What’ll Be?

Maybe it’s because summer vacation is tantalizingly close, or maybe it’s the warmer weather, but I sure could go for a cold adult beverage. Anyone else? As I considered my libation choices, I realized, through a conversation with my office mate and work spouse, Beth, that our library is, in many ways, not unlike a bar…minus the alcohol. Those beverages are, at least for now, still not allowed in the library.

Cheers!

Our circulation desk – like yours, perhaps – is situated near the front door. When we’re stationed behind its high counter, we are in prime position to greet our patrons. We have a trivia desk calendar, which people stop at regularly and predictably. When patrons come in, they look around, see who’s where, and decide where to gather. Sometimes it’s up at one of the counters, sometimes it’s a more secluded table in the back, or a table by the windows, well suited for people watching. There are certain patrons who come in at certain times of the day. We have our morning crew who are often in their seats before we arrive (students have keycard access during off hours – ask me about that if you’re curious how that works). Students come in when they have an hour to kill or don’t feel like going back to their dorms. Others roll in after their last classes, eager to take a breather after a full day. And, of course, there are our night owls, who seem to only wander in after the sun has set. There are many (too many?) parallels between the local tavern and the local library.

Being Alone. Together.

If the library feels like a favorite corner bar, that makes us librarians the bartenders. Patrons come in, often not sure what they feel like having. They ask us for a suggestion. Sometimes they’re not in the mood for certain offerings. Sometimes they feel like something different, something new. Sometimes we barkeeps not only serve patrons their usuals, but are asked to surprise them with something fresh or with a classic. Sometimes they see something that someone else enjoyed and ask for the same. And don’t you know, we sometimes have some featured items, the specials of the day or the week or the choice selection of the bartender, our signature go tos. But there’s more than just what’s on the menu.

The Specials

We all know the trope: the melancholy soul, down on his or her luck, who wanders into the pub. The bartender wanders over, mops off the bar, pours a drink and asks, “What’s the trouble, pal?” And wouldn’t you know it, the same sort of thing happens in our office all the time. In our library – maybe as in your library – the librarians’ office is just behind the circulation desk. There are two large panes of glass that lend us zero privacy, but invite people to join us. We are fortunate to have two comfortable wicker rattan chairs, which invite people to come in a chat. And come in they do. They come in, sit with a sigh. Beth or I will then begin our therapy session. What’s the trouble, pal? And we hear it all, the woes, the tribulations, and the struggles. And it’s not just the trials we hear; we are also often the place to come when there’s big news to announce or an event to celebrate. We offer sage advice and attentive ears, and, invariably are thanked for our confidentiality, excellent listening skills, and our kindness.

When it’s all said and done, we know all the information, but we keep secrets a secret and share what we’re able. This is what a good bartender does and it’s what a good librarian does. We are the neighborhood gathering spot. After all:

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came


Some bars from TV shows are below, but what bars from literature would you put on a list?

Cheers – Cheers
Three’s Company – Regal Beagle
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – Paddy’s Pub
How I Met Your Mother – MacLaren’s
True Blood – Merlotte’s
Simpson’s – Moe’s

And now, It’s Closing Time

How do you solve a problem like picture books?

When I worked in the children’s room of a public library, picture books were some of our biggest movers. Adults and children would come in and take out armfuls, anticipating times spent reading together or looking through the pictures, telling stories of their own making. I hoped for some of the same circulation numbers when I became a school librarian. In my fantasy, students in the lower elementary grades would come in and beg to take home more picture books – or come in during free time and swap out the books they just got a few days before. Well, I’m not sure what it’s like in your elementary libraries – but that scenario has not happened in mine. Yet.

I was chatting with a fellow school librarian recently and picture book circulation came up. “Do your picture books circulate?” I asked.
“Not much” she answered.
“Mostly teachers?”
“Yes,” she replied, “and few with the popular characters like Fancy Nancy or Pete the Cat.”
“Sigh”.
“Sigh”.
That conversation replays in mind constantly. There are times when I wonder if I’m just not choosing the right books for my audience. Maybe I should require the PreKs and Kindergarten to only get picture books – after all, those books are made for them! Not only can they be used for pre-literacy and literacy activities, the stories are created explicitly FOR their enjoyment.

What to do? What to do? “Sigh? Sigh.” Following are some ideas to possibly help make those picture books move. Granted, picture books may never circulate like they do in public library – AND IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT. Most school libraries are missing the second half of the dyad – the parent or guardian or babysitter that takes the child to the public library in the first place. It just makes our job ‘more challenging’ as we get those picture books to move.

Do a thorough weeding
Are your shelves stuffed? Do not underestimate the power of a good weed. Be heartless. If it hasn’t moved much in 10-15 years, it probably isn’t going to move next Get rid of anything worn. Put the worn or dated books that circulate on a list to repurchase (unless the last time it circulated was five years ago). If it bothers you to weed, take a note from Maria Kondo, thank the book for its service and let it go. Depending on your school policy, you could offer teachers first choice then put the rest in a ‘free book’ cart for students and/or find a local library or charity to benefit from your largess. If your shelves look crammed and full, students aren’t enticed to browse for that perfect picture book.

Explicitly teach that displays are for students
Have you ever set up a book display with the purpose to create circulation on some items and have students ask permission to take a book? I have. Now I make sure that I mention during library time that displays are for taking. If you have some displays that need to have books stay and some that allow circulation, it may help to let students know which ones they can take books from or offer to place a hold on a book that needs to stay in your library for a while.

Offer read alikes for picture books
If your story time has a theme or an author focus, make sure students know of picture books that share the same theme or author. I would often put up a small floor display by my reading chair of read alikes or an author’s other works, allowing students to look at them during book choosing time.

Partially ‘genrefy’ your picture book collection
While my inner feminist bristled whenever a girl asked me for a princess book, (“wouldn’t you like this one about a female astronaut instead?”), it’s hard to fight the power of the pink. Whether it’s just the holidays, or princesses, or firefighters, using spine labels or separate locations may help those picture books circulation more.

Extend circulation to parents
Again, this is up to your school’s policies, but parents are the ones gathering the picture books in the public library. Whether you stay open a little later or earlier a few days a week, advertising to parents that they can grab picture books while they’re waiting may help with circulation numbers and provide a needed service to time strapped parents.

Provide a box of books to classroom
Why do you rob banks? Because that’s where the money is. Sutton’s law can also apply to the classroom. Most students only go to the library with their class. While that’s all well and good, their chosen books tend to go home. What if you had a box of books that live in the classroom rotating the selections every few weeks? Not only are you getting some of your picture books to see the light of the classroom, you may be helping a stressed out teacher find something for a child to do when they have finished an assignment early. Granted, some teachers may want nothing to do with this, but I’m sure you can find a few that would be willing to try this with you. Especially if you try to match the books with curricular themes.

Now I’m looking for your input. What are some of the ways you’ve helped increase the circulation of picture books? Let’s get these books where they belong…in the hands of the students!

The courtesy email

Today I’ll share a small gain we’ve made on a rather mundane topic: overdue notices, produced via Destiny.  For years, this has been our schedule:

7-14 days overdue > regular 1st overdue notice emailed

15-21 days overdue > regular 2nd overdue notice emailed

22+ days overdue  > report produced to me for follow-up individually (ie. I’m the heavy)

The 22+ day report produced was usually 3-4 pages long. Which means not only did we often have popular books being held hostage, but it took a good deal of time and energy to follow up.

Until the dawn of the courtesy email!

I’ve lost the thread of where I heard about this (please tell me if it was you so that I can send you flowers). It’s been a huge improvement.

Sending the following email to borrowers who have materials due in the following week has cut that long overdue report from 3-4 pages to less than one:

“Just a friendly reminder that your book (or books) are coming due soon. Please return by the due date or contact us if you wish a renewal. Thank you.”

Students and staff are renewing and/or returning in greater numbers and people have expressed appreciation to us for giving them a heads up – customer service for the win! It’s also opened up more conversation with readers who take a bit more time to read, which is making me wonder if, rather than having a set borrowing period, we should start asking borrowers how much time they’d like (within reason).

Is anyone out there trying user-driven due dates?

A (Humbling) Look at My Attitude

In a recent post, Jennifer Falvey outlined her top ten sacred cows. Library fines were one of them. Overdue fines have popped up as a topic for discussion in this blog over the past few years. In Dec. 2104, I posted: Overdues: Overdone on the topic. I felt overdues served a purpose in:

  • helping children learn to be responsible
  • encouraging the timely return of books
  • shortening the time past due books stayed out
  • decreasing time spend sending emails/letters/phone calls by attaching a consequence to overdue books
  • modeling the real world “late fee” policies of most businesses and public libraries

My Change in Attitude

Last year, at the encouragement of my librarian colleague, we decided to stop collecting fines for the second half of the school year, to see what happened. My biggest change was a change in attitude. It is painful to admit, but (apparently!) I have a judgmental streak. The “right” way to use the library is to borrow and return on time, right?  I was able to find a shift in attitude, that allows me to be more on the side of reader-helping-reader (“Let’s get the book back, so other readers can enjoy it”) and doing the right thing, not because of a fine, but because it is the right thing to do.

Random observations

(Our library serves about our 640 students in grades 5-12):

  • Updates to our checkout software (Destiny) allowed me to set an automated “Courtesy Reminder” that goes out two days before a book is due. This has helped students get in front of an overdue, by renewing a book or turning it in.
  • The fine amount (10 cents/day) was insignificant as a motivating factor
  • The fine amount (10 cents/day) was too low to replace lost books
  • Students rarely have pocket change on them
  • I didn’t like not following through on a consequence (“Your fine is 40 cents”), yet who wants to tell a 6th grade parent, paying thousands for tuition, that their child should bring 40 cents to school? I also didn’t like chasing down older students for minimal amounts, yet deleting money owed without consequence felt like it sent the wrong message.
  • I think both parent and student feel the importance of the situation more when they receive a note re: $20 replacement cost, versus getting a reminder that there is a late book with 50 cents or $1.20 due.

Quick Question and Answer:

Are more books past due? It’s about the same.

Do I spend more or less time chasing late books? It’s about the same. I no longer personalize emails with the amount due—I email a weekly past due reminder via the BCC field.  If I get no response after two emails, I make a phone call or send an individualized third email with cc: to parent email. This is about 3-8 students per week.

Would I advocate a return to assessing overdue fines? No. Although I think “no fines” does cushion children slightly from reality, I think there are other ways I can model and encourage responsibility.

I appreciate having a forum to share thoughts and challenges with members of the AISL community. Thank you for all making this a safe space to talk about moments of growth as well as sharing ideas and successes!

Break’s coming…are you ready?

In years past, I have prepared for the upcoming winter break by creating my own “Eighth Wonder of the World”, aka ” The Great Wall Of Break Reads”, by lining the wall around the fireplace pit in the center of my library with good books.

IMG_3801

The rest of the collection is upstairs in tall stacks so there isn’t a ton of room for book displays. It works in that it puts the book covers in girls’ faces. They see the glossy print books and are reminded that they will soon have ample time in which to veg out and read. It’s good! English teachers have brought their classes in to “shop”, have asked me to book talk the wall, and it’s given me the chance to promote Overdrive, too, if there’s a lot of competition over individual titles.

Downside: it only reaches those who enter the library. While I would like to claim that 100% of our students spend their days in our space, it’s simply not so.

Other downside: I’m still up to my neck in shelving after this year’s “Researchmageddon”. Anyone who says the print book is dead should come visit after the final drafts of fall research papers are turned in. I’m being conservative in how many more books I pull. I think it’s called “Shelving PTSD”. It’s a thing, I promise.

So where can we go to reach 100% of them, to increase our odds of checkout and decrease the things we take back and shelve?

We head to the dining hall, that’s where!

The day before Thanksgiving break, my assistant and I carted over armloads of books that we were prepared to talk, new and classic alike, and set them up on a table outside the dining hall, where every student would pass. We brought two laptops with barcode scanners and made a quick banner out of butcher paper that read “POP UP LIBRARY! Get your break reading here!!”.

There was a line, friends, a line! We checked books out to students and adults alike.  We  talked books with girls we had never talked books with before. We learned about their lives, we learned about some big time competition we didn’t even realize was competition…fan fiction. [More on this in a future blog post. Stay tuned.] We invited them to write reviews for our library blog when we returned from break. When all was said and done, we checked out all but a few of the books we had taken over and had very little to carry back. I only found one book in lost and found later.  🙂 All in all, I’d call it a success!

I’m thinking of moving the pop up library around campus and making it into a hashtag game, sort of like the food truck phenomenon. We’ll definitely do it again Thursday and Friday this week, but we’re open to other ideas too! What do you do to promote break reading at your school?

Also, if you haven’t already read “I’ll Give You the Sun”, stop what you’re doing and grab it for your own break reading. Best YA book I’ve read in a long time.

Wishing you all a restorative winter break and a happy, healthy 2016!

Why I’m Not “Weeding” Right Now

I am pretty sure I’m not the only person who struggles with removing books from the collection.  Not the easy calls. Not the books that meet the MUSTY (Misleading, Ugly, Superseded, Trivial or not right for Your collection) guidelines.  We can all laugh at the science text that says “Someday, computers will fit on a desktop” or the copy of Twilight with the cover half off and the text block falling out.  When I came here 10 years ago, this library had sections in need of heavy culling, and I was equal to the task. But I have worked here for a while now.  Many of these books were purchased under my watch.  Maybe that’s why the word “weeding” sticks in my craw. Weeds are interlopers. Weeds are things that pop up where they are not wanted.  These books I am contemplating removing don’t feel like “weeds” to me.  I can look at many of them and tell you exactly why it was purchased, and which readers loved it…six years ago.  I can remember when we couldn’t keep that one on the shelf….in 2010.  When a teacher (now retired) used this video every semester, like clockwork.

The CREW standards (Continuous Review Evaluation Weeding) from the Texas Library and Archives Commission, updated by Jeanette Larson in 2012, offer ongoing ideas for a continuous process of …what shall I call it?  “Deaccessioning” is a bit unwieldy, but accurate.  Downsizing? Right Sizing? Grooming? (Thanks to my colleague, Cindy, for that one!) Removing books from the collection?  Lots of phrases sit more easily on my heart.

Part two of the process is what to do with what is removed.  Since the collection is fairly current, much of what is removed is in good condition (just outdated or low in popularity) so we are making categories.  I will take a batch to give away at the 7th /8th grade study hall, where the pop-up library sets up once a week.  We will invite interested 5th and 6th graders to take a book home.  Upper School students will have their chance.  We will invite teachers to come by — in the past we have invited the whole school at once, but I think we will sort by discipline, and invite smaller groups, with the hope they can more easily see books for their classroom collections.  Less “look at the weeds on our compost heap” and more “look at these interesting things that have fallen out of fashion.”  We will undoubtedly end up with a “free to a good home table” and then a trip to the recycle bin, but I am not coming from a place of yanking something out but from a place of cultivating and grooming a collection.

What sounds right to you, when removing books?  Do you have tips and tricks to share?

Reading Statistics

In fall 2014, several AISL librarians shared lists of their libraries’ top-circulated books. The lists were particularly interesting because while the titles were indicative of the types of collections curated by the AISL librarians, the lists included a number of common titles. So when Renaissance Learning released the 2015 edition of its What are Kids Reading and Why it Matters report, I eagerly got to work to see how those lists compared to the reading tastes and habits reflected by the independent schools’ circulation lists. I should note that our school does not use the Accelerated Reader program, but the Renaissance Learning (RL) report was mentioned by several media outlets, and I felt it was worth reading. I believe it is vital for librarians to cast a wide net when seeking new influences and benchmarking performance.

The data source for the RL report is the Accelerated Reader database, which includes book reading records for more than 9.8 million students in grades 1-12. The Accelerated Reader program is used in 31,363 schools nationwide, the students in which read approximately 330 million books during the 2013-2014 school year. The lists of books published in the report represent the most popular selections delineated by grade and gender. Below are a few items that may be of interest from the report.

  • Students in grades 2 and 3 read the most books, and students in grades 11 and 12 read the fewest
  • On average, girls read 3.8 million words by grade 12, whereas boys read 3.0 million words by the same grade
  • The average number of words read by a student in each school year peaks around grade 6 at 436,000 words and then decreases to the low 300,000’s by the end of high school.

The report repeatedly emphasizes a connection between academic achievement and independent reading practice. Supplemented throughout with essays by prominent children’s authors such as Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Andrew Clements, the report provides excellent discussion of why robust collections and their use matter to our students. Moreover, the rationale for reading and its multilayered benefits for students could be used to encourage faculty members to assign more independent reading.

The study states that the students who set reading goals for themselves through the Accelerated Reader database read more difficult books and read for more time on a daily basis than their peers who did not set goals. How might this outcome of goal setting help us to redefine projects so that our students may push themselves in their own achievement?

An entry in the report that especially resonated with me was written by Dr. Christine King Farris, author of My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up With the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. Farris describes reading as the gateway to “emotional and intellectual expansion” while growing up in a segregated society. Dr. Farris provides anecdotal evidence that reading empowered and motivated her and her brother. She notes that Dr. King learned about Mahatma Gandhi and his unwavering devotion to the practice of nonviolence through books. Perhaps the greatest example of the influence of reading on Dr. Farris and her brother Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is that, understanding the positive power for change that books hold, they both eventually became authors!

At root, the What Kids are Reading report provides a framework for comparison of reading programs in our own schools. It also provides a basis for comparison of overall reading habits. Do you observe a peak in the amount students read in sixth grade or is reading truly sustained throughout high school? If you work in a co-ed environment, do you note differences in the amount read by boys and girls?  In my own library, the second and third grade students, as the report would predict, are circulating the most books. My challenge now is not to sit back and corroborate the data, but to help promote reading in the other grades to match that of my most voracious readers!

Overdues: Overdone?

Ah, the pesky overdue. Does the overdue notice, and its cousin, the fine, still have a place in a library? Matt Ball, from the Woodruff Library at Pace Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, posed these questions (and his answers) on the AISL discussion list:
Why do we have overdues? (To get books back.)
Why do we want them back? (So other students can check them out.)
Do other students want to check them out? (Don’t know.  But with popular titles, yes.)

Matt continued: “Centrally, my feeling is that if a student wants a book and has it checked out, let them keep it until someone else needs it.” Steve Matthews, from the Currier Library at Foxcroft School agrees: “Certainly, there is the chance of missing a serendipitous opportunity of person finding book/media by lucky chance, but since the person who checked it out has already made a connection, that seems enough.”

And yet, the concept that library books are for sharing seems central to me.  Building the character trait of responsibility seems important to me:  if you borrow something, please return it as agreed, or ask for an extension. And since I promote the idea of browsing when you are in the mood to read, I want popular books frequently in and out, to be browsed. When books are (as Carolyn LaMontagne at the Reed-Gumenick Library at Collegeiate Middle School says) “living in a locker or under a bed” how does that affect other library patrons?

One thing that’s been great:  Our circulation software sends an automated email notice two days in advance of the due date, with the subject line: Courtesy Reminder: Library material due soon.  This gives students (if they check their email, which not all do!) every chance to get in front of the overdue. We renew most books upon request.  I have a template for a “gentle reminder” email (Joanne Crotts also uses that phrase at the Skinner Library at the Asheville School) that I send individually, using school email, the first week a book is past due. Week two is a phone call, if there is a family phone. If no family phone, I try to catch the student between classes, or send a second email, rather than call a parent cell phone. The third notice is an email to the child with a cc: to the parent email(s).  Past that is a follow up email, with the replacement cost “if the book is lost.”

To touch on fines:  Our policy is 10 cents a day, but students rarely have money on them, and the fines are usually minimal. Usually I will delete the fine with a smile and ask the student to “pay it forward” and do something nice for someone else. That saves me a headache over 80 cents, and still reminds the student of the policy and holds them accountable for the late return.

This is a blog post without a “right” answer. Different policies will work for different librarians and different populations.  As I expand my notion of what a library is (and it’s expanded it a lot in the past 5 years!) I’m glad that overdue items take up a smaller percentage of my time.

Plaase leave a comment and/or share ideas if you have an system that works for you!

“When is it due?”…and other thoughts on library vocabulary

Katie’s thought-provoking post on maintaining print subscriptions (dare I say our most popular post ever?) and an email on Monday from a college friend have me doing a last minute complete revamp of my post. Her email:

    “I actually thought of you recently because I had to explain to Es [her toddler] why I still call the library computer system a ‘card catalog’ even though there are no cards involved. Do you do this?”

What elements of “libraryness” are essential to libraries today? I could throw out academic jargon like makerspaces and learning commons, but I’m thinking more concretely about the ways that I interact with my students and teachers on a daily basis. To answer my friend, I call it the catalog, rather than the card catalog. It’s still a catalog of materials and until the day that a physical card catalog makes its way into my life (patience self—it will happen), I get little enough instructional time with students that I’m not concerned with them understanding the history of print-based organizational systems. On those rare days when I’m inclined to forget that I’m growing older and that my cultural touchstones are not those of my students, I remember comments like this one from a freshman who was showing another freshman how to save a document to the school network.

 “Click on the square with the corner cut out.”

save icon

They’ve never used discs, hard or floppy. It’s just an icon to them. What other remnants of traditional libraries am I eliminating from my program? I place two common patron questions up for your consideration.

 “When is it due?”

I like my materials orderly and front-loaded on the shelves, and I like them returned. As to when, however, my general answer is much vaguer. “When you’re finished.” or “By the end of the school year would be great.” I tend to know the projects that students are checking out materials for (there are about 450 students in the Middle and Upper divisions) and when those projects are due. While the official catalog has a two week check out period because we share with the younger division, none of the students ever see a date stamp or a receipt. In my particular case, it’s just me and no assistant, so I choose not to let long check outs bother me. Most of my books get returned, and my loss statistics are in keeping with acceptable standards. Rather than writing overdue slips, I’d rather spend my time focusing on higher-level research tasks and engaging with the students about what they’re reading. If it’s a popular fiction book, I try to frame the conversation to get the student to read the book quickly and return it. “I loved that book! I bet you’re not going to be able to put it down and will have it back Monday.” or “I can’t believe this is in right now. It’s been checked out all year. An 8th grader was just in here yesterday asking about it. As soon as you’re finished, get it back to me so I can get it to her.” No enforcements, just gentle pressure to read, enjoy, and return.

 “What do I owe?”

Fine-Jar

I don’t know if your school charges late fees, and I’m thinking specifically about independent school libraries in this paragraph. Clearly, as you’ve already deduced from the previous paragraph, my school does not. We do charge for missing books in May, but that’s only a few families each year and it’s coordinated through the Business Office. As I’ve been planning a research trip to the public library for my freshmen, I keep encountering the resistance that they don’t go to the library because it’s “too expensive.” Many have a story along the lines of losing a picture book under the bed as a child, owing “lots” (what is lots to a kindergartner anyway?) of money, and never returning. I’m chipping away at that fallacy with the help of a team of lovely public librarians who couldn’t be more welcoming, and I’m even returning books to the public library for my teens. However, the bad taste from owed fines lingers. I doubt that the money I’d make by tracking late fees would make up for my time and frustration in chasing down students or their impression of the library as a place out for their money.

I was going to tackle circulation statistics here, but I think I’ll save that for next month since that’s often tied into the bigger picture, i.e. $$$. Needless to say, even if I’m dropping two features that my students associate with libraries, they’re ones that indicate negative associations. I want all of my interactions with students to leave them happier and better prepared in their assignments. Chasing them down for materials and money undermines this goal. I’d rather have frequent library users than a perfect library collection.

Finally a plea. Let’s reframe the conversation around Google search versus our own catalog and database search capabilities. Google is a search engine! The company’s business model requires that it produce great results, even when kids type in questions that I find profoundly silly.

Why did the French Revolution fail while the US succeeded according to Locke?”

You and I might want to sit this student down to teach keywords and Boolean operators. In that time, Google is chugging away and offering suggestions, some poor and, surprisingly, some better than I would have expected. When we say things like “our catalog isn’t as smart as Google” or “when using our catalog, be sure to use advanced keyword search,” students are instead hearing “Use Google. You know it. It’s easier. It has everything.” Whenever possible, play up the strengths of your collection, even in cases where it isn’t as easily indexed as general web search, because there are benefits in accuracy and authority that may outweigh findability. Do searches with students and explain as you go. They’re listening. They want libraries to be helpful, and we’ve got to show them that they are.

 Thoughts?

Bringing it to the People

My second Pop-Up - we're growing!

I wrote this post way back in fall of 2013, but since there has been a lot of chatter on the listserv about pop-up libraries as a way to promote new books, I thought I would revisit it. (As well, I should sheepishly admit I am overdue on a blog post and am too mired in some quotidian minutiae to give a new post the attention it deserves, so I am recycling in earnest.) Also, this time of year tends to lend itself to retrospectives, clip shows, and Best-Ofs, so it seems timely. I hope. So, see below for my first Pop-Up Library adventure, and feel free to get in touch about the details of how I made it happen. I continue this program today, at a rate of about one per month.

I have been installed here for six years and I recently joked that I had my first “normal” year in 2012: my first year was my first year and I was still finishing my last two credits of library school, my second year I was expecting, my third year I had a new baby, my fourth year we renovated, and finally in my fifth year the dust had settled and things were basically predictable. But suddenly what was to be my second “normal” year in a row took a detour: the administration assigned me to be a sixth grade advisor instead of working with my usual crew of juniors or seniors.

There is much greater interaction between advisor and advisees in the middle school, so I was suddenly able to witness the middle school program at very close range. It reinforced what I had long believed to be true: the middle schoolers are my biggest potential consumers of fiction or pleasure reading, but they have the least access to it.

In the lower school division, the students have regular, devoted library time each week. In the high school, students can come in before school, at lunch, during study hall or any free time to peruse the collection and check out materials. In the middle school there is no dedicated library time (yet! That’s another post, I hope) but they are not free to wander into the library by themselves. As well, many of them have confided to me they feel gingerly about entering a library full of “big kids.” What to do? All those glorious young adult titles, desperate to find readers, and an equal number of sad readers bereft of great books. And don’t even get me started on how I feel about the potential future impact on public libraries – isn’t part of our mission to build regular library users into college and beyond?

And thus, the Pop-Up Library. If the middle school can’t come to the library, the library can come to them, I thought. I cannot claim sole credit for this particular stroke of genius – it was inspired by a conversation I had with a friend who is a local college librarian.

So the library popped up in the cafeteria later that very week: I gathered a selection of very hot current books like the Divergent series, James Patterson’s Maximum Ride books, the Theodore Boone novels, a brand-new copy of House of Hades, and an armful of titles for Halloween. I parked these on a book truck, added a laptop and barcode scanner and printed up some colorful signs. I made sure to announce the event at the middle school morning assembly, emailed the faculty to encourage them to remind the kids, and notified the communications department of the photo op for the newsletter.

Restaurant sign holders are great for this - small but effective.

I set myself up in a corner of the dining commons, arranged the books attractively and before I could even sit down, I had customers – happy, smiling, ready-to-read customers. I circulated more books that afternoon than I had in the entire previous week and there was a ripple effect that lasted for several days, since some students asked about this or that book I had not brought, but could check out and deliver at lunch the next day or to a classroom.

This month's theme is Thanksgiving: Colonial America, the Pilgrims, Native Americans, and family activities like cooking and crafts.

It was so successful I repeated it earlier this month with new titles plus Thanksgiving-related books like Witch of Blackbird Pond, some Ann Rinaldi titles and books about Native American lore and history. The kids tell me they are eager to have it every three weeks or so. To prepare, I have invested in a tabletop poster holder, some book-printed fabric for a tablecloth, sign holders and colorful paper to help merchandise the books enticingly.

Feel free to get in touch with specific questions if you’d like to try launching your own Pop-Up Library – it’s easy, fun, and effective.