“Complex Library News”
I previously wrote about my efforts to reestablish a library presence for my middle school’s students, starting with a website. Once I had a digital presence put together, the next step was to let folks know about it, as well as the other resources soon to be available through the school library.
The obvious answer: Create a newsletter!
Fortunately, there are so many great school library newsletters out there to learn from! I mixed and matched elements to create a format that would “show off” various aspects of the school library and its resources.
Before going any further, I want to dispel any notion that there was a carefully executed step-by-step plan in place as I re-built the middle school library. To paraphrase von Moltke, my dozen-pages of plan did not survive contact with reality.
As we all know, there are so many elements that make a school library operate effectively. My entire process so far has largely consisted of a juggling act, trying to give a little bit of attention to everything. I want the students and staff to have access now. As I finish each little project, I push it out into the world, bolstering the impression that the school library is ready and raring to go!
“It’s not that complex…”
The middle school and high school in my district each have their own space and character, even though they share a building known as the Complex. The closure and re-purposing of my middle school library space was predicated on the idea that both schools could “share” the high school library space.
So from the start, I wanted the newsletter to include information relevant to both populations. The first name I came up with, “Complex Library News”, was supposed to be a place-holder, but I liked the joke I threw in the masthead – “It’s not that complex – it’s a library newsletter!” (Yes, I am a doofus.)
“It’s a library newsletter!”
With a title and a general sense of purpose, I started crafting sections. I wanted the newsletter to be relatively short, but still informative. It had to grab interest and engage the audience. Readers should think, “Fun! Interesting! Useful!” (preferably in that order). And I knew it had to be a regular, recurring presence in their lives.
After a few false starts, it coalesced rather quickly. I set up a Canva for Education account and used one of their templates to get started. 3 pages, with about 3 big items on each page. Each week, some new content, grouped into a few main categories. Et voila!
While I make modifications as necessary from week to week, following are my main sections, with some examples.
Newsletter Page 1 – Attention-Grabbers
I start each week with some attention-grabbers. Plenty of visuals, minimal text, clickable links.
“What’s Happening This Week”
I use this as the fun, weird first thing readers see to pull them in. I post some of the “holidays” of the week – the weirder, the better. National Puppy Day (3/23)? Got it! Edible Book Day (4/1)? Of course! I also include educational days, like Richter Scale Day (4/26) and National Melanoma Monday (5/2).
I try to include links to further information (3/25: Nat’l Medal of Honor Day), related fun videos (4/11: National Barbershop Quartet Day), or instructions – like a recipe for National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day (4/12).
Highlighting the latest and greatest keeps folks interested and encourages visits to the school library. I obviously showcase new books here. But I also highlight spaces within the school library, like the “Creativity Space” and the “Coloring Area” it contains. I also feature materials like the puzzles and games we’ve added.
“Did You Know…?”
So far, this space has housed technology tips, information about the school library space and the collection, and reminders about online resources. It’s a quick little shot of information they didn’t know they needed, but can’t live without!
And it’s so open to possibilities! Trivia! Scholastic information! Reminders about services! The possibilities are endless!
Newsletter Page 2 – “What’cha Readin’?”
School libraries must strongly support independent reading for all learners and help promote a culture of reading. To that end, the second page of each week’s newsletter focuses on books.
- Library Book ‘O the Week – I highlight a particular book from our physical collection. It’s usually one I’ve recently read that I think others would also enjoy.
- Staff Pick – A book a staff member enjoyed. It doesn’t have to be fiction or particularly for a middle or high school audience, or even in our collection. I just want students to see that teachers read in their spare time. I include the teacher’s name and subject area. And I try to avoid using the ELA teachers – let the kids see reading is not “just an English thing”!
- Student Pick – A book a student enjoyed. I include their first name and grade level to make them “famous” for the week. It doesn’t have to be in our collection. I want students seeing that their peers are reading. And if others express interest in a title, I can add it to a future order!
For each book, I post a cover image, title, author, and short summary.
There are also links for online readers advisory, and for requesting books for the collection.
Newsletter Page 3 – Contests, Polls, & Reminders
The last page offers fun prizes and interactions –
- “Best Estimate Contest” – I shamelessly stole the idea of doing a “Best Estimate” contest from Deb Zeeman. Each week, I put some candy in a container, take a picture, and add it to the newsletter. Whoever guesses closest to the right number wins all the candy! (When the middle schoolers can access the physical space easily, this will be in-person only to encourage more visits!)
- “Would You Rather…?” – Folks enjoy sharing their opinions on whether they would prefer to spend a week in the forest (60%) or a night in a real haunted house (40%). There’s a link to a Google Form I update each week, and Forms does all the math for me!
- “Don’t Forget!” – This is another catch-all. Lately I’ve used it to highlight our e-book and audiobook collection, which has been woefully underused. I will also focus on AudioFile’s Sync Free Audiobooks for Teens giveaway program.
The Newsletter In Action
So far, I’ve found two problems with the newsletter. First, I haven’t (yet) built a pool of students and staff to share titles – I’m hunting down folks on publication days. I believe this will get better over time. I plan to dedicate some time to individually soliciting a list of suggestions so I’ll have some go-to options ready for future publications.
The other problem: I keep coming up with more “stuff” I want to add!
Keeping things short, specific, and focused needs to be a priority. But how does one resist including, for example, a poem section during Poetry Month? It’s a game of trade-offs. But varying inclusions and design a bit helps keep the audience hooked!
Learning As I Go
One benefit of using Canva I’ve found is that it provides statistics on visits to each newsletter. I can see which weeks have higher numbers and adjust upcoming content to encourage greater future engagement.
What newsletter “tricks” have you found successful? I’d love to learn from you 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!