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Build a Bridge to the Library this Year

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As a kid, I came home weekly from the library with shopping bags full of The Saddle Club, Animal Hospital, and The Babysitter’s Club. As I graduated up into Laura Ingalls Wilder, L.M. Montgomery, and J.R.R. Tolkien, the library was there for me. I visited my school library, my neighborhood library, my city library, and even the local University Library. When I moved to Europe two years ago, one of my first moves was to join the library in Bratislava and go wandering through the collection.

Over the years, I’ve heard from many librarians and teachers about the power of collaboration between them. In episode 66, my friend Alexandra Patterson, head librarian at her school, shared wonderful title ideas for creating a curriculum and classroom library featuring new and diverse titles. In episode 120, we heard about the amazing digital literary food truck festival coordinated by dynamo Amy Marquez, the librarian at Collegiate High School. A few weeks ago Caitlin Lore shared about how her librarian helped her order sets of 10 contemporary novels-in-verse for her book clubs, so she could feature relevant, exciting titles for her students without spending any money.

Librarians can help classroom teachers in sooooo many ways, and classroom teachers can return the favor by reminding kids they can always go further than the classroom library to the larger collection at the school or local library, and tap into their librarian’s intricate knowledge of the collection to find even more books to love. Forming a bridge between the work you do in class and the life of your school or local library will help kids be tapped into book sources and experts beyond the time they spend in your classroom.

So today I want to dedicate a full episode to talking about the power of this collaboration. And if you’re thinking sadly that your school doesn’t have a librarian, or that your school librarian is frantically trying to serve the needs of thousands of kids with a tiny budget and no staff, then remember that many community librarians would love to get your call and help you bring more books into your students’ lives.

You can listen in to this episode below, click here to tune in on any podcast player, or read on for the full post.

A few weeks ago I ran a short episode about classroom libraries, maybe you heard it? I talked about the power of having books right in your room, and being able to help your students find their next right book because you are there with them on the daily, seeing what is working and what isn’t. I truly believe in the power of classroom libraries!

But in that quick episode, I didn’t have a chance to do justice to the power of school and community libraries. I realized belatedly that folks listening might think I didn’t trust school librarians to help kids find books, and nothing could be further from the truth. In case there was ever any doubt, I think libraries and librarians are an incredible resource for you, for your kids, for your whole community! Librarians have a wealth of book knowledge and access, and of course, a love for books.

So let’s dive into some of the ways that you might collaborate with your school librarian.

#1 Work together on Collections for your Classroom

If you heard my quick episode earlier this year on classroom libraries, you know that I started my choice reading program with the help of a wonderful school librarian, then continued it in another country with the help of another. You can approach your school librarian if you want to walk this same path, and ask if they can help you curate a mini-collection of books that you feel excited to book talk and share with your students. The kids can check them out directly from you, but you don’t have to spend the money to purchase your own collection. This can be an ideal route to getting started with choice reading in class.

#2 Talk to your Librarian about the Tools they use to Select and Review Books

Creative school librarian Kimberly Johnson and I talked about this recently. Here’s what she suggested: “Talk to your school librarian about professional tools they use to select and review books. Increasingly, both school and classroom libraries are under attack from those who wish to censor. Having professional reviews on hand can be helpful if the teacher receives parent calls or emails about the books in their classroom library.”

If you’re in a community where books are getting questioned or banned, your librarian may be able to help support you in your work to keep diverse books on your shelves.

#3 Get Student Connected to Electronic Collections

Last week we talked about building your digital bookshelves and getting your students connected to E- and Audio books. This is a big one.

Your school librarian may already have spent years building and organizing the digital collections at your school, and if so, they can help you understand what’s available! If this isn’t a service your school can afford right now, your local library is a great option too.

#4 Run a Special Project Together

What might your department and your librarian work on together? Book review posters? A Bookface photo contest? Individual classes creating book recommendation bulletin boards or displays for the library each month? Bookstack poetry days? “Seniors recommend…” bookmarks for the library desk? Reading contests? Special seasonal displays that extend into the classrooms? Literary food truck festivals?

Check out the beautiful literary food truck festival pictures below that came from a collaboration between librarian Amy Marquez and teachers Miss Medrano and Miss Vaerla, at Collegiate High School in Texas. Their work together is so inspiring!

#5 Develop a Collaborative Book PR Program

If you want to incorporate more First Chapter Fridays and Book Trailer Tuesdays into your world, maybe you and your librarian might be able to curate a collection with these tools together that folks could use across the school. You could ask for suggestions and links from other teachers and build up a resource that could be used for years in your community.

Maybe your librarian would be interested in coordinating some guest readers or even guest author appearances (virtual or in person) related to this program.

Or maybe your librarian would like to visit your classroom sometimes to read a first chapter or give a book talk on one of their favorite recommendations.

You’ll never know, unless you reach out! And your librarian may have some wonderful ideas for how you can help point students toward the PR work that is already being done in the library space, helping to reinforce the reading culture you’re developing in class.

#6 Collaborate on Book Club Texts

This one comes straight from our episode with creative teacher Caitlin Lore, who worked with her librarian to order ten copies of each of her novel-in-verse book club selections from libraries across the area. This way she could run her book clubs with a $0 budget – amazing! Maybe you could do the same, with your librarian’s help.

Collaboration is a Two-Way Street

In the end, developing a strong relationship between the library -whether school or public- and the English department at your school can only benefit everyone. Know that your librarian is undoubtedly already a busy person and approach them with a genuine desire to build a two-way collaboration. Hopefully they can help you build a stronger reading culture in your classroom, and you can help reinforce the good work they are already doing in your community and help students to see the larger reading culture at your school or in your city so they will have access to it after they graduate out of your class.

In my dream world – and I know in yours too, every student would have a diverse classroom library to access on the daily, a school library they love and visit often, and a community library where they have a card and a relationship with the librarian. Collaboration with the librarians in your sphere can help make that dream come true for more kids.

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