Wednesday, March 13, 2013

School Literacy Nights: The Public Library's Role

Two things happened recently: Marge at Tiny Tips for Library Fun wrote a fantastic series on school/public library partnerships, and I was asked if my library would staff a table at a local elementary school's Title I night.

Perhaps I should clarify. My branch library has longstanding relationships with several of our local schools; we make regular appearances at the beginning of the school year on back-to-school nights, during the winter at literacy events, and before school gets out in May for summer reading rallies. We definitely have an existing partnership with our school district, at least on a basic level. Basically: they ask us to attend an event, and we do.

Marge's posts got me thinking about these events a bit more deeply, though. Why was I/the library attending? What did I/the library hope to accomplish by having a presence at the event? Those were the questions I asked myself as I set up my library table (note my I Spy Board--completely Abby the Librarian's idea--it adds color and interest to the table and gets kids to stop instead of just walking past). Here are a couple of the answers I came up with:

I have a presence in local schools in order to...
  • share library homework resources with current library cardholders who don't know they can access them from home
  • explain how to get a library card for non-cardholders
  • inform families new to the area about the library district
  • engage kids in conversations about reading
  • give some examples of the variety of great books available for kids
  • demonstrate that reading isn't just an in-school activity
  • promote library programs and resources

Feeling pretty happy with that least of motivations and intentions, I settled into my "library booth" personality for the evening.

But then.

The event was 90 minutes long, but I only really saw students and their families for around 40 minutes in the middle of that block of time. During the event, I primarily saw and talked to teachers, the school librarian, and the principal. And yet I had forgotten to include them when considering why I was at the event in the first place.

A lightbulb went off in my head during the last half hour of the event. That's when I started engaging teachers and the principal in conversations about what books their students were reading. A fourth-grade teacher mentioned sharing The One and Only Ivan with his class in January, and we got to talking about the Newbery Award and what previous winners he has shared with his students. I chatted with the principal about his goals for reading across the student body. These conversations got the wheels spinning in my head regarding how I might partner with specific teachers, classrooms, and schools.

Now I've got plans for how to pursue more meaningful partnerships with interested area schools, from getting kids more involved in the lead-up to summer reading to visiting classrooms to talk about the history of the Newbery Award, which committee members are encouraged to do. I've got ideas about working with principals to create school-wide--perhaps even district-wide--reading initiatives that don't place all of the burden of providing resources on school libraries and school budgets.

I am, in short, excited about the prospect of partnering more meaningfully with local schools. Sure, I'll still show up when they request a library presence at a school event. But in the future, I hope our work together will be so much more than that.


  1. Thank you for the shout-out..but really, that's nothing compared to your thoughtful post on problem solving/evolving your partnership work with schools. As always you teach me something new. What a great day (oh, personal philosophy: if I don't learn something new everyday, why bother getting up)!

    1. Thanks, Marge. I beg to disagree, though; I've been ruminating on your thoughtful partnership posts for weeks, and they were totally an impetus to my thinking. You very much inspired me to look more deeply at library services I had inherited from people who had my job before me.

  2. Amy,
    I'm amazed by the wonderful information you share. Any tips for translating this to a middle school event? I'm hoping to get my foot in the door at my local middle school, and would like a table that really pops. Thanks in advance.
    Melisa, NC

    1. In terms of providing a library information table, I've found that displaying great books is a surefire way to grab attention at middle schools. Some combination of state award nominees--which they know about because they have to read some--popular titles they'll recognize, and exciting-looking titles can be a huge draw.

      For making connections with teachers and principals, I like to be able to chat readalikes they may not be aware of; new titles that perhaps haven't made it on their radar yet but that would translate well to assignments kids come into the library with; and opportunities for me to visit them, or vice versa.


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