Breaking Artificial Boundaries
As school librarians, we get accustomed to being the only one of our kind on campus and can feel isolated at times. We are teachers but aren’t always considered as such. In order to counter this singular position, reach out to the librarian down the street at your nearest public library branch. Public and school librarians can form a perfect partnership.
Step One: The Invitation
Several years ago a public librarian in Austin, Alison O’Reilly Poage, reached out to me because she heard I ran book clubs at my school. She was then on the Newbery committee and wanted a group of students to “test drive” some of the books on the list. Because she could place a call on books from branch libraries, she was able to provide us with multiple copies, which is always a challenge with book clubs. Thus began the Newbery Book Club of 2008/9. We took an existing sixth-grade book club that met weekly, and Alison joined us as co-sponsor. What made it especially exciting was that Alison actually mentioned our group when on the official Newbery committee at ALA, and the favorite book we read, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, actually won!
Step Two: Prioritizing Meeting
Alison moved, and a new youth librarian, Emma DeBoer, from the same branch also reached out to me to co-sponsor a book club. At the time, our school scheduling changed, making it difficult to find time for book clubs to meet. A group of girls initiated their own club, which they named the Cover-to-Cover Book Club. Emma began meeting with us, and our book club of 7th and 8th grade girls is now in its fourth year. Emma and I carve out time in our calendar to prioritize book club meetings and communicate regularly. The book club is not a side dish but an integral part of our library mission.
Step Three: Have Fun!
For me, in my fifties, it is so fun to work with a young librarian in her twenties. We immediately bonded in our shared love of books and kids. The book club took on a life of its own, and we came up with all kinds of fun activities and discussions. We’d Skype with other book clubs reading the same books at other schools, and the girls came up with their own creative ideas, such as a Secret Santa gift book exchange. Of course, our favorite sessions are when we ask an opening question about the book we’re reading, and the discussion takes flight! And we don’t shy away from spirited debates. Right now we’re having fun discussing Ryan Graudin’s alternative history/shapeshifter/cross-continental, motorcyle race thriller, Wolf by Wolf.
Another fun activity occurs when we’re in between books, and the girls take turns “pitching” possible book titles for the next book club selection. Occasionally it ends up with a very close, suspenseful vote.
Providing Round-the-Clock Youth Services
Another important achievement of our partnership is that we work to provide 24-hour youth library services. Kids are trapped at school during the work day, unable to access their public libraries. After school hours, school libraries are inaccessible, except through electronic databases and Overdrive digital ebooks and audio books. Still, for that special personal service, students are now more comfortable in stopping by the Howson Public Library just down the street from our school to visit Emma. Our goal is to create and encourage lifelong readers and lifelong library patrons.
Author: Sara Stevenson
I’m a reader, writer, swimmer, and a public middle school librarian. I love all things Italian. I was honored to be Austin ISD’s first librarian of the year in 2013.