We Make Our Library Great. Together.
I’m the steward of the school library. It’s my job to make the library a place that reflects our learning community, and responds to the community’s needs. Since our population of users is always changing, this means the library will also adapt, iterate, and grow in response. When I invite participation from our teachers and students, it means I am committed to manifesting those ideas (to the best of my ability and within reason). During my first year, the number one request of students was to be able to eat in the library. I went to the facilities budget meeting to request that a portion of our flooring be replaced with linoleum tile for a food-friendly space, and had to defend my position to some faces that were aghast. When students returned after the summer, those beautiful, shiny new tiles showed them that I had heard them, and that their wishes mattered. The students would really like a treehouse-style loft and maybe a fireplace, but I haven’t quite figured out how to manifest those yet.
Hunting Down Titles
During our 9th-grade library orientation, I ask our newest students for help in developing our collection of books to match our reading community’s interests. This year, following the tour and orientation, students were browsing for a free-reading book. A young man asked for help finding books about hunting. When we found the singular book on the shelf, it was old, outdated, and with poor graphics. In our rural community, hunting and fishing are popular outdoor sports, so I was embarrassed not to have a better option available. I asked him if he’d be willing to help me (and the library) by researching a few titles that looked like good resources to him. He sent me the links to the books and I ordered all three of them. As soon as the books were out of the box, I brought them to him and thanked him again for helping to improve the library’s collection. The books have already been popular—and not just with students. One book that I had placed in our window caught the attention of one of our custodians; he stopped in his tracks to come inside to browse and chat about the book with me.
I have been developing our collection of graphic novels and graphic nonfiction books. This collection is seeing a lot more use recently. I knew I needed help with manga, but I didn’t know where to begin. I don’t know what’s hip or cool, what’s classic, or what’s old and out of style. One of our students came to my rescue! She is in our alternative education program, and is someone who has struggled academically, with family demands outside of school. I had never spoken with her and had never seen her smile. When she was returning a few manga books at the end of the year, she lit up as she began talking about how much she adored manga—reading, watching, and drawing her own! Her face was radiant. I asked whether she could possibly help us out and her smile became even bigger! Flash forward to the first day of school this fall, when she presented me with several pages of information for a few manga series she recommended for purchase. She included a summary, her own reflections, related series, as well as price per copy. Next, she went through our collection to identify missing copies from the popular manga series we already own. Again, as soon as the books arrived, I showed her immediately. She was truly delighted to see this visible representation of her impact, and our other manga fans have been eagerly checking these volumes out.
Add Some Context To Your Content
Recently, a social studies teacher emailed me with an idea. He’d heard a thought-provoking podcast about the book Moonglow by Michael Chabon, and wondered if we could connect additional content like the podcast to the book. He suggested QR codes and–“boom goes the dynamite!”–I was sold! I selected a sampling of our newest books; then researched reviews, author interviews, and/or author podcasts; used a free QR-generator; and formatted the QR codes to fit on the book spine. In some cases, I included two QRs and placed the second one on the front of the book. The final step was a new display and some social media buzz to get the word out there! What a fun way to make it easy for a potential reader to gain more insight into a book or author.
Start by Listening
The best part of this model is that it is not my responsibility to have all the good ideas (phew–too much pressure)! It’s just my responsibility to listen to my community. And it’s my privilege, as the steward of the library, to manifest those ideas.
How does your learning community inform your library practices? Does your community have input into the policies, programs, collection, and physical space in your library?
Author: Iris Eichenlaub
Iris Eichenlaub is the Librarian/Technology Integrator at Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport, Maine. She is the 2017 Knox County Teacher of the Year, and was named an Inspiring Educator in 2017 by the Maine Education Association. Iris serves on the board of the Maine Association of School Libraries as the chair of professional development. Follow the story of the Edna St. Vincent Millay Library via Facebook (@ESVMLibrary or https://www.facebook.com/ESVMLibrary) or Instagram (@ESVM_Library or https://www.instagram.com/esvm_library).