As we approach the end of the school year, there is a lot on school librarians’ minds and to-do lists: collecting books, taking down bulletin boards, all the other duties as assigned, and if you have a budget or some extra money, putting together an order or wish list of books that will be at your school when you return in the fall. But have you considered using the end of the year to welcome your incoming students, getting them ready for what they will experience in your school library, and helping them become library users from day one?
Connecting with Incoming Students
One of my priorities towards the end of each school year is to reach out to the librarians at the elementary schools that feed into my middle school and schedule time to visit their oldest students during library time. In years’ past, I have done an in-person 20-30 minute presentation for students at their elementary school, talking about the biggest differences between elementary and middle school libraries and especially highlighting newfound freedoms, like coming to the library before or after school. I do this to get them excited about what awaits them in their new school’s library. I also include a few book talks of some of my favorite middle-school reads in that past year and share whatever the summer reading assignment might be. To get student participation, I typically bring pencils with a reading theme or school name on them and give them to students who contribute an answer or ask a question. Some elementary librarians say it is the most engaged those students have been all year.
Last year was different though, mostly because our school buildings were closed due to the pandemic. There wasn’t a way–even virtually–to visit our incoming students at their schools. Instead, my co-librarian and I put together a self-guided presentation using peardeck.com with pictures of our new library and many of the slides we include in our school visits. We narrated each of the slides and shared far and wide the Pear Deck code, along with a paragraph of information, to get students excited about their middle school library. I asked our director of student services to include our presentation in all of her communications to the parents of incoming students and posted it on our school website. I also shared the link with all of the elementary school librarians we usually visit and asked them to share with their upper-grade students. Finally, we included the information in the virtual orientation our school put together for all of our students the few weeks before school started. It was a big success and was viewed hundreds of times. All those students got to know our library before even setting foot inside of it!
Thinking Outside the Box
While most students know the school they will attend next by the end of the school year, students join our school community all year long. To make those students feel welcome, I created brochures about our library that they receive with the other paperwork when they register for classes. It helps them get to know our space, routines, and expectations ahead of time; this helps them feel comfortable with a library that might be much different than their previous experience.
If you are a high school librarian, have you ever contacted your middle-school counterparts to talk about what the rising freshmen can expect in your library? Right around spring break, the thoughts of going to high school infiltrate their eighth-grade experience. Having them think about their high-school library might help students feel welcome to visit your space on the very first day. Also, some high-school librarians coordinate with local college librarians for upperclassmen to tour the library space and ask questions about services. Regardless of the level of library you’re in, your students could benefit from learning about what to expect in their next library.
Make a Plan for Action
How might you incorporate something like this into your end-of-year routine? It could be as simple as creating a PDF of slides that you share with the librarians of your incoming students, or that you share on your school’s website. You could reach out to your librarian colleagues to see what activity or program you might offer. If you are a librarian who oversees several libraries in a district, consider how a student’s experience might be similar and different in their new library compared to the library they have been familiar with the last few years. What might excite them about their new library? What good books can you recommend to students who want to feel more grown up and ready to take on their new school?
There is nothing like seeing the look of recognition on a new student’s face at the beginning of the school year. Students typically know me–or at least recognize me–from the visits I make to their elementary school, and it makes them more eager to come to the library, whether it be for a book, to participate in an event, or to come study with a friend. They have seen that I am excited about the library and that I want them to be excited about the library, too. All of our students should feel like they belong in our libraries, even from the first day of school. Why not make the effort to create this feeling even before they show up in the fall? Keep them thinking about and anticipating their new library–and librarian–all summer long!
Author: Rachel Grover
Rachel Grover is a middle school librarian in Fairfax County, Virginia, and a member of the board of directors for the Virginia Association of School Librarians. She has published articles on ways to make school libraries accessible for Knowledge Quest and on genrefying the library collection for School Library Connection. She also has developed workshops for beginning librarians for School Library Connection. Rachel was an elementary school teacher for two years before beginning life as a middle-school English teacher in 2009. In 2014, she joined Libraryland, finding a dream job she didn’t even know was her dream! When she is not working, she loves reading, tinkering with technology, traveling, taking photographs, and sleeping in. Her passions include genrefication, makerspaces, technology, collaboration with teachers across the curriculum, and making school libraries equitable and accessible for all learners.