A post about in-library programming may seem incongruous with the times– after all, many of us have been away from our school libraries for weeks, with no clear timeline of when things will be returning to ‘normal’ again. We have all had to adjust to the changing realities of remote learning and the role of the library within this new paradigm, diving headfirst into the world of zoom read-alouds, digital office hours, online readers advisory, and distance-learning classroom support. Yet, in the midst of what is certainly an unprecedented season in education and librarianship, it is important to remind ourselves that this situation is not permanent. In the (hopefully) not so distant future, we will once again find ourselves supporting students face-to-face, with the opportunities that Covid-19 required us to shelve finally allowed room to grow.
In light of this, I’d like to share about an event that our library hosted for the Middle School students this past year. This post was originally written before the virus hit, and while the context in which I’m now sharing it has changed, it still offers some fun ideas for fostering a dynamic reading culture among students. I hope that it serves both as a reminder of the positive role of school libraries in the lives of young readers, as well as an encouragement to us all to keep looking forward with hope and creativity as we imagine new possibilities for the times that lie ahead.
This fall at Crescent School, an all-boys school in Toronto, the library team hosted a special evening to celebrate reading and encourage our Middle School students to get invested in their library. The event– which we dubbed “Night at the Library”– didn’t have a particular theme, as we chose instead to do a mix of activities that boys with varied reading interests could enjoy.
The event was a success– over twenty students joined us after school on a Friday to connect over their shared love of reading, and to build meaningful memories together in the library space. To help encourage participation, students were able to accumulate points throughout the evening that would earn them tickets for a raffle (the prizes were books– no surprise there!). We also encouraged students to bring donations for The Children’s Book Bank, spreading the literary love with an amazing Toronto charity.
The event was organized and facilitated by three library staff members, with help from one of our grade 11 students. Our program was a jam-packed four and a half hours that featured seven different stations.
DDC Decoding Mystery
For this challenge students worked in teams of 4-5 to decode a secret message taken from a book in the library. Each part of the message had a corresponding code that students matched to a particular book, page, line, and word. Having students search first for specific books– using the DDC call numbers– helped to familiarize them with the difference between fiction and non-fiction, as well as the different categories that we use to organize our stacks. We used books from all ranges so that students would have to hunt through areas they might be less familiar with, which turned out to be a fun and effective method (some students even pulled off a few books to check out after the event!).
This station gave students the chance to make their own butterbeer, and it was a huge (and very sweet!) success. There are loads of recipes online that try to mimic the popular beverage from the world of Harry Potter, but we decided to keep it relatively simple with cream soda, caramel sauce, and whipped topping. Students took turns mixing their own ingredients together, and it was so popular that most students came back for seconds (or thirds) throughout the evening.
Children’s books are full of descriptions of food and drinks, and we decided early on that we wanted to use some of those recipes for the evening meal. Two weeks before the event, we met with a handful of participants to ask them what foods they could think of from some of their favourite books, and we built the menu around their suggestions (everything from pizza to pickles to pork dumplings!).
Best Book Bracket
Before “Night at the Library” began, students were sent a flyer with details outlining how they could prepare for the event. One of the things we asked them to do was to choose a favourite children’s story to champion in a ‘battle of the books’ tournament. We had two students at a time face off against each other, with 30 seconds each to argue why theirs was the best book. The other participants voted on who moved on to the next round, until a winner could be crowned. It was a great chance for students to share their recommendations, and a lot of them left with additions to their own ‘To-Read’ lists!
Another highlight of the evening was a skype call with Canadian children’s author Susin Neilsen. We hooked up the computer to a big screen in the library, and students took turns coming forward to speak into the camera. Before the event we gave students the link to Neilsen’s website so that they could learn more about her work, and they were also given copies of her books to read in preparation for the call. While not everyone spoke up, there were a number of thoughtful questions from the audience which Neilsen kindly answered.
Our final event gave students a chance to burn off the energy they’d built up from all the evening’s treats (including a chocolate fountain á-la Willy Wonka, and some Narnia-inspired turkish delight!). And what better way to finish off “Night at the Library” than with a game of Quidditch? Although we couldn’t get our hands on any flying brooms or magical snitches, we did have a local Quidditch team come and teach us the rules of the game. Even though some participants hadn’t read the Harry Potter series, the excellent coaching and the enthusiasm of the players made for a hysterically fun game for all.
One of the main goals of “Night at the Library” was to promote a love of reading in the school community. By providing a space for our students to gather together and experience a wide range of literary themed activities, students had a chance to celebrate their passion for books in a way that encouraged them to want to read further, while also learning more about the resources that their library has to offer.