Raising My School Library’s Profile
During a renovation a couple years back, my middle school’s library closed, and it never reopened. Students and teachers were told they could access the high school library, which is literally on the opposite end of a pretty large campus. Between the physical distance and the pandemic, the middle school has effectively been without access to a library space, or a librarian since 2020.
Fortunately, the Supervisor of Libraries in the district realized that the high school librarian had more than enough on his plate working with the high school students and staff. She has given me the chance to “co-librarian” in the high school library space. The goal is to make the space and collection more accessible to the middle school. In essence, I’m (re)building a middle school library.
For the past two months, I’ve been assessing and shuffling and moving behind the scenes. With School Library Month coming up, I’m eager to get the middle school students and staff engaged with library services again!
(Re)Building The Website
When the previous school librarian retired, the site he was maintaining for the school library also was retired. So for one of my first tasks in re-introducing the middle school to the library, I created a new website.
I’ll admit, I’m having trouble keeping it succinct – there are SO MANY things I want to add!
But for now, I’ve got a few main areas. the following are the ones I’m most excited to share. The first few are pretty standard fare, but the last one is a bit of a twist on what a school library (and its website) can be.
One of my primary goals for the school library is to help students enjoy reading. So the first subsection of the site, and the first area on the front page after the welcome, is the “Books & Reading” area.
On the “Books & Reading” landing page, visitors first see “Help for finding your next read”. I created a digital Readers Advisory section with a Google Form, for those who want some personally-tailored titles. There’s also a link to Novelist K-8 they can use, courtesy of the New Jersey State Library, whose JerseyClicks program offers free access to a whole host of databases and resources for free to NJ residents.
Next are links to help them “Get a Book” – either physical or digital, either from our school library catalog or the public library’s system.
I also plan to add some maps of both the school complex library and the local branch of the public library. I hope providing students a way to preview the space will help them feel comfortable during visits.
I’ve been teaching an information literacy class for the past several years that all seventh graders take. When I set up the website, of course there had to be a “Research” section! I focused on the key research items we covered.
The very first thing they see is a reminder to use good media and information literacy practices, which links to a separate section of the site.
Then there are five key “Research Reminders” drawn right from my previous lessons.
- “Planning and Visualizing” reminds them that spending a few minutes thinking about what they are looking for and where they might want to look can help them find better information and do it faster than just diving into an open-web search.
- “Search Tips” provides some of my favorite “tricks” for refining Google results.
- “Cite Your Sources” reminds them to give credit, and how to use the free online MyBib service to do so easily.
- “Reliability & SIFT” should get them thinking about what they’re looking at, and what to avoid as they research.
- “Databases” refreshes their memory about how to access some tools that often offer better results than open web searches.
There are also “Resources” that include links for a few reliable “Current Events” sources (I’m a particular fan of “The DONUT“) and “Copyright & Related Terms” for the curious. The page ends with a Google “Tricks” infographic that illustrates some search tips, and links to Google Trends and Google Ngram Viewer.
Armed with these resources, students should be able to find solid information, no matter what their inquiry!
I started this section off with a quick reminder to SIFT information. There’s also a cartoon from Kris Straub (aka Chainsaw Suit) that reminds visitors to not fall victim to confirmation bias.
“Additional Resources” provide links to three great information literacy tools.
- Checkology from the News Literacy Project provides free lessons on improving student media literacy.
- AllSides Media Bias Ratings & Current Events lets visitors see the biases of various sources of news. It also provides side-by-side headlines from various sources to illustrate how the same story can be presented in different ways.
- Civic Online Reasoning (COR) is Stanford University’s site for improving media literacy. They offer free lessons and assessments, short videos for students, and lots of research about how to best prepare students to be strong consumers of information.
All of the above are pretty standard fare for a school library website. But then I did something a little different.
On the home page of the school library site is a link to a “Calming Space” in Wakelet. I caught a very interesting workshop on the concept during CASL’s online conference. Amy Storer and Dyann Wilson shared their online space where students could relax and reset their brains.
After 23 years in the classroom, I know very well how easily distracted middle school students can be. And having digital devices in front of them all day has only increased their distractibility. But some of the disciplinary issues we’ve been seeing spike over the last year are tied to the stresses students have had compounded since the pandemic hit.
I tried to be thoughtful about what would help sooth minds and encourage mindfulness without being an attention-guzzling distraction.
Soothing the Savage Middle-Schooler
- “Affirmations”: I found two automated affirmation generators. Clicking on them pops up a new page with a random affirmation. The second one even allows users to select their preferred pronouns and a font!
- “Soothing Sounds & Videos”: Each of these links to a YouTube video of peaceful outdoors imagery. The images are accompanied either by nature sounds or calming music. These are great for passively soothing oneself.
- “Art”: For those kids who need something to do, clicking on these open some very simple, gentle art-making sites. Each basically works based on mouse movements and clicks to create different types of artistic imagery.
- “Mindfulness & Yoga”: During the pandemic, some of our students found practicing these skills to be very centering. I posted links to some videos to help guide them through some stretching or mindfulness exercises.
- “Virtual Tours”: I go back and forth on this one. The virtual field trips that are included in this section are really interesting and engaging and educational – all good things. But those are not qualities that necessarily go with “soothing” and “calming”. For now, it stays.
The entire section was praised by several faculty members, our guidance counselors, and even the assistant superintendent, who has been supporting SEL initiatives across the district.
I haven’t specifically pointed this section of the site out to students yet. I hope to feature it in the near future in my new Newsletter, and solicit student feedback.
Patience is a Virtue
The website has been one part of my efforts to rebuild and rebrand the middle school library. I hope to re-engage the faculty and students with offerings both analog and digital.
My biggest challenge so far has been dealing with my own expectations. I can see it all in my head as it will be when it’s done, and I want it done NOW! But as several school librarian friends pointed out, what I’m looking at is a process of years, not weeks.
In the meantime, I’m enjoying working on all sorts of projects, creating all sorts of plans, and preparing all sorts of lessons and activities!
As with many of the projects I’m working on, the website will remain a work in progress. What’s something that’s served your staff or students well on your school library’s website? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
Author: Steve Tetreault
After 24 years as a classroom English Language Arts teacher, Steve became a school librarian in January 2022. He has earned an M.Ed. (2006) and an Ed.D. (2014) in Educational Administration and Supervision, and completed an M.I. degree in Library and Information Science (2019). He is certified as a teacher, school library media specialist, supervisor, and administrator. He is an old dog constantly learning new tricks!