Zombies in the library? Collection organization without Dewey? A pacifier tree? These things may not seem connected to library programming, especially not academic library programming but more often than not, creative programming draws crowds of users into library spaces. Even though most public and school libraries work independently from one another, this article is an exploration of public libraries from a teacher-librarian perspective. Public and academic libraries have many things in common and recommendations are made in light of research into the mandate and practice of public libraries for school libraries still in the process of shifting into the 21st century. Collaboration, community outreach, and creative programming are all explored in the context of benefiting school library programs.
April Hilland had the privilege of serving as the District Teacher Librarian for Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows school district as well as an elementary school librarian. She is currently on leave from her district and lives in Fort St. James, BC where she is working with the Fort St. James Public Library as a library trustee and consultant. She has also been working with Parks Canada as a Product Development Officer producing quality educational programs for their National Historic Site. April Hilland sits on the BCTLA Executive as the editor of the BCTLA Bookmark online publication and recently completed her MEd (teacher-librarian specialty) through the University of Alberta. This article is an edited excerpt from, and a product of the professional development she has done to become more connected to the public library system in her efforts to connect the two institutions.
Beyond our walls: What teacher-librarians can learn from public libraries.
By April Hilland, BEd, MEd.
“Hang up your “shhh,” stop fussing over the coffee cups, welcome students in with wide open arms along with their mess and Facebook. Give them new tools so that they can find, evaluate, and create. Teach them how be ethical and productive citizens. Teach them how to communicate responsibly and publish to the world. Creativity can be messy and loud. Get over it. Welcome to the learning commons” (Cicchetti, 2010, p.1).
Public and school libraries are tied together by much more than shared demographics. School libraries and public libraries both operate under the philosophy of supporting life-long learning and although they follow different mandates, they have more in common with one another than not. My purpose in this article is to show my peers in the education field what is happening on the other side of libraries and how much of it can be adapted to aid school libraries in the 21st century.
Libraries are not insular!
School libraries are not meant to be insular, isolated, or completely self-sufficient. John Donne wrote, “no man is an island”, which could also be applied to school libraries; however, I have seen such libraries, that exist isolated in their very own dimension, regardless of what the rest of the school or community is doing. Often, those libraries sit dark and empty relying on scheduled book exchanges to keep them running. Libraries by their very nature reach out to embrace the world in its entirety, not existing in their own parallel universe to the community whose youth it serves. All you have to do is look to your stacks to see the proof of diversity of needs and interests we serve. As teachers, we want our students to be participating members of society once they leave our school building, but why wait until then? We should be taking a holistic approach to preparing our students for “real life” rather than how to succeed in a sheltered microcosm. I would further argue that if we expect students to be active participants in society, we need to follow them out there and model the very behaviour we seek to foster!
Do not be afraid of partnerships
I’m not talking about big corporate partnerships that would require you to rename your school library after a fashionable sparkling water. I’m talking about partnering with public libraries, other school libraries, local special interest groups, theatre troupes, arts councils, media, local businesses and societies. Partnerships with any of these groups could be mutually beneficial by increasing usage, pooling resources, and of course the satisfaction of working with others who have a shared purpose.
Teacher-librarians working together
Recent experience in the public library sector has allowed me to witness public libraries working together. The cooperation, collaboration, and partnership between libraries is especially important for small rural libraries such as mine. With our avid fan base visiting our stacks three or four times per week, it is quickly brought to our attention when our collection cannot keep up with our patrons’ voracious appetites for reading: therefore, we rely on Inter-Library Loans and floating collections to meet our patron’s needs. As a rural library, we often find it difficult to lure authors and performers out to our little town for one or two shows, thus we collaborate with other small rural libraries in the region to coordinate special visits.
I was very fortunate to have spent the last five years working as a teacher-librarian in a district with a very motivated, passionate teacher-librarian constituency who meet monthly to plan an annual Book Fest as a district event; but I would like to strive to have that relationship serve as a foundation for additional opportunities. Here are some recommendations for teacher-librarian to teacher-librarian collaboration opportunities:
- roaming teacher-librarians! Switch libraries for a few blocks to take advantage of each other’s strengths and varying interests. Are you a book talk guru? Switch with the local IT genius and either swap classes or use release time to watch another professional in action.
- libraries in the same school district usually have access to the same resources. Why not a central portal to pool resources/units and link to one another’s catalogues?
- floating collections: draw up an agreement, have each library purchase a “special” collection and float the collections between multiple schools. You will always have a guaranteed “new and exciting” display for your students. This would be an especially great way to gauge interest in a particular genre with your school population.
- Interlibrary loan: yes, I know Teacher-Librarians don’t have time for this; however, maybe there is funding to support this type of initiative between two schools close by or two very small schools with limited budgets?
- support one another’s plunge into social media. I follow a colleague’s Facebook group and she follows mine. We often “borrow” one another’s status updates and links.
- create something FANTASTIC! The British Columbia Teacher Librarian Association created an InfoLit task force and created the BCTLA “Points of Inquiry”( http://bctf.ca/bctla/pub/index.html) model adapted from an article by Barbara Stripling.
- join a provincial specialist association, the Canadian Library Association, anything! Just get out there and connect with your peers!
Public Librarians and Teacher-Librarians UNITE
Public libraries see collaboration as increased access to potential patrons. In Colorado, Douglas County libraries have seven branches that work collaboratively with the local school district and its teacher-librarians. Guest speakers from the public library frequent the school library to provide information on public library programming; furthermore, the public library also screens and trains age 55+ citizens to serve as storytellers in the schools in their Spellbinders program. The school district and Douglas County Libraries agreement to share the cost of a database subscription increasing the usage of the shared resources by 800% (Vincelette & Queen, 2012). Between the two groups of professionals, the Library-Palooza mini conference was born offering joint professional development opportunities for public librarians and teacher-librarians.
Additional recommended opportunities for partnerships and collaboration:
- cooperation between device loaning and joint material loaning
- shared reading celebrations
- shared book talks
- collaboration on joint information portal (think one-stop-shop for public and school library online resources for staff and students)
- cross-promotion of programming
- class field trips for public library tours and programs
- collaboration on summer reading lists corresponding to public library programming
- school/public library liaison to facilitate and plan collaborative projects
- sharing of educational tools such as the British Columbia’s Teacher Librarian’s Association Points of Inquiry for public library to use and support
- cooperation in public library homework help centre
- floating collection of special interest books
- connecting library search engines to include public library catalogue
- assignment/topic “alerts” from schools sent to public libraries
- shared pathfinders (http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/968) for topics
- partnership for work experience students
Partnerships with the Arts and Heritage Communities
I’m a networker by nature but the more time I spend in the public library system, the more potential I see for networking as a teacher-librarian. Working as a full-time teacher, I networked with fellow teacher-librarians, educators, administrators and had quite an extensive network I could call upon to collaborate on projects. However, I see how truly limited I was when I kept my networking with the arts and heritage communities in my own personal life and left it out of my professional life. Being in a small town, you get to know everyone and a friend may very well turn out to be the chair on the local Arts council or director of programming for the historic site. This makes networking very easy to do and coordinate but does it have to be any harder in a larger town? No. In fact, the more networking and collaborating you do, you’ll find your own city seeming smaller and more intricately linked than ever before. Here are some opportunities and ideas for working with your local Arts council or heritage site:
- floating displays or resources from galleries (http://www.lib.uwaterloo.ca/newsatlib/080417/davis.html), museums (http://scclibnews.blogspot.ca/), and historic sites
- joint projects with explicit curricular connections
- cross-promotion of resources and programming
- artist in residence who splits their time between schools and public venues
- joint committees for recommending resources for the library
- tours, programs, and field trips
- cooperation to provide outreach to rural schools or to children with barriers to access community resources
The Kingston Frontenac Public library in Kingston, Ontario, in partnership with the local museum, art gallery, and hockey hall of fame, offers patrons the opportunity to “check out” a museum pass which allows a family of four to gain admission to all of these attractions, free of charge while they have the pass on their account.
Another example I would like to highlight comes from Kathleen de la Pena McCook, a teacher-librarian and high school film instructor at Durango High School in Colorado who has struck out into the community seeking partnerships and community involvement in the film course run out of the school library. Not only are community members invited and welcome at class meetings but the students and instructor submit film reviews to the local papers for publication. McCook states that the inclusion of community members in high school programs fosters “quality interaction between the community and youth during non-traditional learning times” and allows for learning to take place within diverse age groups (Lutz, 2001, p. 23).
Let’s be real here. There is a large discrepancy between the staffing in public libraries and the staffing in school libraries. While shrinking budgets have been universal among libraries, it is only the school libraries that are operating without trained librarians across Canada. Even in rural public libraries, where I am currently working, there is a trained librarian staffed full-time. In school libraries, it is rare to find a school library open full time and even rarer to have that library staffed with a teacher with specialized library training. If school libraries want to keep relevant in the 21st century they must be staffed with professionals comfortable with managing a rapidly changing “transformation of data” and “knowledge management” (Tam, 2002, p. 369). Set the standards high for your school library with the expectation of a trained professional or a professional willing to pursue training to ensure he or she can meet your high expectations for excellence in the library.
Resource management and organization
My last year in an elementary school was a busy one. I was running two libraries, one elementary and the district resource centre, and teaching Fine Arts. Most of my year was spent amalgamating another school’s resources into my own library but as the 60+ boxes of resources dwindled, I allowed myself to play with the idea of revamping and organizing our collection. As I was running two libraries simultaneously, I did not have time to strip away the Dewey Decimal system, but I had fun playing around with a hybrid model. My goal was to create inquiry stations within the stacks beginning with the small step of themed-bins structured around units taught by my colleagues. A fellow teacher worked with me to create QR codes for staff and students linking additional digital resources to that bin. While many public libraries are using the Book Industry Standards and Communications which are used by many bookstores, some school libraries have answered the call for a more user-friendly, patron oriented library and have created an innovative system of categorizing books, named Metis (http://metisinnovations.com/), for easy and intuitive browsing. Some additional recommendations for resource management and organization are as follows:
- If you are hesitant to ditch Dewey, whet your appetite for innovation with theme bins working within the Dewey Decimal classification system.
- Take a professional development day to visit public libraries and bookstores which have alternative classification systems: see how it feels and talk to patrons
- Intrigued but nervous? Try a small section in the teachers’ resources or in your fiction section.
- Public libraries reached out to their patrons before making changes to their library. Reach out to yours. What do your students and staff like about how your materials are organized and what are their concerns? Remember, change will only be received well if you get your staff and students onside with you!
Creative and fun programming does not have to diverge from the curriculum and can be incorporated into inquiry projects. Here are a few examples of inspiring programming I have found in public libraries and how I think they could be adapted for school libraries:
- public libraries have responded to the zombie apocalypse phenomenon: zombie proms and apocalypse survival workshops are in full swing. What about connecting with your classroom teachers for an inquiry project on how to survive a zombie apocalypse? Combine orienteering/mapping/physical education (zombie run anyone?) with studying local plant life for surviving an apocalypse? Think of the creative writing opportunities as well!
- reader’s advisory takes on new meaning when you introduce “blind dates” with books. With only a brief description, written like an online dating advertisement, patrons choose a book without judging it by its cover. I see this as a great way to revitalize students’ interests in the books whose jackets are out of date. Challenge students to create their own “blind date” book to share with friends. One innovative teacher-librarian even had a “speed dating” session between her students and books!
- Banned Books week isn’t only for the brave and fearless public librarians. I know many teacher-librarians just as brave who fiercely support the reading of banned books. More often than not, I see displays in secondary libraries so why not in elementary schools? Children of all ages learn can about intellectual freedom while tying in to learning outcomes in the curriculum.
- In our public library we have book clubs run by volunteers. I understand first-hand how busy a teacher librarian’s schedule is and we just don’t have the time to do everything. So reach out and invite passionate community members in to offer additional programming when you have other projects on the go.
- Public libraries frequently bring special guest speakers and performances in to highlight themes and serve patron interests. As the teacher-librarian, ensure your library is the hub of activity in your school. Make sure the presentations your staff are requesting are booked into your library!
- When the public library I grew up loving was moved and rebuilt, the designers were obviously forward thinkers. A quiet study room was built while café-like seating and tables were set up to encourage group meetings and collaboration. How does your space reflect the programs you want to have in place? Rethink your library space and how it contributes to programming. Libraries are vibrant, thriving hubs of school and public communities. Configure your space to match the usage you want to see.
All too often libraries, both school and public, are associated with only one of the media forms we work with: books. As books become less utilized over time, there is a misconception that professionals who work with them also become less important. This misconception is integral for us to understand as we move forward in our roles as teacher-librarians because it affects our profession profoundly (Thorlakson, 2012). Public and school libraries have different mandates but the similarities within those goals make the two institutions interconnected. Campbell (2002) said, “allowing school libraries to be dismantled has a downstream impact on public and post-secondary libraries and provides ammunition to those who believe libraries are no longer necessary in our society” (p. 258). The interconnectedness referred to in the above statement, I would argue, shows both types of libraries can thrive in the 21st century by making creativity and innovation a priority and by learning from one another. Working in partnerships and reaching out to the community will identify gaps in service and all stakeholders can work towards meeting all of the needs of the community by working together to fill those service gaps instead of replicating services. As I currently find myself with one foot in each side of this profession, I have seen the similarities and differences between the two types of libraries and see how moving forward by connecting and learning from one another is a sure fire way for both institutions to survive and thrive.
I understand it is difficult being part of a community which is always under threat from dwindling budgets and your time is limited and valuable; but, looking to outside sources of inspiration, cooperation, collaboration and even funding will create a library program which thrives in this new landscape. Don’t count on your captive audience for primary story time or intermediate research projects. Be patron-centric, innovative, creative, daring, caring, bold, and LOUD!