Several months ago, I happened upon a post in a school librarian Facebook group that caught my eye. The original post was from a librarian who had recently had a visit from one of the detectives involved in the case of the disappearance of Susan Powell. The post mentioned that the school librarian and a colleague hosted “Mystery Mondays” in the library during which they shared true crimes stories with each other and students. After covering the Susan Powell case in-depth, they reached out to one of the detectives who happened to be willing to visit their school. I contacted the librarian, Sarah Scott, to learn more. Below is what she shared with me.
What is the name of your school and where are you located? Co-librarian’s name (if she wants to be mentioned)?
Scott: Mayflower High School in Mayflower, Arkansas. I do not have a co-librarian (super small school), but my coworker/friend Heather Malone (Spanish teacher) is who helped make this happen.
How did the idea for “Mystery Monday” develop?
Scott: Mrs. Malone and I are both very intrigued with true crime podcasts such as Cold, Crime Junkie, and many, many others. I’ve been looking into new programs for my library that I can offer during lunch. Currently, I do Trivia Tuesday but I wanted more. Mrs. Malone is my person and I asked her what she thought about doing a “podcast”-style program where we retell some of the cases we have heard about through some of our favorite podcasts.
Please provide a brief description of Mystery Monday.
Scott: Mystery Monday began with Mrs. Malone and I each taking about 10-15 minutes to retell a true crime case that we had spent the previous week researching. It is very informal with us asking each other questions or inserting commentary throughout and taking questions from our kids. We did take about a month and a half to dig really deep into one of our favorite cases, the Susan Powell Case. We ended up reaching out to the lead detective, Ellis Maxwell, who happened to be in our area that day and he came to answer questions that our kids had. Our principal let us have two hours with him.
What has student response been like?
Scott: Being a small school, we don’t have a huge crowd showing up for Mystery Monday. We have a regular group of about 15-20 students that come. These students are very involved and are even beginning to show interest in doing their own research and presenting a case. We plan to try that out next semester.
What has been most exciting for you?
By far, having Ellis Maxwell surprise our group and give us details about the case has been the most exciting. Our students asked some great questions and were able to get the reaction and response from someone who was involved in this case from day 1.
How does this program relate to the AASL Standards and/or how does it relate to your library goals/program?
Scott: This relates to my library goals because I am always looking for new programming that will get more students in the library and involved in what is going on in here. I’ve implemented this and one other program this year, Paint Parties in the Library. Both have been incredibly successful compared to other programs I have tried.
Making This Work at My School
I knew that I wanted to try something similar in my school so I created “True Crime Tuesday.” Each week I prepare a presentation on a true crime case. I try to select cases that will provoke rich discussion among students. Students are invited to bring their lunch into the library where I share the details of the case and lead a discussion. You can find my completed case presentations here. I have also had a recent graduate come back to present and have several other guests in the works.
Students are allowed to present their own cases as long as they work with me to complete their research and include proper citations. I currently have one student working on a presentation about the Axeman of New Orleans. Faculty and staff are invited to attend as well, and I usually have several each week, including one of our administrators. The program has been extremely successful. I have had between 30-50 students attend every Tuesday.
Several weeks ago, I was overcome with joy when one of the students raised their hand and asked if we could do more than just talk about cases and actually take action to help victims and their families. These students expressed interest in letter-writing campaigns, fundraisers, and more that would take place after school.
I could not be more grateful to Sarah for sharing her story because it led me to one of the most successful and enjoyable program ideas I have ever implemented in my library.
Author: Brandi Hartsell
Brandi Hartsell is the school librarian at Halls High School in Knoxville, TN. She was awarded Teacher of the Year at HHS in 2021. Brandi was also recognized alongside colleagues as recipients of the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL) Teacher Collaboration Award in 2019 and 2021. She has served (and continues to serve) in many leadership roles within TASL. Brandi has presented professional development sessions for TASL, Halls High School, and Knox County Schools. Brandi loves sharing ideas and brainstorming…also cats…and true crime. Follow her on Instagram @hhslibrarytn.