and the winner of a 2020 MSLA Web Seal of Excellence.
And while there’s no shortage of pieces out there highlighting the amazing things people are doing from home, life in quarantine is simply all I could wrap my head around. What does middle school librarianship look like from home? Much of our time connecting with students in school is during unstructured extension blocks — the library is the heart of the school, a gathering place in addition to a classroom. How do we recreate that safe space online? And while our libraries are about so much more than the books and the lessons, there are also the books and the lessons! How do we ensure that our students keep reading and learning important information literacy skills?
In Newton, we’re lucky to be part of a large K-12 library department, with four (and a fraction of another’s time) of us at the middle school level. Under normal circumstances, we are a collaborative department, often sharing ideas and materials. However, distance learning has pushed us to take our collaboration to a new level, to the benefit of us and our students. Of course, not everyone is as lucky as we are, and many library teachers feel more isolated than ever. Finding other opportunities to collaborate, with classroom teachers, other specialists and support staff, or library teachers in other districts through MSLA chats and other forums is then essential — so many of our best ideas come when we are working together. Moreover, it isn’t just about generating ideas, but also our sharing, understanding, and connecting as professionals. For example, to Laura Gardner, library teacher at Dartmouth Middle School in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, “being able to communicate and collaborate is even more important now. Our job is so different from a typical classroom teacher so it’s wonderful to talk to other people who understand all your specific worries and fears.”
Due to our department collaboration, we have flourished where we could have floundered, identifying strategies and creating materials collectively, rather than struggling to manage it all alone. We are collaborating with each other in order to best stay connected with our students and effectively bring our middle school libraries to our communities virtually.
Collaboration with Teachers
Ironically, I’ve found working from home has made it easier to connect with classroom teachers. Without study hall students to supervise, the spontaneous reader’s advisory to give, printer issues to troubleshoot, etc. I have the flexibility to attend the many different grade level department and team meetings. I’ve always been there when needed, but being a regular fixture helps me build relationships and demonstrate my value as an instructional partner. Additionally, many teachers are taking distance learning as an opportunity to try new things, and who better to lend support than the library teacher. According to Jamie Lightfoot, “one positive that has come out of virtual teaching is that I am being approached by teachers in my school who I do not typically work with. Teachers are interested in collaborating on research projects and are reaching out for resources, pathfinders, screencasts on using databases, co-hosted Zoom Q&A sessions. It's great. I think moving forward many teachers will have a new understanding of just what the library teacher does and how it can apply to all subjects."
Fostering a love of reading is always at the heart of what we do. Distance learning has been an opportunity to promote the digital book sources we already had, like the MLS Commonwealth eBook Collection, and introduce those that are temporarily available to students. We’ve beefed up the ebooks and audiobooks pages on our websites, promoted materials on social media, and offered book talks individually, similar to what we would have done with an entire lesson were we in school. However, as a department we knew we wanted to find a more engaging way to get our communities excited about books and reading from a distance.