How does a middle school librarian responsible for many critical tasks still find time to offer valuable library programming to students?
As a middle school librarian, I am responsible for many tasks: managing a small library, teaching information skills, promoting reading, and collaborating on instruction with classroom teachers. One duty that does not seem required, though, is providing stimulating programming for students. Sure, my school appreciates when I moderate book clubs or host an author visit, but if I did not offer these events, I’m not sure anyone would complain. In speaking with my peers, I found there is often little programming expectations for school librarians. However, the climate for school libraries is rapidly changing as, across the country, school libraries are seeing their budgets slashed or their doors being closed permanently.
Though I work in an independent school that embraces its library, I did not think it would hurt to make a stronger case for the value of our library; therefore, I decided to host a wide variety of events throughout the year. From documentary film day to organic garden building, I wanted to go beyond the author visit and offer my students thought-provoking and interesting activities. Along the way I learned a few important lessons.
During the summer I made a long list of events I could possibly sponsor. I looked for inspiration in websites such as YALSA’s Young Adult Programming and books like RoseMary Honnold’s 101 Teen Programs that Work. I searched through Programming Librarian’s list of programs and exhibitions. I investigated youth programs in many public libraries. I also tried to pay attention to what topics were important in my community. Finally, I reviewed my school’s curriculum to see what subject areas would lend themselves to innovative programming; for instance, could I bring in someone from the local police’s crime scene unit to talk to our fifth graders during their forensics unit? Though some of my ideas seemed a little out of reach, I tried to stay optimistic about my possibilities.
Collaborate with Your Local Libraries
While searching the Programming Librarian site, one traveling exhibition stood out to me: “Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine.” An exhibit that reaches across multiple subject areas seemed perfect for my sixth-grade students. I would need to partner with local libraries to bring this exhibition to Durham. I called Megan von Isenburg at the Duke University Medical Library, who was very interested in project. She informed me that she knew a few history of medicine professors who would enjoy putting together programs for students based on the Harry Potter books; however, the physical library space at Duke was less than ideal. She then contacted Marian Fragola at the Durham Public Library, who was happy to join us. The public library would house the exhibit and the host speakers; Duke Medical Library would lend artifacts and help line up speakers; and I would assist by bringing in an audience. The collaboration was a huge success. Margaret Humphries, a parent at my school, offered a thrilling talk on medicine and science during the Renaissance. My students learned a lot, and, for many of them, it was the first time they had ever been to the main branch of our local library.
Collaborate with Your Teachers
One of the biggest projects that I hoped take on was teaching the students to build an organic vegetable garden outside the library. I was inspired by Alice Waters and Michelle Obama, but I had no idea how to make this happen. I turned to a seventh-grade science teacher at my school who instantly became enthusiastic about the task. Once we received permission from our principal to cultivate the school’s land, I found local experts who could provide us guidance. My science teacher formed a club of twenty-seven eager students who worked with the experts to design a garden plan. With the help of our maintenance crew, we held three grueling weekend workdays to build rain, herb, and vegetable gardens. We continued to meet during lunches and after school to water, weed, and add plants. The students came into the library throughout the spring to consult our garden books with every new plant we added. At the end of the year, our garden was thriving, and the students could not have been more pleased with what they had accomplished. Without the support of my science teacher, I could not have overseen such a huge undertaking. She helped manage the students and brought in needed funds from the science department.
There Is Always Next Year
I felt like I accomplished a lot this year. My library was busier than ever. Through the programming, I connected with more students and teachers than I had in the past. Though I don’t know if I gained any more job security, I felt more invigorated about my profession and learned so much. I did not complete half of the programs on my summer list, which is great because I know where to start next fall.