Library Orientation: Your Big First Impression
If you’re like me, a middle school librarian serving a thousand students, back-to-school library orientations are my big show of the year. My job sounds simple: keep the readers reading and wake up the dormant or nonreaders. What makes it difficult is that these students could choose never to step in the library again unless forced to with a class, and I’ve got one big chance to ignite enthusiasm for my library program. Especially in this age of smartphones, texting, social media, YouTubers, and gaming, convincing middle school students to choose reading can be a challenge.
When I started as a librarian fourteen years ago, I thought that library orientations were an introduction to the library OPAC system, the library hours, rules, procedures, and organization. I quickly learned that presenting those concepts bored my students. I needed something flashier, so I developed the orientation Prezi. I start at least a month in advance building my Prezi. (Think Powerpoint in the cloud that is completely versatile in terms of changing the order of the presentation and enables you to insert photos of book covers and book or movie trailers seamlessly). In addition, I can really load up my show.
The Power of Reading as Entertainment
Because my middle school has embraced the philosophy of Stephen Krashen’s The Power of Reading, which focuses on 1) self-selection or choice, 2) time to read, 3) access to the books students want to read, my main job is to generate excitement about reading. I do this by stressing reading as entertainment and not academics. I start with movie trailers. I tell the kids that Hollywood has sent a scout to our library because so many movies are based on our favorite books here: The 5th Wave, Paper Towns, The Fault in Our Stars, The BFG, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, not to mention the Maze Runner, Divergent, and Hunger Games series. I even show movie trailers for books that aren’t written for middle school students but are still popular at our school: Room by Emma Donoghue, The Martian by Andy Weir, and Me Before You by Jojo Mayes.
Presentation Flexibility with Prezi
Then I move into the book covers and the book trailers. Through YouTube, I can access so many excellent book trailers by publishers, librarians, and students. Next I can zoom into book covers in order to give very short “pitches” rather than book talks, which take too long for orientation. I try to highlight new books, popular books from last year, and books from every genre and reading level, depending on which class is in my audience. Because Prezi is so flexible, I can go over to the 8th grade or 6th grade book sections and also highlight books by recent authors who have visited our school. I have multiple copies of books by visiting authors, but I still end up with long hold lists. If a class has just checked out all my copies of a certain book, I can customize the presentation by zooming in on other books for the next class. English teachers ask the students to make a list of books they might be interested in throughout the year, and this helps some with the waiting. Student aides deliver holds to students in their classrooms, adding enthusiasm and personal service.
I also highlight our Overdrive collection of ebooks and digital audiobooks, and I end up buying multiple copies, both electronic and paper, of our most sought after books. Again, having a viable library budget is crucial to our school’s success. I even have a Prezi section for YouTube authors, trying to adapt to my students’ latest interests and requests. I study and review the names of authors, characters, and book pitches, but it’s worth it because library orientation is my extravaganza. In order to stay sane, I book only one grade level of students per week, usually starting with 8th graders. I tell 8th graders that they are my reader leaders: if they read, the younger students will look up to and emulate them. When getting ready to start your new school year, keep in mind that for orientation, the librarian is the entertainer. Put on a great show!
Author: Sara Stevenson
I’m a reader, writer, swimmer, and a public middle school librarian. I love all things Italian. I was honored to be Austin ISD’s first librarian of the year in 2013.