The Gift of Summer Reading

There has been no shortage of discussion on the topic of summer reading, but as ’tis the season, here’s another piece! As the end of the year approaches and a flurry of school events come and go, it seems to be the library-mission related topic that is most visible and most on the minds of school community members at the moment.

This will be our third year of using a student-driven summer reading model first inspired by a presentation from a fellow independent school librarian at our state affiliate organization conference several years ago. I know many schools have been approaching summer reading in similar ways and each school whose summer reading process I’ve taken note of “does” summer reading a little differently to fit their own school mission and reading community. I’ve learned a few things about summer reading at our school over the last two years and I’m sure I have more to learn this year as things come together.

To sum up our method: starting in the winter, I recruit Summer Reading Leaders (SRLs) from the ranks of returning students in grades 9-11 (rising sophomores-seniors). I make announcements, send out visually appealing emails, and speak face-to-face with students.

Together we select a book for each of them to put forth as an Upper School summer reading option. Some of these students know a book they’d like to share immediately, others need suggestions to choose from or a little re-direction. Once the list is final, the rest of the students rising to grades 9-12 fill out a Google form asking for their top three favorites from the list. I arrange the students into reading groups based on these preferences. Nearly everyone is assigned to their first choice reading group.

When we return to school, a one-hour Summer Reading Group session is built into the orientation/pre-season sports days. The SRLs are in charge of leading discussions, or, for the more ambitious, activities during this time.

I am always thrilled to see which students might volunteer to be SRLs and to see positive responses from those who are so happy to be asked. I am often tickled by their book choices, too.

The benefits of this approach:

  • More choice means more student buy-in and excitement around summer reading. The peer-chosen factor is a big one here.
  • We start the year on a positive note around reading. The idea is that everyone is reading something of their choice which ideally they also enjoyed.
  • Through their choices, I get to know the students better as readers; especially those who don’t read for pleasure as much or new students who need to be welcomed into the library.
  • When a SRL needs help choosing a book, I get a chance to promote something that deserves more readers, or else provide overlap with Reading Olympics or the PA Young Readers Choice Award.

Of course there are also The Challenges

  • When it comes to recruiting SRLs, it’s easy to think first of the students you know to be voracious readers. However, other students want to be involved too. They might just need to be asked. They are likely to bring great additions to the list. (I aim for enough SRLs to have reading groups of about ten students and to provide enough diversity in the book options.) 
  • Relatedly, balancing the list takes careful consideration, as Christina Pommer posted a few years ago. The list has to appeal to many different reading preferences.
  • There are some students who don’t read the summer reading book. I survey the students anonymously after the groups meet, with one of the questions being “Did you read the book?” Most have either responded “Yes” or “I read most of it.”

Lessons learned

  • Last year we had a couple of repeated books from the year before led by new SRLs. I was happy that I still had the previous year’s reading group rosters, as some students wanted to sign up for the book they had already read the previous year. While I was pleased they had enjoyed it so much the first time, I could refer to the old roster and assign them to their second choice.
  • Keep Admissions informed of the process. Make book selection easy and friendly for new students. Seeing their book choices come in during the summer is a great entry to getting to know them before the year starts.
  • It may be that the students who initially resist assigned Summer Reading will make great SRLs because it’s the SRLs who have the most choice in their Summer Reading selection. 
  • Check that the books are easily available; internationally, if applicable. A book fair can really help with this, or hold a book downloading help session before the end of the year.

Through most of the school year, I worry that Upper School students generally don’t seem to be reading for pleasure very much. Though we put together physical and virtual book displays, promote new and seasonal titles through email and social media, set up pop-up libraries in different spots around campus, participate in Reading Olympics and book talk for classes and clubs, often it seems that this dynamic collection of super-awesome books is going unnoticed, spines in near-perfect condition with nary a stamp on the date due slip. I wonder whether I am promoting the collection enough, or selecting and purchasing books the students want to read. Maybe students are just not interested in reading library books, preferring to watch TV shows or read on Wattpad when their hearts and minds need a story.

While these are important things to evaluate, I often forget about the simple and real factor of time. Like many of us, our busy college-prepping students just don’t have that much time during the school year to curl up with a good book that they love. Some make the time, but it’s hard to do. When a break rolls around, I am delighted by the reading that is all of a sudden part of the imagery of “how I will spend my summer vacation.” That’s when many students are ready to have a book put in their hands. When given the chance and an enticing array of  choices many will welcome summer reading as the gift a good book is.

There are a lot of great summer reading ideas to be found on the AISL wiki, listserv, and other places. I’d love to see a comprehensive database of different summer reading approaches in our schools, so we can see others’ ideas and lessons learned. Anyone with me? 

My To-Do List

I am so thrilled to be writing this from beautiful New Orleans, where I’m attending the AISL annual conference for the first time! As I bask, I want to share what I’m sure are just the very beginnings of my to-do list for when I head back home.

Doug Johnson Keynote: “Changed but Still Critical: Brick and Mortar School Libraries in the Digital Age”
To summarize, how does the physical space of the school library best serve students when they don’t necessarily have to walk through the doors to access information, or even to get help from a librarian? How can we create a library that students can feel is their “third space?” My to-do list takeaways:

  • Think about time rather than space as a way to “zone” the learning spaces of the library, especially in a small or one-room operation (like mine).
  • Have a positively phrased list (written and posted) of things that are always allowed in the library (e.g., reading, learning about a personal interest, writing a journal or blog post, getting help with a research need, etc.)
  • Promote as much in-library tech support as I am able to offer

2016 Summer Institute Design Dream Team Take 2! Mary Buxton, Marsha Hawkins, Claudette Hovasse, Melinda Holmes, Laura Pearle, and I shared some of the ways (all very different) that we have used what we learned from the 2016 Summer Institute on Design Thinking in Libraries hosted by Katie Archambault. My design thinking project to-do list:

  • Redesign of our resource guides to be easier for students to use
  • Revisit my version of a “Rx for Research” infographic, evaluate it with students and teachers, and share it more widely
  • Offer lessons, tutorials, and other support to our Entrepreneurial Capstone students in organizing information and developing their PLNs

Solid Research or Stuck in a Rut?: One Librarian’s Research on Modern College Readiness
Courtney Lewis presented some results from her absolutely fascinating research on what college librarians have reported as the research skills and tools that incoming first-year students should be familiar with today. My to-do list:

  • Consider introducing other citation tools more frequently used in colleges for some upper-level courses and/or make sure our students are prepared to use the citation tools available in the colleges and universities they attend
  • Choose and use a discovery service
  • During students’ research processes, deliberately emphasize the importance of research as participation in a “global community of scholars”

Thank you so much to all the presenters, conference committee, and hosts!

I’m sure I’ll be adding to this list for the next two days. These are just some of my takeaway items so far – I’m curious to hear what others would put on their to-do lists from these and other sessions. Please share – what’s going on your post-conference action list?

Changing Patterns

For about the last year or so, I have expected that I might be observing some changing behaviors and movement patterns in our library. Our big news is that the long unused and mysterious lower level of our Carnegie Library has been transformed. It is now a sparkling Innovation Center, the home of our school’s new interdisciplinary Entrepreneurial Program. In addition to a super-duper makerspace including 3D printers, laser cutter, CNC machine, poster printer, a kitchen with a PancakeBot (!), a new computer lab and classroom/meeting spaces, we have the more mundane but crucial addition of an elevator for full accessibility to the building and a new stairwell.

As far as I know (please correct me if you can) this is the only Carnegie library on a secondary school campus. The original building follows the model of other Carnegie libraries as conceived by Andrew Carnegie’s assistant James Bertram (Bobinski, 1969), featuring a large circulation desk in the middle of a high-ceilinged room with shelving and reading tables on either side. The first thing a visitor sees upon entering the library is, thus, a librarian.

Exterior of library – there’s the front door.

What you see upon entering the front door. Imagine me sitting at the desk.

Students enter through the front door and climb the staircase to English class.

The second floor houses most of the Upper School English classes. This has been a happy arrangement as far as I’m concerned; almost every Upper School student has had to walk through the front door at least once every day. This makes me very visible and present – I can say “hi,” wish happy birthday, recommend a resource … every student enters the library and may have a moment of interaction with me on a near daily basis.

As part of the renovation of the lower level and the new accessible entrance, there is another way to enter the library space. Students can now enter from a foyer that lets out behind and to the side of where the circulation desk sits in the center of the room, seeing a different view upon entering the library.

New entrance on left, original entrance to right, desk in the center.

View from new stairwell entering library. The images and blurbs tell the history of the library.

The Innovation Center and new entrance have been in use for about two and a half days as of this writing. Contractors are still finishing last touches, and students are still discovering this new space for them. It’s so exciting to be making full use of this gorgeous building in a way that fits so perfectly the library mission. There are so many opportunities for collaboration I can’t even believe it. It’s pretty much what I have hoped that lower level would one day be since I started at Perk eight years ago, and with added accessibility to boot.

Entrance to Innovation Center

Classroom, group meeting, and open work space.

Kitchen, work tables, and machines.

Over the next days, weeks, and months I will be watching, listening, and thinking about these questions:

  • Will the way the students want to use the library change? Does the Innovation Center fit the physical Learning Commons model of the present/future? If so, recognizing that many digital library resources and services will be available from anywhere and embedded in our LMS, including in the Entrepreneurial Program, would the students possibly like their physical library space to be a more traditional reading room?
  • Will noise levels increase or decrease? Does this matter? If so, to whom, and what can be done about it?
  • Will patrons feel welcome when they enter the library from the rear?
  • Is it still the rear if that turns out to be where more folks enter the space?
  • How will the library and Innovation Center spaces fit and work together as a whole? In 2015 I attended ISTE’s annual conference and went to a session lead by Carolyn Foote on Library Design for 1:1 Schools. She brought up NoTosh Lab and their adaptation of Matt Locke’s Six Spaces of Social Media into the Seven Spaces concept of corresponding physical spaces of learning: Secret, Group, Publishing, Performing, Participation, Watching, and Data (NoTosh, 2010). In what ways will the library and Innovation Center together provide these spaces for different types of inquiry-based learning?
  • How can the students see this? Will they be able to articulate it?

It hasn’t even been a week, but I’ve been anticipating the need to be observant and re-evaluate student needs for some time. I foresee opportunities for some design thinking. Thank you Summer Institute 2016!

Has anyone else experienced a change in how students enter or travel through your library? What wisdom can you share?

References

Bobinski, G. S. (1969). Carnegie libraries: Their history and impact on American
public library development. Chicago: ALA.

Foote, C. (Presenter). (2015, June 30). Rethinking library and learning spaces
for 1:1 schools. Lecture presented at ISTE Annual Conference, Philadelphia
Convention Center.

NoTosh. (2010, October 18). The seven spaces of technology in school
environments [Video file]. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/15945912