Getting Ready for Banned Books Week

As we returned from our impromptu break from school (thanks, Dorian), I needed to get myself back into the vortex of the school year which quickly became a realization of “OMG, Banned Books Week is coming up!” Even though I feel in the weeds, exposing students to the reality of banned or challenged books is worth putting other things aside. It is especially relevant now, in light of the recent banning of the Harry Potter books by a Catholic school in Tennessee. (I mean, is it 1999 again?)

I’ve done various activities in the past, and I’m in the process of collecting inspiration from other librarians on Twitter and other social media outlets. Boy, you guys have some good ideas! I especially liked the one from Anne Campbell Bucci who put paper bags over books with the reason why they were banned handwritten across the front. The students lift the bag to discover the identity of the book. I am definitely adding this activity, although the idea of writing “pornographic” as a reason why a book was banned terrifies me. Perhaps I’ll use “sexually offensive” instead? (Oh my, this should be interesting.)

Since I’ve been mining ideas from other people, I figured I’d share my favorite one so far. Last year, we shredded the first page from books that had been banned or challenged (no, I made photocopies first. I didn’t rip up the books!) and put the pieces in glass mason jars. We made a poster of the book covers for the kids to choose from and they had to guess which book was in which jar using only the random words they could find. First, the students had a great time shaking up the jars and trying to peer into them. Second, the poster with photos of book covers began more conversations about why a book had been banned and where exactly could they find it in the library. My circulation increased dramatically.

I love it when students ask questions or try to figure out why a book has been banned or challenged. I think this ties into why I want to try Ms. Bucci’s idea of the paper bags, because the kids will need to work backward from the reason to the title. I can’t wait to find out how many titles they come up with for each particular accusation.

While the visual of covered books (and the idea of a contest) will bring students to the library, another way we get their attention is by faculty and staff wearing Banned Books Week t-shirts on a specific day during the week. We also love being able to wear a t-shirt since normally we are required to dress up.

Now that I’m completely excited about Banned Books Week (and my budgets and receipts are on the back burner, oops #sorrynotsorry), I hope this will inspire others who may feel bogged down to find the energy and excitement to plan for the upcoming BBW this September 22-28. Please post your ideas below to help inspire others!

The Good, the Bad, and the Unexpected: Adding the Tech Department to the Library (Part 1)

At the beginning of last year, the Director of the Tech Department and I decided that we could enhance the student experience by bringing the Tech Help Desk into the library. I mean, what could be better? It would be a one-stop shop to provide tech and information help to our students. Everyone was on board. Almost one year later we have realized this change. (Yes, you read that right. It’s taken almost a year.) I wanted to share our experience with you in case you were considering a change in your library.

The Good:

  1. We created a streamlined experience for the students to cut down on time away from class and the separation of resources.
  2. It has been very helpful to join two departments. The influx of knowledge and expertise has been invaluable to us.
  3. The Circulation Desk/Support Spot is now the place for checking out books, helping with research queries, checking out loaner laptops, and getting tech questions answered.
  4. There are more printing opportunities for the students with shorter lines for each resource.
  5. We do not have to reroute questions from one department to another since we are both located in the same space.

The Bad:

  1. Space was a bigger issue than we originally anticipated. Before the move, we took many measurements and made detailed plans, but we were still taken by surprise. Needless to say, we feel like we are playing Tetris.
  2. We do not have a silent library. The tech department is used to a more quiet space. Work flow and ease of communication are being impacted during the library’s busiest times.

The Unexpected:

  1. We are still trying to figure out how the collaboration between the two departments will be the most effective. It has been challenging at times to determine who should take the lead on certain decisions and procedures.
  2. Rebranding the Circulation Desk as a multifunctional resource is ongoing. The entire community needs to adjust to the change, which includes addressing the way “it’s always been done” and the way that it needs to be done now to best serve our users. Breaking tradition and changing routines is always hard.
  3. We expected the need to mesh several diverse personalities and work styles, but the transition of the work space along with culture shift has made the contrast more apparent.

All told, we count this move as a success. The students are being served more efficiently, which was the main purpose behind the transition. Part 2 will follow next month, when we’ve had a chance to settle in to the new year. Wish us luck!

Relationships and Book Clubs

One of the new things I tried this past year was a book club for faculty and staff. Like many of the successful programs in my library, it was suggested by a coworker, and I only had to be brave enough to say “let’s do it!” However, I had two caveats for this undertaking: we would only use YA materials and each meeting would have a theme. At my school most teachers were familiar with professional development books, but not as many were comfortable with YA materials. I felt that faculty and staff who read books popular with our kids would have one more tool in their arsenal to forge positive and helpful relationships with their students. (It turns out this was 100% true.) I wanted to have a theme to make it easier for the readers to connect…and easier for me to choose book options.

I started with a “Book Tasting” based around the theme of Empathy. With the help of Canva and more creative colleagues, I sent an invitation to every adult on campus to come and sample books during their lunchtimes. I provided cookies as a bribe, because who doesn’t love free food? Afterwards, I followed up with a Google survey for participants to vote on the title for our first meeting, and they chose The Hate You Give. (This was the only time I held a book tasting. Subsequent book titles were chosen by survey with book descriptions revolving around various themes such as diversity, mental health, etc.)

With the support of the Director of Learning and Instruction (and her budget), I was able to provide the title to everyone who wanted to join the book club. I sent out periodic timelines, and we met after the deadline to finish the book. Our discussions were thought provoking, eye opening, and meaningful. I could see the participants making connections with society, each other, and perhaps most importantly, with our students. Largely being a predominately white prep school, The Hate You Give gave an understanding of possible experiences and sentiments of our minority students that many had not considered before. However, the most exciting thing to me, especially if this was one of the first or few times a person had read YA, was the dawning that they could learn something from a “kids book!” They saw value in Young Adult fiction. Not only for the kids who read it, but also for them. They could see the importance and positivity for our students to be able to see themselves in a book or learn about people different from them.

There was one thing that got me, however, above all the other positive outcomes of our Faculty and Staff book club. This one thing has ensured that I will keep the book club in my ever-increasing, hectic, sometimes overwhelming, schedule. That one thing began with a conversation. A faculty member told me that a rather quiet, somewhat withdrawn student approached their desk where The Hate You Give was sitting. The girl initiated a conversation that, admittedly, began with surprise that their teacher had read this book, a book that was one of her very favorites. She was impressed and felt that her teacher was clearly taking an interest in the students by reading “their” books. This sparked a year-long discussion of books, shared book recommendations, and made it easier for the teacher and student to connect. (Not surprisingly, that student did much better in class after making this connection!) I am grateful the teacher chose to share this with me, and so happy that I was able to make a difference with her relationships with her students.

Don’t get me wrong, not every book we read last year had such a heart warming result. I learned quite a bit about scheduling, location, cookies vs brownies, frequency of emails, and how many books is too many book options. As I sit here with my summer brain and contemplate the upcoming year with the false sense of always having enough time (ha!), I realize that changing the relationships for even only one person is worth it.

Let me know if you want more information about the Book Tasting or book club procedures. If you’d like to follow our fun in the library on Twitter, check out the hashtags #TPSlibrary and #TPSreads.

I Can’t Use My Phone?!: Game Day in the Library

As we get closer to exams, I had a Game Day event in the library during both the middle school and upper school lunches to help the students blow off some steam. I made sure we had a large and diverse selection of games such as Connect 4, Mancala, Scrabble, Sorry, Clue, Trouble, Battleship, Apples to Apples, Dominoes, Twister, Blokus, and Operation. I would classify these as “retro” since most of the students had not played these games “in years,” and a few were not familiar with them at all. Perhaps the most important component of this experiment was prohibiting the use of cell phones and computers during lunch. As you can imagine, this provided the most angst with the students.

The reasoning behind providing an “unplugged” opportunity for students began with observation. Anyone who spends any time with kids cannot deny the almost umbilical connection most kids have with their smartphones, laptops, social media, etc. In many cases, this leads to a desocialization of kids from each other as they communicate via games, apps, and/or social media like Snapchat and Instagram. The irony is that many of these kids feel they are being social with their peers by using these apps. Our goal was to promote face-to-face interaction between the students and get them to think and strategize in different ways.

The atmosphere in the library during Game Day was lively and, as more than one student told me, fun. The students appreciated having another way to interact with their friends and fellow classmates, as well as playing games that they had not played since early childhood. Some faculty and staff from all departments turned up to help, and in many cases, play games with the students as well. There were many instances that led to Throwback Tuesday being deemed a success, but I wanted to share my top three:

  1. A student looked up at me from an intense game of Sorry! and said, “I didn’t realize there were games I could play that weren’t on my phone!”
  2. Days later students asked me if they could play specific games again.
  3. I had a student thank me for making the library such a fun place!

Getting kids who don’t normally come to the library to try it out was phenomenal. That, in my book, is a success, and one we hope to replicate at least once a semester.

If you would like to follow our fun in the library on Twitter, check out the hashtags #TPSlibrary and #TPSreads.