George Lucas Educational Foundation
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A friend recently got her Master's in Library Science and became the librarian at a middle school. She walked into a room that hadn't been modified since the previous librarian assumed her position some 35 years ago.

Adorning the shelves were dozens of trophies from the school's sports teams and random tchotchkes collecting dust. Her predecessor supposedly was a strict woman whom teachers loved (because she happily helped with menial tasks) and children feared.

My enthusiastic, out-going, book-loving friend is in the process of developing her vision of what this school library could be. She began redecorating, hoping to cover the walls in posters that will inspire students to read and make the space welcoming to 13-year-olds. She apparently already has something of a following -- kids cram into the small, poorly-ventilated space before school and during lunch, engaging her in conversation about their home and love lives and getting recommendations for books.

I'm hoping that some of you out there still have school libraries, and perhaps librarians within them, or maybe you just remember those days. I'd love to gather some ideas to pass on to my friend. Here are my questions:

1. What roles have librarians played that you most appreciated? What have they done -- with kids, in support of teachers, with the whole staff, with families -- that you found most enhanced a literacy program at your school?

2. What are the most ideal ways to physically arrange a library? What have they looked like that you and your students most appreciated? (Furniture, lighting, seating arrangements, computers, etc.)

3. What do you think are the most valuable digital or audio resources for a library? Audio books? Encyclopedias? What would you buy in addition to books?

4. What strategies have librarians and faculty used to get kids excited about the library and reading?

5. Finally, she needs recommendations for books. The kids are really into The Hunger Games series, but what can they read after that? In addition, many of the students are English Language Learners who read below grade level. Please suggest books that are accessible to their skill level but of interest to a 13- or 14-year-old.

I'm also curious how many libraries and librarians still exist out there. Please share any stories about your school's library (past or present) and any "best practices" you've seen. I know that my friend is eager and willing to implement just about anything that might spread a passion for books, so please share.

Thank you, Edutopians. Your ideas, suggestions and experiences are much appreciated!

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Susan Needham's picture

1. Growing up I never remember librarians being particularly memorable but because my Mother made sure we went to the public library a lot and read to me when I was little, I loved going to the library and checking out as many books as I was allowed. During summers, I fully participated in the public library reading program and enjoyed amassing an impressive list of books read.
2. Ebooks are very helpful since teachers can use them with their interactive boards. Playaways are great for students because students that might not read well can still enjoy more complicated books.
3. See 2 also subscribing to databases and on-line encyclopedias is helpful.
4. Working on relationships with children ranks as number 1 importance--finding out what they are interested in, doing quick book talks to pique interest in books, talking about the books he or she is reading will set the tone, having conversation with students. Having big programs occasionally are fun but the most important strategy is being a passionate reader.
5. Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan, The Underlander series by Suzanne Collins(Gregor the Overlander,etc., Cirque du Freak series by Darren Shan, Goose Girl series by Shannon Hale, Heather Brewer's series about vampires, Rick Riordan's series Percy Jackson, Kane Chronicles, the newest offerings about Percy Jackson--Lost Hero and Son of Neptune, Margaret Haddix Missing series and also her Shadow series, Ridley Pearson's series about Disneyland-Disney After Dark, etc. also the series with Dave Barry about Peter and the Starcatchers, the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson, the Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter, books by Mary Downing Hahn, books by R.L. LaFever, Franny K Stein by Jim Benton, BabyMouse by Jennifer Holm. I have so many favorite authors that write excellent books that that students like. My apologies if I have left out anyone. Have your friend go to LM_NET Archive and type in books kids like and she will come up with more or .

Allen Berg's picture
Allen Berg
curriculum and projects learning centers

Dear Librarian,

As a kid and as an adult I was and am on the lookout for discarded or recycled magazines... (the school PTA could be a great resource here...)

My public library lobby always had and has a table or shelves for donated appropriate (GP rating :-) magazines, everything from: Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek,Vogue,Seventeen, New Yorker, Computers, National Geographic, on and on...including professional titles like Nursing, Photography, Veterans, and hobbies galore...

The beauty of free magazines is that the student gets to keep it, they start to experience Literacy Ownership: "Kool, this is now MY magazine!" There is no "due date" to return it; they can do whatever they want with it: cut-out pictures to put on their bedroom wall, read articles about their interests and discover new worlds of interests...

A magazine instantly gives you a social/community "belonging"...a connection to groups, careers, life-long learning, and the world ongoing and out there...

The obvious trick, is to organize and manage the collection, so that it does not get trashed or abused or become a mess to clean-up. That is for the librarian to figure out, based on the particulars of his or her library, school, colleagues, and community, etc....

There is still something special about printed paper... even along with iPads...

Allen Berg

Erica's picture

Just saw this on Twitter and was so excited I even joined Edutopia, which I rarely do (join thigns). I've been a librarian in a middle school for 12 years and I love my job. I have almost quit several times because the pay is horrible, but I stay because of the kids and because I can see the difference I make in their lives by introducing them to books.

One thing my students love is my book clubs - I have same-gender book club meetings four times a week - during lunch and after school. I get more kids than can fit in my clubs - they love it! They select what to read - sometimes they do a study of a topic. The boys always select non-fiction, and do book studies of things like tornadoes, ant colonies, alien myths. They recently wanted to do research on dolphins and helping dolphins after seeing the movie. I teach them to facilitate their own meetings, so all I do really is help them find literature and give them a space. They are fantastic by themselves.

I've also done mother-daughter and father-son book clubs in the late afternoon. The families love this too. The kids translate stories for their parents (all our students are second language learners) and it's just wonderful. I provide cookies and tea and stories.

I have a big library of audio books and enough headphones (and splitters) so that kids can share a computer and listen together. There are so many ways to help our students love reading and being a librarian is so much fun. Good luck!

Jennifer's picture
6th-8th Grade English Language Arts Teacher in Pecos, NM near Santa Fe.

that I love! It has cozy reading nooks, colorful posters, and comfy, inviting places to sit amongst the shelves. I'm talking sofas, fat chairs, and floor pillows. Do you think it'd be possible for your friend to do that in her library? In my own classroom library, I have floor sofas and a coffee table. The kids love gathering there to read and work. I have a HUGE bean bag that the kids know they can only sit on if they're reading.

As far as books, tell your friend to order the Underlander Series by Suzanne Collins (author of Hunger Games), of course the Harry Potter series, Sweep by Cate Tiernan (series), everything by Will Hobbs, Gary Paulsen, Jerry Spinelli, Louis Sachar, and a bunch of graphic novels.

Please keep us updated on your friend's library saga!

Tammy King WIDA blogger's picture
Tammy King WIDA blogger
ESL/bilingual education specialist and blogger for the WIDA Consortium

I would recommend buying books that reflect the diversity of the school. When I was still teaching, I often went to my local public library to check out books in my students' native languages - especially those that tied back to classroom topics(the water cycle in Spanish, Korean, etc). I also would check out as many books as I could on the same topic (e.g. water cycle) but at different levels of English. This allowed for my students to read multiple books on the same topic. Thesauruses are also excellent resources for ELLs. Books created by students in their classes can also find a home in the school library.

Fuoye's picture
Dignity and character for national Transformation

I really like this post. Redesigning a school library is not a very easy thing to do. Though i am a library student and i will love to develop and design a library.

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