One of my goals is to increase student voice in the library. This has always been a bit of a challenge, since my school serves preschool to second grade. This year, I started the Junior Library Council (JLC) to help meet this need.
The JLC is based on the model shared by Andy Plemmons. For several years, he has shared information about his Student Book Budget Project. For this project, students gather data about the kinds of books that should be added to the library. Then, they work to find the best choices to purchase while remaining in budget. I chose to modify this project to meet the needs of the students at my school. Here is what we did:
The first thing I had to decide, was how to incorporate this type of project into an already-packed school day. We have an after-school program called PM Enrichment. These programs are open to students in eight-week sessions in the fall, winter, and spring. During the winter session, I offered the Junior Library Council to second-grade students. I had only four students sign up. Although, I was a bit disappointed with the number, I decided it was still worth it to try it out. I am glad that I did!
We met for an hour once a week for eight weeks. The group started by creating a survey in a Google Forms. The kids decided the types of questions to include in the survey. Then, they created flyers that asked teachers to allow their students to participate.
Once we had collected our data, it was exported into a Google Sheet. I printed the sheets for each JLC member, so we could analyze the data together. I was not sure how this would go with second graders, but they did surprisingly well. They were able to recognize the patterns in the results. They also loved using highlighters! We created a master list of the types of books students thought we needed to add to the library. This list then guided our choices from that point forward.
From there, we checked the library catalog for what books we already had based on the topics on our master list. This helped us decide where the holes in the collection really existed. We then spent time looking through catalogs like Capstone and ABDO, putting sticky notes on pages with books they thought would fit the needs found on the master list.
One of the big pieces of the Book Budget Project that Andy identifies in his blog is the impact that meeting with vendors has on students’ decisions. I do not have the same access to vendors as he does. So, I ended up reaching out to my Capstone representative. Although, he is based in a different state, we were able to meet virtually. The JLC members had created questions for him to answer, and I shared their master list of topics. He was then able to provide suggestions to meet our needs.
Additionally, I receive boxes of books from companies like Mid-America Books, Look Out Books, and Smart Apple Media. When speaking with my representatives from these companies, I was able to request a box be delivered during this eight-week session. The students then looked at the books inside the boxes to decide if they would be appropriate to purchase.
From there they made their choices. All of their choices were compiled into one very large list. At first, this list had over $4,000 worth of books on it. This was significantly outside their budget. We spent one whole session narrowing down this list so that we could still met the needs we had originally identified, but also stay in budget.
We spent the final week of our session creating a commercial using our green screen. Each member chose a book to advertise to other students. Here is one of their commercials.
What They Learned:
The biggest thing the JLC members learned was they had to think “big picture.” This can be a difficult task for an eight-year-old! They could not just pick books they liked, but had to choose books that represented the school as a whole.
Another takeaway, was understanding a budget. They had difficultly narrowing down the choices on their original list because they felt all of them needed to be purchased.
The Power of Student Voice:
From this project, I learned to listen and let them lead. They were able to do most of the work without as much guidance as I initially thought they would need from me.
The books that were ordered have been checked out regularly since they were added to the collection. Some of them, I would have purchased without their assistance. Yet, there are many that I would not have purchased. These are now some of the most popular books in the library. Additionally, I have used the survey data to make other purchases outside of the JLC’s order.
Time was probably our biggest challenge. Next year, I need to consider how I could add a few weeks to the program. Parts of the project felt rushed. We were only able to focus on a few companies in our decision-making process. In the future, it would be helpful to provide additional options so students could compare resources.
Overall, this is one of the best projects I have ever done. It allowed student voice to become a larger part of the library. I welcome the chance to expand on it next year.
Author: Kelly Hincks
I am the librarian at Detroit Country Day Lower School in Bloomfield Hills, MI. I have worked as a librarian for the past five years. I was a classroom teacher for four years prior to that. I have worked in charter, public, and private schools. My favorite thing about being a librarian is the opportunities I have to work both with students and teachers. I love the co-teaching opportunities and connections I have been able to make! I have served on AASL committees as a member and chair.