An African proverb states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Everyone working together can grow successful students and create lifelong learners, avid readers, and critical thinkers capable of solving complex problems that have the potential to create greater tomorrows for us all. In today’s environment your village can be virtual and encompass students, teachers, staff, parents, and the greater community. Here are six steps you can take to build and/or grow your virtual village. Think of your virtual village as an ecosystem of digital platforms. This could be one website or a combination of websites and applications used by the school library.
- Decide if you will target parents, students, staff, or the greater community. You may include all, but selecting a particular group might be easier to start. You can always plan to grow your village over time.
- Provide a virtual tour of the school library, linked to your school library’s website. Don’t forget to incorporate a tour of your online database and a sampling of your e-book titles. Be sure to include directions on how to access all of your digital content. Consider providing your tour in different languages; for example, if Spanish is spoken by students at your school, provide the tour in both Spanish and English. Did I hear you say, “but I don’t speak Spanish?” No problem! Solicit help from your students, parents, or staff. Arrange for native speakers to narrate your tour.
- Provide virtual office hours, perhaps one day after regular school hours. For example, every first Tuesday of the month from 5–5:30 pm. You could build up to once every other week or once a week if possible. Many parents work during the regular school day and may be unable to visit due to work schedules. If you arrange for virtual office hours you could answer questions. You may offer a brief presentation on what Lexile scores are or offer tips for selecting books for six-year-old boys. Use tools such as Google Hangouts or Skype to communicate with parents. Use a Google Voice Number to accept calls and create a message specifically for your library. An app like Remind allows you to text or place voice calls and keep your number private. In Remind you can set office hours so that when someone calls you outside of your hours they get a message and are presented with the option to send you a message.
- Engage the village with an online competition. Beanstack allows libraries to create thematic reading challenges. You can create virtual badges as well as unique reading programs that encourage diversity. Think of it as “Fitbit for reading,” says founder Felix Brandon Lloyd. The software and mobile application allow you to collect students’ reading data, which can be shared with your school and district’s administration. Think of how powerful it would be to provide your students’ reading statistics.
- Social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest can also grow your virtual village. You don’t have to do them all; start small and build over time. For example, you could use Pinterest to engage parents and students by asking them to create pins about purchase recommendations. You could ask students to share ideas about what they might like to do in the library on Instagram.
- Create a virtual community that reflects the diversity found in the world today. Whether you are posting suggested reading lists for various grade levels or recommending authors, be sure to include authors of diverse backgrounds and titles that reflect diversity. When building your virtual community include diverse images in the portions of the digital ecosystem that you can control. Be intentional and include all types of people. When posting pictures of actual students and adults in your school include everyone, not just one segment of your population. If you don’t use actual photos, opt to use stock photos that are inclusive of all. It is not always easy to find minorities, people with various types of physical abilities, reflected in some stock photo sites. I recommend DiveristyPhotos.com. Founder Gerald Carter states that authentic representation creates powerful connection. Connect with your village by showcasing students of varying ethnicities, racial backgrounds, gender, mental or physical ability, or national geographic origin.
As with any recommendation I advise you to consult with your district/school before purchasing or implementing to be sure you are adhering to your district/school’s established policies.
I would love to hear how you build your virtual community. Please share your ideas in the comment section below or place a link to your sites. Remember: it takes a village.
“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller
Author: Michelle Easley
Michelle Easley is the author of How to Increase Diversity in School Library Collections and Programs. Michelle is a national presenter, diversity and library advocate, consultant and speaker. Michelle spends her free time volunteering with homeless youth.