and winners of the MSLA President's Award
Our initiative began with a question: how do we get the kids into the library? At CRLS, we serve a very diverse population. We knew there was no way we were truly serving all of our students and particularly wanted to reach out to those who were not traditional library users and did not think of themselves as readers. Our first step in this was expanding our “back to school” book talks. Traditionally at CRLS, only 9th grade English classes come to the library each September to get a library orientation and book talk. Luckily for us, the amazing 10th grade English team came up with goals that aligned with our own: an independent reading push where students read twenty independent reading books per semester, including daily designated in-class choice reading. Our collaboration resulted in scheduling class visits to the library at the start of each semester for book selection, featuring “speed dating” with books. We pushed students to interact more with the books and potentially read outside their comfort zones by having them rotate through genre tables with ten to fifteen books each. We had students keep track of all of the books they found interesting so they not only left with a book, but also had a game plan for what they wanted to read over the course of the semester. This activity was wildly popular, with classes booking multiple “speed dating” sessions throughout the year, truly showing how students have developed a reading momentum and the school library has become an integral part of that growth.
Additionally, this initiative has created opportunities for us to have more individualized conversations with students and has helped us earn their trust. 10th grade English teacher Dr. Kim Parker notes, “Students seek them [the librarians] out because they encourage their reading interests by...pushing them to consider new authors, and modeling the importance of cultivating a healthy reading life. Students know that any conversation with Ms. Kelly and Ms. Houston will yield rewards: a new book to read, a new character to fall in love with, a new world of escape." With this program, we have also stressed that we never expect that students will like every book they read and that they should never feel required to finish a book they do not like. We encourage students to challenge us to help them find the right book. In an end of the semester reading survey, one 10th grader reflected, “I have learned that in the beginning I hated reading books and I didn't try to even read any book in front of me. I have also learned that once I found a book that caught my interest I didn’t want to stop reading it.” Students have responded really well to self-selected reading; they have gotten to know themselves more as readers and also feel like their opinions matter and are validated. These conversations also have helped us in our mission to mindfully diversify our collection to be more reflective of the student population.
Perhaps our simplest, and yet surprisingly effective, method of promoting a culture of literacy has been setting up creative and attention-grabbing displays. Whether it’s new arrivals or older books that haven’t been checked out recently, we’ve regularly seen students browsing and choosing books from the various displays set up throughout our library. Our assistant, Donna Richardson, has been great about helping us come up with themes that draw interest and spark fun conversations about books. We’re currently working on a display we call “White Girls in Prom Dresses” that will be a commentary on cover art trends and how they reflect the publishing industry’s sexist and racist assumptions about young female readers. Here are a couple of our students’ favorites displays (as evidenced by our having to refill the empty book stands frequently):
We are excited to be an instrumental part of creating a culture of literacy for students who have either never enjoyed reading or are finding their way back to reading.