then I told him about our challenge procedure. I offered to make the appropriate copies of paperwork and policies and leave them in the front office for him. I offered for him to read the book on school grounds - assuring him that it was very short and could be read in an hour or two. (Our policy says school copies of challenged materials cannot leave the grounds until the challenge is completed.) I made sure he knew that he wasn't obligated to go through the process if he read the material and no longer felt it should be removed from the shelves, but that the process would need to be adhered to if he truly wanted it removed.
An amazing thing happened. To this dad's credit, he calmed down. He really listened. He still didn't agree with it personally, but he ultimately decided the things we were discussing were a satisfying answer. The phone call ended amiably - with me offering to talk to him about it any time and to pull the necessary paperwork and material if he should ever choose to use them.
Then I hung up the phone and immediately began shaking. My aide, bless her heart, came over and let me pour some things out. I grabbed the book and the policies and paperwork and immediately headed for the principal's office. I briefed him, and he chose to keep and read the book in case the parent came to see him about it. My principal was impressed with the phone call and how I handled it.
I went back to the library and drafted an email to two of my best library buddies and former professors. Never would I have been able to handle that phone call without focusing on defending the actual book had they not drilled it into my head to make great selections with plenty of evidence why that book should be there AND don't defend the book - defend the process.
So, my library friends, it's going to happen at some point. It happened to me even in my small town! The best advice I can possibly give is: stay calm, be respectful, and defend the process. If you do not have your selection criteria or process in your library policy, make that happen! Also, if you do not have a challenge process in place, get it going. The ALA has a great webpage that I used to create ours. I also looked up school libraries that had those policies and borrowed their ideas and processes.
I first came to know the Hate Has No Home Here organization when I was in library school. The library goddess (as she is affectionally known around these parts) had a few posters in a stack. I couldn't grab one fast enough. My school was just beginning to receive refugees. While we are a high immigration community, the refugees were not of cultures to which we were accustomed. I loved showing that the library is a place without hate, and the sign was pretty.
The sign was up in the window for two years before I decided it was time to take it one step further. The library purchased a 1 inch button maker, printed off sheets of graphics from the No Hate website, and invited almost every student we saw for two weeks to make buttons. They did! Then, they came back and made more. We saw the buttons popping up at other schools in our district. Our kids were passing them on to family and friends!
I saw the movement spread. Pride in who they are and consideration for how others were treated made for a student body I am incredibly proud of. A safe space and a tiny button helped them put into words something that was important to them.
As kids tend to do, one kid was too rough with our button maker, and I had to remove it to see if my husband could fix it. Students were incredibly bummed when the button maker wasn't available any more. They asked on a daily basis if my husband was able to fix it. (Spoiler alert: he was after a couple of weeks and new parts!) However, we decided that we shouldn't leave it unattended by a library worker anymore.
Please check out Hate Has No Home Here. They're a wonderful organization, and all of their graphics are freely available for printing.
Banned Books Week is a cause close to my heart. Like many librarians, I may not agree with your choices, but I will fight for your rights to freedom of speech, religion, reading whatever you want, etc. This year's theme was particularly good.
I seized this opportunity to do a breakout about censorship and banned books that two English teachers took advantage of over the course of three school days. The library was full of awe, shock, and that positive vibrancy that we librarians crave.
We were also allowed to take over the school's loudspeaker during morning announcements and run a contest for homerooms (called Focus at my school). We explained what banned books week is and read a quote each day from a different banned book. (It actually worked out that our English classes were all reading banned books or had already completed them that week so we focused on books they had read for our quotes.) The first class to call with the correct book title the quote was from won for the day. Small prizes were delivered. One class won two days so they got a bigger prize the second time. Let me tell you, our phones were frantically ringing as soon as the Pledge of Allegiance was done. After we had a winner, we posted the quote and book to our library social media sites along with the daily winner.
The weirdest thing we received permission to do was to turn all of the lights off in the library for one full school day with the exception of one light - representing the theme. We had signs everywhere showing that we were open. By the time the afternoon sun shone in the windows, you couldn't even tell the lights were out. However, it lead to great discussions with our staff and students about banning books and censorship.
National Library Card Sign-Up Month.
I saw it on a calendar, and my heart skipped a beat. It was my chance to finally really collaborate with my public library in a meaningful way! My students love free wi-fi and the new teen space at our public library is something to behold. Our students even painted the mural occupying the giant wall during the library's construction. If there was ever a time to invite the PL crew over, it was National Library Card Sign-Up Month!
Via email, we quickly drafted a plan: the public library would come during all lunches on every Wednesday in September. My library advertised it to the school starting during the beginning of the school year Open House and never let up. We lit up social media. We were plastered on the tvs throughout the school. We had posters! We were in the announcements.
And I don't think a single student signed up for a library card.
Why? Well, one reason is that the vast majority of our students couldn't sign up without their parents, and parents weren't taking off of work in the middle of the day to come sign up for library cards.
Another reason: the students felt the public library was invading the school library's turf. I was shocked! I said we'd planned it together and the school library had advertised it. But since I proctored classes during lunch time and I wasn't sitting WITH the PL crew, students assumed things.
I wish this could be a different story. A tale of reaching the masses of students and every one walking out with a plastic library card in hand. It's not true.
We did do some powerful things. We put the public library into the heads of the students. We showed a bridge between school and the real world. We demonstrated that different libraries co-exist without it becoming a war between the Greasers and Socs. So, we'll keep trying with new ideas in the future.
For the record, our PL crew was amazing to work with. I am so proud to have them serving our community.
Oh, back to school season!
It's a great jolt to the school library's summer laziness when all the students return and suddenly circulation is back in full swing. I love it! Everything is at its best.
Students are polite and kind.
Teachers are polite and kind.
LIBRARIANS are polite and kind.
Enthusiasm peeks around every corner. No one cares if you have a box of books that hasn't arrived yet or if the library shelves aren't just so. We're all on our best summer sun-kissed behavior.
This year marks a lot of "let's try it" initiatives for me and my school library. The first to demonstrate immediate positive results is introducing book walks/book passes/book speed dating.
No matter how you organize your book pass, don't lose sight of your purpose for doing it: to introduce students to a host of books they might read and to encourage conversations between and among students about books. (Miller, p.113)
What a great opportunity to have nearly every student in the school come through the library right away! Teachers were on board to try a book pass instead of the "regular" checkout experience of turning the children completely lose like a pack of feral wolves and hoping they made good choices. The library was excited to establish the library's three expectations - effort, listen, and no put downs - and get some new and old books in front of so many faces.
You know the scene: tables of carefully curated books. Ours were separated by interest and tailored to the teacher bringing students in and their purpose. Fortunately, our teachers are great at planning in advance so we were able to switch books on a period to period basis with our fully loaded waiting book carts.
Students saw books they may never have seen otherwise, tried new things, and honed their personal reading tastes. They also saw a library staffed with people who care and listen to them. They saw adults working together to support their success.
Was it perfect? No. In fact, we had a student loudly proclaim that he hates reading choose to fill out his log rating all books a 0, with no interest, no appropriate vocabulary, no stamina, and no fluency. But, he DID fill out the entire log, so he put his hands on many more books than the students actually studying each book to answer all of the questions. We're counting it a small victory. The log we had students use was from
Then, the book pass experience lead to other experiences: MLA citations, how to use our databases, showing classes how to renew their own books on their iPads, and planning ahead for Banned Books Week activities to span the classroom/library divide.
All in all: the book pass activity was a great way to begin our year. Will we repeat it on a regular basis? Probably not - but I do have an idea brewing for before Christmas break that looks a lot like a White Elephant gift exchange.
So what's the book I quoted above? It's called "Game Changer! Book Access for All Kids" by Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp. It got my library fire roaring. I'll wind up sharing a lot from it this year, and I encourage you to grab a copy. I got mine from Amazon. It's all highlighted and written in because that's how I respond to learning. I hope you love it too!
Very few things cause a fluttering in my heart and paper cuts between my fingers like "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. I remember when I first discovered them in a local bookstore. My parents took us on a rare trip - it's dangerous to lead an addict straight to the object of their addictions - and they had given us a strict budget. Looking back, it was likely $5 because paperbacks have always been an affordable option. That would have gotten me 2 books back in the day! (It was the 80's for anyone curious.)
I perused the shelves, walked right past The Baby-sitter's Club (which would become a later obsession), selected a Girl Talk book called "The New You", and stood in front of the Choose Your Own Adventure display trying to make the impossible decision of which one would come home with me. I remember racking my brain to see if I could remember which ones were already available to me at the school and public libraries. I had to pick just. the. right. one.
So when an author contacted me with the subject line "Want to help revive a genre?" and it turned out to be a grown adult version of CYOA, I could not reply fast enough. "The Friar's Lantern" by Greg Hickey was everything I hoped it would be and more. He treats the readers like the adults we are but also takes great care to keep with the CYOA tropes we all know and love. I found myself going back, just as I did with the books as a child, to certain decisions and going the other direction to see what would have befallen my character. I was pleased with my fantastic original decision that lead to my character winning a million dollars. Within this fun format, some real issues are discussed: grief, power of the mind, murder, and ethics of psychological experiments to name a few.
I highly recommend this book for anyone missing the CYOA nostalgia in your life but finding the originals now a bit unsatisfying. Who knows? You may win a million dollars!