This spring was uncharted territory for everyone. Everything we thought we knew about how to do our complex and multifaceted jobs as educators was called into question. But this isn’t new for us school librarians. Innovation and iteration, thinking critically and creatively, imagining new possibilities, and responding to our learning communities’ needs is what we do. After the initial flurry and panic and sleepless nights, mostly focused on assisting my colleagues with technology to support their transition to remote learning, I had time to reflect on what I love about this work and what is at the heart of the work for me.
What is the library really?
Yes, the “library” is a physical space in my school and as its steward, I love it, in every way, every single day. It’s never the same place twice. I love the way we are constantly iterating and inventing in the library: trying out new approaches to managing the crowds, dreaming up new displays, trying new programs (“Silent Book Club” was not a hit, but we gave it a go), new arrangements of our furniture, finding new ways to spark engagement with our space (this year, our sticker mosaic was very popular!), and always, always listening to our users and their excellent ideas for their library.
Like all educators in the pandemic, I was questioning how I could translate what I do into a “remote” situation. I turned to my professional community of school librarians and other educators for ideas. I read every KQ post and tried to follow as many threads on Facebook school librarian groups and library Instagram posts as I could. As always, this community of innovators does not disappoint! I saw great ideas out there and tried them. I loved that the PEA Library was posting a round-up of read-alouds and author events each week and borrowed that idea. We posted a Padlet for our students to contribute their 6-word memoirs and stories to celebrate poetry month in April. We also had a couple of guest poets read their original works for our social media pages (local poet Dave Morrison, Camden Hills Alumna Gretta Buckley, and Camden Hills Class of 2020 Kate Kemper).
Towards the end of the school year, I saw a thread unfold on Facebook about how to create virtual browsing options for summer reading (or beyond). Without the ability to peruse the shelves, how would students and teachers browse for their stacks of summer books? In collaboration with library assistant, Beth Chamberlin, we developed Destiny Collections (a feature of Destiny Discover) to respond to this need. We curated lists of titles, organized by genre, that we would recommend if we were in-person and face to face with a reader, or those titles and authors we know to be popular with our community of readers. Destiny Collections have the advantage of being visual and easy to scroll and browse through. Also, the log-in process is more intuitive for our students, and placing holds is also a cinch. This year, for the first time, we will fill book requests by e-mail or direct messages throughout the summer.
What is my job, really?
I’m a connector and relationships are at the core of what I do. It’s a million tiny conversations. It’s connecting the right reader to the right book, it’s finding resources and sharing them, it’s knowing my community and finding ways to serve them. It’s collaborations with teachers, administrators, and counselors. It’s teaching teachers, as I support them with their technology needs.
The physical library is also a social hub. If there was any doubt before COVID-19 that the point of high school, for most students, is the social scene, that doubt has been put to rest! One of the functions of our “remote” library was offering virtual lunchtimes for groups of students via Zoom. We are also a social hub for teachers who pop in to say hello and visit with us at the desk — before school or during a prep period — to chat about school stuff or personal stuff. In response to this need for building community, we hosted Friday morning staff drop-ins via Zoom. These were the typical mix of personal and professional conversations that we might have in the physical library, with coffee or tea, but now sometimes with pets and kids making appearances! We also hosted a series of Zoom morning drop-ins for staff that were themed around personal interests, including arts, outdoors, cooking, exercise, and more.
Right now let’s take a deep and collective breath! We did it, and we made it here to this moment. We may not know what our districts or states are planning for the fall yet. We may not know what our physical library or our library programming will look like. The questions, uncertainty, and anxiety can feel staggering. My brain sometimes boots up at 2:30 a.m. with solutions to problems, ideas, e-mails to write, and more and more questions. This summer is the time to put our oxygen masks on, to power-down our school brains so we are ready and recharged for the fall of 2020, whatever it may turn out to be. Since “summer isn’t cancelled” I’m taking the advice of author Ingrid Fettell Lee, who encourages us to “find joy in an unconventional summer.”
What’s next for me?
- Time with my family, including our new COVID-puppy, Maude!
- Hikes and excursions in our beautiful Maine Midcoast (showing the puppy all the sights!)
- Reading–currently The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett; up next The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
- Learning–I signed up for a summer institute with Heinemann with Sonja Cherry-Paul and Tricia Ebarvia: “Virtual Institute for Racial Equity in Literacy – Interrogating Internalized Racism in Ourselves and in Our Practice.”
What’s next for you? How will you fill your cup this summer?
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).