Celebrating student choice by giving them the $$$

Last year I wrote and received a grant from my state school library association to allow an eager group of students to select books to purchase for our library. Inspired by David Barrow’s Student Book Budget project, I created a Librarians-In-Training group composed of about a dozen 3rd and 4th grade students. Their task was to survey the student body to gauge reading interests, analyze the results to determine goals for book purchasing, browse book catalogs and meet with vendors to select books to purchase, and finally, make tough budget decisions about what to actually buy. 

By giving students the power to choose, I saw them become thoughtful problem-solvers and decision-makers, focusing on the wants and needs of the many, rather than their own personal desires. This is, after all, their library, and they should take part in the process of selecting books for it. At the end of this project, students were able to see the results of their efforts – books actually purchased for the library. Best of all, students took pride and ownership of the new materials selected for the library.IMG_9720

So, how did we do it? Slowly and methodically!

At our first meeting, I talked to students about my job as librarian – how to select books, what to consider, where to look for books, etc. We discussed our diverse student population and focused on the need to choose books for ALL readers. This led into the sharing of my simplified selection criteria pulled from my Collection Development Policy: community need, quality, appropriateness, and diversity.

We then moved into talking about creating selection goals. What kinds of books should we buy? Well, in order to answer that question, we first needed to find out what kinds of books our Lower School students wanted! I created a simple Google survey for our Librarians-In-Training to fill out and critique.


They spent the next week helping our student body fill out the survey during lunch recess. They emphasized the fact that we would most likely buy the books and genres that students suggested.

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After the surveys were done, we met back as a group to analyze the results and create selection goals focused on specific genres or types of books. I created charts and graphs to illustrate the survey’s results and let students discuss the findings.

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Time with this group ended and another picked up where we left off a few weeks later. Armed with our selection goals (which later changed to account for my recent purchases), we then explored two sources – Follett Titlewave (and print catalogs) and our local independent bookstore. We were lucky to have our independent bookseller come to us to share a box full of the latest and greatest children’s books (which we pre-selected together earlier in the week, selection goals in mind). Students browsed the books and created yes/no piles for purchase.

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After two weeks of compiling our lists and making sure we stayed on budget, I placed the final orders! Students were buzzing with excitement and couldn’t wait for the books to come in. Our bookstore order arrived first, and students helped process them after I cataloged them. The Follett order came in over a month later, and students were anxious to get these books on the shelf already!

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And this is where we are now. The Follett books just went on the shelf yesterday (!!!), and there is still more work to be done. I would love to have some of my Librarians-In-Training create a promotional video for the new books. I would also like to find a way to track checkouts of these new books, so that at the end of the year, we can analyze our success. But for now, I consider this project a win.


Reading in the new year

As January begins to unfurl and we all return to school (hopefully) refreshed and ready to tackle the second half of the school year, I wonder if anyone else is left in this odd sense of reading purgatory. I love compiling “Best of 2015” lists at the end of the year (and blogged about it here), and of course, I also love hearing about and reading brand new books anytime of the year. But January, for me, is the trickiest reading month because I am trying to both read the best books from the previous year (especially in anticipation of the ALA Youth Media Awards next week) and stay on top of new releases.

Since I’ve already written about the former, I thought I’d share with you some new books coming out in the next few months that I’m looking forward to. This is a completely subjective list based on my favorite authors, personal interests, student influences, and starred reviews (found on this excellent spreadsheet here). I’ve linked to the Goodreads profile of each book so that you can read summaries, reviews, etc. (and so that you can be spared my giddy ramblings of why I already heart these books). Please share your own in the comments!

beafriendBe a Friend by Salina Yoon
Hardcover, 40 pages
Expected publication: January 5, 2016 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabensteinmrlemoncello
Hardcover, 288 pages
Expected publication: January 5, 2016 by Random House Books for Young Readers

frankencrayonFrankencrayon by Michael Hall
Hardcover, 40 pages
Expected publication: January 26, 2016 by Greenwillow Books

paxPax by Sara Pennypacker
Hardcover, 304 pages
Expected publication: February 2, 2016 by Balzer + Bray

saltotheseaSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Hardcover, 400 pages
Expected publication: February 2, 2016 by Philomel Books

princessinblackThe Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde by Shannon and Dean Hale
Hardcover, 96 pages
Expected publication: February 9, 2016 by Candlewick Press

amulet7Amulet 7: Firelight by Kazu Kibuishi
Paperback, 208 pages
Expected publication: February 23, 2016 by GRAPHIX

keytoextraordinaryThe Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd
Hardcover, 240 pages
Expected publication: February 23, 2016 by Scholastic Press

maybeafoxMaybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt
Hardcover, 272 pages
Expected publication: March 8, 2016 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

 by Kwame Alexander
Hardcover, 320 pages
Expected publication: April 5, 2016 by HMH Books for Young Readers

What are you looking forward to reading/purchasing this year?

Edited to add: On the heels of my post, School Library Journal publishes a gorgeous 16-page pdf of upcoming releases here – http://www.slj.com/downloads/sneakpeek2016/. Happy browsing!

From one-room library to learning commons



What do YOU think of when you read that word?

Me? I get giddy with excitement! In my first year as the Lower School Librarian at Carolina Friends School, I was given the privilege (and let’s not kid ourselves, the enormous responsibility) of re-designing and re-imagining not only our library space but also our library program. In this post, I’ll share with you a small fraction of my thoughts and considerations in designing the physical space.

Our Lower School library serves 120 students, first through fourth years.

I started the 2014-15 school year with 8,000 print volumes nestled in this 600 square-foot space.

Our storytime area could comfortably seat a handful of students, though I often had 10-12 students at a time.

Space was an issue from that very first day I arrived. But for a year, I made it work. (That’s an entirely different post!)

Plans were already in the making before I arrived to increase the library space as a part of a larger Lower School renovation. I was beyond thrilled. After looking at the architect’s drawings, though, I realized that the library would only be gaining a few feet of space. This couldn’t be right!

After much research and consideration, I presented my proposal to increase the library space to the entire 1,800 square-foot building to my staff. Yes, the library would be tripling in size, but it would still be well below the state recommendations for an elementary school library (see resources at end). This was not an easy presentation to make, especially since I was brand new and had yet to develop working relationships with any of my teachers. Nonetheless, the proposal was approved!

(This is where I have to pause and cheer for my co-workers and administration because they were incredibly supportive and open to my suggestions and ideas to increase the library space.)

So, now what?

Well, after performing an in-depth collection analysis using TitleWise by Follett, I realized that the collection needed to be weeded immediately. Or rather, 20 years ago. I know that weeding in your first year is highly frowned upon, but my options were limited. I would have to either box up all 8,000 musty books and place them on brand new library shelves, or I would have to confidently cull the collection. I chose to cull.


I was conservative in my weeding efforts. Only 2,000 volumes were whisked away to find better homes. The rest were meticulously boxed up near the end of the school year. I boxed everything in shelf order and labeled and numbered each box so that they could easily be unpacked by volunteers. This is where thinking ahead saved me from a ton of work later in the summer!


Emptying this tightly-packed library was no easy feat, but I had loads of help from staff, staff kids, and extra workers we employed for the renovation. Remember, the whole Lower School was packing up, too! The boxes were hauled to a Pack Rat, which was then transported to a climate-controlled warehouse.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Throughout the school year, I was planning and designing and researching library spaces. I knew that we were heading for some BIG changes. I do not exaggerate when I say that all of my “free” time was devoted to designing the new library. I visited other school libraries and took notes on what worked and what didn’t. I read books about 21st century library design. I spoke with experts in the field. I talked to anyone who would listen and provide feedback!


A common theme was emerging from my research – the space had to be exactly what it was not in the past. It had to be FLEXIBLE. Bookshelves on wheels. Tables on wheels. Lightweight furniture.

Because our needs are many and varied, so our space would need to accommodate them. Can I fit a whole class in the library? A half class? Small groups? Are there quiet reading areas? And loud ones too? Cozy nooks for students to get lost in a book?

These considerations and more were on my mind when I met with our furniture and design consultants to select shelving units, tables, chairs, lounge pieces, wall colors, furniture fabrics, tabletop finishes, carpet designs, and more.

So, when I say that I re-designed our library, I mean it! I selected every new piece, every new color and textile. This is not something that everyone will feel comfortable doing, but I think I must have been an interior designer in a former life. I had my say in every last detail.


Once all of the hard work of planning for this renovation had been done, it was time to renovate! Luckily, I could now sit back and enjoy my summer.


When I returned in August 2015, the library was nearly transformed! Okay, nearly might not be the right word. If you’ve ever lived through a renovation, personal or school, you know that timelines are not always, or ever, accurate. We started the school year with most of our spaces ready enough for students.


It’s now November, and the library is almost finished. I still have furniture on back order. And of course, there’s the work of adding artwork and bulletin boards and signage. That will be ongoing throughout this school year.

But the end result? It’s simply breathtaking. The comment I hear most often is, “It looks like a real library!” Well, thank you. We have moved from the one-room “library” to a true learning commons.




Bibliography (or, the sources I consulted to aid me in the redesign)

Bitterman, A., Gray, L., and Goldring, R. (2013). Characteristics of Public Elementary and Secondary School Library Media Centers in the United States: Results From the 2011–12 Schools and Staffing Survey (NCES 2013–315). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved 21 Aug. 2014 from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch.

“Educational Specifications for the School Library Media Center.” IMPACT: Guidelines for North Carolina Media and Technology Programs ~Information Access and Delivery. NC DPI, 2006. Web. 21 Aug. 2014. <http://www.ncwiseowl.org/impact/info.htm#LMCspecs>.

Erikson, Rolf, and Carolyn Bussian. Markuson. Designing a School Library Media Center for the Future. 2nd ed. Chicago: American Library Association, 2007.

Hart, Thomas L. The School Library Media Facilities Planner. New York: Neal-Schuman, 2006.

Harvey, Carl A. The 21st Century Elementary Library Media Program. Santa Barbara, CA: Linworth Pub., 2010.

PowerPoint presentation from Designing School Libraries for 21st Century Learners by Peg Sullivan, Standards and Guidelines Implementation Task Force Member, at AASL National Conference in Charlotte, NC.

Sullivan, Margaret. Library Spaces for 21st-century Learners: A Planning Guide for Creating New School Library Concepts. Chicago, IL: American Association of School Librarians, 2013.