Getting Campy in the Library

             

Starting a new school year is like setting off on a expansive hiking expedition. Many of us are in our prepping stage: getting out our dusty gear, charting and mapping our course, and acquiring new skills for the journey. In the realm of research and information literacy we serve as guides to our faculty and students touring them through the current media landscape. Additionally, many of us strive to create a space where students can find shelter and learn new independent skills. Recreation, restoration and reflection—essentially, we all want our students to “camp out” in our libraries.

This is the metaphor we are embarking on in the Jean Ann Cone Library at Berkeley Preparatory School this year. We are getting campy in the library. We have pitched some tents, gathered gear, and planted a paper forest. It is fun to physically construct displays, but it also serves the purpose of tethering the mind to a focus for the beginning of the year. While we hope to allure and delight our students when they see this first display it helps us convey important concepts we want to provide our students.

The Expedition Team

While this conceit has the librarian as the guide for students in the camping metaphor it can emphasis the importance of a team integration to a successful summit. One of my favorite aspects of being a librarian is working alongside the core subject teacher, the technology department, and other specialists to show students that their guidance comes from different sources and that it is a team effort. This in turn models collaboration for them when they have group projects. Additionally, the whole library staff is another part of the expedition and support team. I am lucky to have a creative and supportive team around me sharing in ideas and tasks. Students know we are all here to help them.

Maps and Navigation Instruments

“Don’t lose sight of the forest through the trees,” an apt cliche for describing the complex process of research. As librarians we are tasked with breaking down the cognitive load of this multifaceted process. Our maps take the shape of our standards and curriculum guides. At our library we are in the process of looking at the new AASL standards to reflect on our program and incorporate new educational trends to our current program. Pedagogical models like “guided inquiry” underpin the scaffolding of information literacy that bolster student inquiry so students do not feel like they are lost in the dark.

Librarians have a keen sense of direction in the information world and our analog compasses now have a digital GPS counterpart. From websites and databases to apps and “smart” devices there are many tools and gadgets at our disposal. Analogous to our readers advisory many of us also impart a “users” advisory by recommending new apps, software and interactive websites. I always like to review AASL’s Best Tools for Teaching list to peruse new tools I can tinker with and share. A Libguide or library website becomes the virtual campsite for digital adventures in which we chart the course for the learning task.

I also seek personal tools to improve my own practice and productivity. To help me stay organized this year I am adding two apps used in combination to my repertoire: Swipes and Forest. Swipes is a elegantly designed to-do list app in which you either swipe right for a completed task and left for an uncompleted one to schedule. It helps me take action for the things I need to get done. Once I’ve decided on an action I use the Forest app to help me focus solely on that task and to clear distractions. Forest uses a fun premise to help you ban multitasking. You set an internal timer for a task and the app grows a tree. The more focused you stay the more trees for your virtual forest and eventually you get credits to buy real trees for reforestation efforts. You can’t get campier than that in an app. The beginning of the year is a great time to try new apps and build new habits so that you can share your discoveries with others if you find them useful.

Mile Markers

To see the distances covered builds confidence and courage for more challenging tasks. Just as classroom teachers mark progress librarians also have assessment tools for students to check their growth in research. These go beyond simple number counts of circulation and database usage. Our research checklists and templates give students ways to reflect on their learning process. Scheduling research consultations give a more nuanced feedback to the complexity of research work. For our own growth when we are able to make multiple visits and check ins with classes we can see our own patterns of influence in the learning experience for students.

Campfires and Star Gazing

Finally, it is the most rewarding aspect of librarianship-building community and wonder. It is the small acts of kindness and welcoming that creates the campfire moments in the library. Knowing a student’s favorite genre and hand picking a book for him or her. Involving student choice or leadership roles in the library fosters bonds. Creating creative corners or makerspaces expands the types of intellectual work students can do in the library. Our upper school librarians share treats with a class at random times surprising and delighting the students. These offerings show students a different side of librarians; their fun and thoughtful spirits.

Many students are drawn to the aesthetics of a library. All those spines lined on the shelf offer endless opportunities for wonder in our world; whether, it be a history book that delves into new found fascination with a time period or the next book in a fantasy series. I am always in awe when I walk into any library. All the books on the shelf capturing the broad spectrum of human knowledge is both humbling and sublime. It is like star gazing at the constellations of our collective conscious; but here, they are always in arms reach.

Following Through on Book Clubs, and, Windows & Mirrors

Over the last few years, avid and ambitious readers among the students and staff have pitched their book club desires to me. Naturally I’m game, but as our clubs and organizations already are challenged by finding time to meet I admit I’ve been pessimistic about book club success. A handful of times such an effort would result in one meeting and then fizzle out. This year I’m giving it another go, inspired by two things. First is our newly formed Global Diversity Council, comprising students and faculty members and tasked with ensuring “effective diversity engagement, inclusive excellent practices, a multicultural environment and curriculum, equitable activities, and social justice actions.”

The second was a recent well-timed article from Teaching Tolerance, in which Chelsea Tornetto writes:

“A story is often the most effective way to create personal connections between very different people. Reading a novel allows us to see the world through someone else’s eyes, remove the context we are used to and replace it with something new. We are more prepared to accept things beyond our own experiences because we know we are reading a ‘story,’ and yet we also actively search for similarities between our own lives and the lives of the characters. A novel can begin to open students’ minds and shape their hearts, without doing battle against their sense of self.”

While this is something we all know already, evoking Rudine Sims Bishop’s often referenced “windows, sliding doors, and mirrors” metaphor, I read it at the right time. This past summer our faculty and staff read Global Dexterity by Andy Molinsky, and the last line of this quotation points beautifully to the concept of this title; that we can find and should seek ways to effectively engage, identify with, and relate to people who are culturally different from ourselves without compromising our own identities and values. Reading about a fictional yet realistic character’s experiences is a safe way to practice this, which our school community wants and needs to do.

This article reminded me how simple yet powerful a program this could be, and with the right book, the right group to participate in and promote it, and enough (widely publicized) pizza, it could be a success.

This feels a little hard to say, but one of the stumbling blocks our book clubs have faced in the past is perhaps too much student ownership. I think my belief in wanting to give students voice and choice in this type of activity may have deprived them of a valuable experience. Of course I would like student voices heard and student ownership of our selections and discussions, but well-intentioned as our students may be, they, like all of us, just don’t always have time to do “extra” things like prepare, make posters, and successfully book talk an extracurricular novel. Reminder to self – reading promotion, awareness of current publications, and facilitating discussions about literature are my job. Those things aren’t “extra” for me. So maybe, for the students to have a great experience, a little adult (read: librarian) ownership is not such a bad thing.

I went to a GDC meeting last week and shared this idea. Rather than asking for book suggestions from the students, I said “The first book will be The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and first meeting will be during lunch on December 13 in the library with pizza. I hope that if we decide to continue the book club that you folks will have some suggestions.” An interested buzz made its way around the room, so that’s good enough to forge ahead.

Then I sent this poster to Upper School students, faculty, and staff:
Window and Mirrors Book Club

With interest and partnership from the GDC, I think this will go very well. Our library collection holds copies of this particular title in three formats, and the GDC was able to purchase a few copies for students, faculty, and staff to bring home over Thanksgiving break. The books came in yesterday and three copies had already been claimed by 8:30 this morning. I’ll spring for the pizza.

I would love to hear about others’ Windows and Mirrors Book Club successes, stumbles, and book choices. My hypothesis is that we will need to choose very current titles representing diverse identities and experiences, personally invite some folks who might not be paying attention to emails and announcements, and make sure everyone knows about the food.

Playing book fairy

(Warning: I’ll be library-nerding hard here, it being a safe space to do so 🙂 )

Oh, the thrill of connecting a reader with just the right book, at just the right time! I particularly enjoy making a literal connection; this could be placing a book in a reader’s hands (although a member of my library team brought back an interesting tidbit from our provincial conference, about how to find greater success by not holding a book when talking about it, but placing it on a table/bookshelf, allowing for something akin to transfer of ownership to the reader…fascinating! But I digress…)

Making a literal connection could also be following up on a conversation over the lunch table or by email, by placing a book in a school mailbox, or on a reader’s desk.

As I’m on and off campus throughout the summer, I like to keep this going when opportunity allows. Sometimes I’m dropping things off for people who live/work on campus, sometimes I’m bringing things to people who live near me (we’re in a small town, and I’m lucky to live close to quite a few colleagues)

I had 2 deliveries this morning:

  • A teacher has finished reading Narnia to his kids and was curious about Percy Jackson, so I gave him the first 2 Olympians. He also likes Michael Lewis, and we didn’t have The Undoing Project – I’d ordered it, it recently arrived, so it’s in there too.
  • I ran into a colleague in the park yesterday, which gave me a chance to tell him that I was disappointed about being off my game when he asked me for some summer reading suggestions at the very tail-end of the school year…my brain was fried by then. Based on his reading interests, two books had come to mind, and bumping into him reminded me to get them to him – The Mandibles and The Art of Fielding.

Note the ziploc bags, also doubled-up with plastic bags on this misty morning.

This is strictly for fun, when my schedule allows, not onerous in any way – and I’ve found people to be so appreciative. I’ve also found it a good motivator for getting myself out for a walk!

 

 

Spicing Up Book Promotion

There is a certain magic that happens when you find just the right book for a patron, isn’t there? For me, it’s that look in their eyes when they pass by in the hall, stopping in their tracks and greeting me with an enthusiastic, “Oh my goodness, I’m at the part where _____!” or “I read until 2 a.m. and I am so tired but oh wow, it was so worth it.” It’s one of those pinch me, I’m getting paid to do this, moments for me.

This year, I hope to spice up my matchmaking attempts. I’m going to share a few ideas here and I hope that you will add to the list using the comments below!

  • Promote Peer Readers’ Advisory.
    In my last library, I started a blog dedicated to book reviews. To generate student reviews, I created a competition between English classes–the class with the largest percentage of participation, creating well-written, *usable*, original reviews (added after a student copied/pasted one from Goodreads–a teachable moment ;-))–with the winning class getting a donut party from a local shop. Dunkin’ might have done the trick, but supporting local business is awesome and those donuts were a-maz-ing. I got approximately 80 good reviews a year employing the donut bribe…ahem, I mean competition.This activity allows you to teach the elements of a good review, to boost student confidence when you email them to say “your review has been selected to feature on the blog this week!”, and  really is effective in inspiring your community to talk about books. I also encouraged all adults in the community to write reviews to share their love of reading with our students. So easy. You can post as often as you like, write a few reviews yourself, your communications department can share the site with alums, prospective families, etc. You could easily do this with book trailers, podcasts or other promotional materials.
  • Student Volunteers
    If you are short on tasks and long on your list of student volunteers, why not give them the autonomy of creating and maintaining a reading campaign? READ posters, book displays with index card reviews (a la independent book stores), Flickr Photo Streams of friends “caught reading” around campus, creative assembly announcements maybe?
  • Pop Up Library
    Where will the pop up library appear next? A lunch table? In a dorm alcove? In an unused classroom? Outside the college counseling office? You could promote new books, particular genres, beach reads before breaks, Overdrive titles and downloading instruction. Use social media to share where you’re set up, sort of like the floating food truck phenomenon that happens in bigger cities. Bring an iPad with the Destiny app and check out to students on the spot!
  • Speed Dating
    I was so inspired by the brilliant Sarah Kresberg of the Allen Stevenson School, who used this speed dating program to promote reading in her community, I hope to replicate some version of this in my school this year. I asked Sarah to share her program details here, so that we might all benefit from it. Thanks Sarah!
    The goal: to introduce teachers to some of the best and most appealing books published over the past three years and encourage them to read some of them
    Age groups: we offered three simultaneous sessions – Teachers of K-3, 4-6, 7-9. Everyone from those divisions came, no matter their subject area.
    Team:We have three librarians (Liz Storch- Upper School, Bonnie Tucker – Lower School and me in the Middle School) so each one ran a session with our library associate (Pilar Okeson who has now left) taking care of a lot of the set up.
    Timing: a faculty meeting during Allen-Stevenson Book Week in November.
    Promotion: since attendance was compulsory we didn’t have to do much but we did make large posters to place at the entrance of each session. We also made book marks on our theme to give at the end (hopefully inside a book that they were checking out!)
    The hook: since it is speed dating we adopted a valentine theme. When teachers entered they were offered Prosecco and sparkling water in plastic champagne glasses. We baked shortbread hearts, made chocolate dipped strawberries and scattered hershey’s kisses and rose petals. We also played music. We stood around eating, drinking and chatting for about twenty minutes before beginning which put everyone in a great mood!
    The activity: We put together large tables and placed a clipboard, worksheet and pencil (red, naturally) at each table. The worksheet listed all the titles that were included in the speed dating, with three columns next to the titles. The columns were headed ‘Love at First Sight’, ‘Worth a Second Look’, ‘Not My Type’. I went over ways you can evaluate a book quickly (examine cover, read blurb, read Library of Congress summary, start reading the first page etc.)
    We handed each teacher a book. The teacher had 90 seconds to examine the book and put a check mark in the column to indicate their interest in the reading the book. At the end of the 90 seconds I directed them to pass the book to their left.
    The outcome: (This is the what happened in the Middle School session I was running)
    Everyone loved it. So much so that they suggested that I run one for parents (I ended up doing one for middle school parents in February). After a while the teachers wanted to take a break to talk about ideas they had had while doing the activity. After talking we decided that we would have each faculty member sponsor a  different summer reading book, offering book discussion groups on the first day back to school this September. We didn’t get many check outs that day although a few teachers did come back to check out books another day. I would have liked to have seen more books circulate. However what we mainly achieved was an increased awareness of newer children’s literature. Also, those teachers who are really into children’s books were able to share their enthusiasm with other teachers. It was great hearing teachers of music, science etc. talk about the books so that it doesn’t seem like solely the domain of the librarian. I was trying to get across that there is so much great children’s literature out there, and our boys would love to see their teachers reading some of them. If they see kid lit on a teacher’s desk they are going to start a conversation about it.

Note, the one piece that she omits is her donning of a rock-star-sassy-leather-pant-clad-librarian outfit for the program–not all of us could pull this off, but hey, wouldn’t it be fun trying? 🙂

These are but a few ideas for going beyond the traditional book display to promote books and reading. What do you plan to do to spice up book promotion in your library this year?