Ten years ago, my first child entered Kindergarten and I was looking for ways I could volunteer at the school, but I didn't want to be a room mom or organize fundraisers. What I was looking for was an opportunity to provide help to the school in a way that best utilized my skill sets. What I found was that the LRC actively solicits parent volunteers. I started helping out and never looked back.
When I first got there I was not sure how much I could actually help beyond understanding how the books were shelved, keeping an eye out for messy and out of order shelves, and occasionally giving a book suggestion to the kids-- I was not as well versed in kid lit at that time.
Well flash forward ten years later and not only have I been able to contribute more, the LRC Director and her staff have made great, innovative changes without sacrificing their commitment to putting books in the kids' hands.
Yes we now have a green screen room and the kids all learn how to use a variety of computer programs through the LRC, but I have also been a part of projects to re-catalog entire sections of the library- making local changes to the standard Dewey Classifications to fit how the kids actually use the collection. I have also spent a lot of time working on cataloging. I take the standard preloaded records and clean them up. This is a help to the LRC Director because it is a professional job that needs a trained hand. By doing it for her, she is freed up to work with students and plan longer terms projects while still getting the new books on the shelf in a timely fashion for the hordes of hungry readers she has been cultivating.
[I have highlighted the work of this school library in this program. You can click through for some more examples.]
For me, professionally, working with the kids and their books has allowed me to become well versed in kid lit and, more importantly, I am now a pro at the RA conversation with kids. Getting a kids to talk about why they love a book is different than working with adults. In many ways it is harder, and yet, once you get them going, they can't stop sharing what they love.
The teachers seek me out for some of the harder to help children, the ones who need a little more one on one attention to find that perfect book- especially the reluctant readers and the older kids who need a lower reading level with high interest. With me helping those kids and giving them the more intensive attention, the LRC Director is free to work with everyone else.
I love it so much, even on those crazy weeks when I really should stay home and get some of my work done. Unless I am out of town, I always go. It recharges me and is helping my son's school community. And over the years, the LRC Director has become a colleague and friend. I have watched her grow, get her Master's Degree, and become a sought after presenter herself.
My son will be leaving for Junior High very soon, but I will be back at the elementary school next year. There are very strict rules about who can volunteer in schools and normally if you do not have an enrolled child, you cannot. Except....if you are a professional in the community volunteering your professional skills in the school setting. Bingo!
As a result of my work with my school library, I have become much more cognizant of the great work being done, often alone and in a vacuum, by our school librarians all over the country. And last week, at StokerCon I met Kelly Powers, a school librarian in Southern, CA.
Kelly works at a school where the average reading level that is below grade level. She works very hard to engage and encourage her students. Just because they are struggling does not mean they can;t fall in love with reading. In fact, Kelly is having great success because she works so hard to find them the right books, books that will keep them reading and as a result she is helping them to improve their literacy skills. Kelly is also an author, so she understands stories from that perspective too.
Kelly gets the power of giving kids a great read, helping them to find books they enjoy for fun, and she writes about it on her blog The Write Time. Kelly writes persuasively and elegantly about why books and reading matter. Here is just a sampling of some of my favorite posts by her:
No matter the age of reader you help, from babies to senior citizens, Kelly's posts will help you to help your readers better. I would like to especially note The Male Reader. Everyone who reads this blog, needs to read that post.
I believe strongly in learning by stepping outside of your comfort zone and looking at things from a different perspective. This is how we grow as library workers and people. Therefore, I am going to have Kelly check in from time to time with more insight.
But right now, I am off to my school library to help get more books into those kids' hands- whether its by suggesting a specific kid a title, cataloging new materials, or helping to reimagine how we shelve the books, all of it helps to foster a love of both books and libraries in these kids-- our future funders and voters for libraries!