AUTHOR: Doyle, Miranda Harwood, Abby
TITLE: A Public Librarian and a Teacher Librarian Work Together for Teens
SOURCE: Voice of Youth Advocates 33 no5 420-1 D 2010
COPYRIGHT: The magazine publisher is the copyright holder of this article and it is reproduced with permission. Further reproduction of this article in violation of the copyright is prohibited. To contact the publisher: http://www.scarecrowpress.com/
MIRANDA DOYLE AND ABBY HARWOOD
Abby Harwood, young adult librarian, and Miranda Doyle, teacher librarian, have worked together for the past three years to serve the students of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Middle School in San Francisco. The school is located in an ethnically diverse, high-poverty urban neighborhood; 73 percent of the middle school's students receive free or reduced-price lunches. In February 2009, the Portola Branch of San Francisco Public Library finished construction on its new building, right next door to the middle school. Harwood and Doyle used this opportunity to work together more closely. Joint programs have included a vampire book club called Books with Bite, craft programs, class visits to the public library, and much more.
Harwood and Doyle took turns interviewing each other about their collaborative efforts, hoping that the lessons they have learned about working together will help other school and public librarians form productive partnerships.
MD: What were you hoping for when we first started working together?
AH: When I started in my position, our branch was located in a small rental space, which made onsite programming difficult. I decided to look for a different programming venue and approached you. Hosting teen programs in the school provided a great opportunity for outreach to the students. Essentially, I was looking to kill two birds with one stone.
MD: What were some of the challenges in getting the book club started?
AH: Teens have a tendency to be noncommittal, and each meeting attracts a different group. I had to ask myself, "How do you host a book discussion when the majority of participants hasn't read the book?" Instead of posing questions that assumed participants had read the book being discussed, I began to ask open-ended questions that invited speculation or personal perspectives. I try to identify discussion points that are universal to teens and their experiences. For example, I may ask the students to offer solutions to challenges a character in the book is facing, such as being bullied or dealing with discrimination. After our discussion, the students who haven't read the book usually want to check it out.
MD: Was there anything about the school setting or working with our students that you didn't expect?
AH: As a result of our collaboration, I've been able to develop relationships with many of the teens in the neighborhood faster than if I had been providing services and programming solely in the branch. The funny thing is that some of the students think I work at the school, and when they see me at the public library, they ask me what I'm doing there!
MD: How has the book club evolved over the past two years?
AH: In order to capitalize on the popularity of the Twilight Saga, we chose to host a vampire-themed book club. In the beginning, we definitely attracted an older crowd made up predominantly of girls. Over the past few years, I believe that our regulars have gotten younger, and we have many more boys joining us. I've observed that regardless of age or gender, everyone likes to talk about vampires!
MD: How do you see the school library setting as different from the public library setting, and how does that affect the programs you do at the school?
AH: The advantage of hosting the program in the school is that the school library is a popular place to hang out during lunch; therefore, it's never a struggle to gather participants for a program. It's wonderful that I am able to provide library services and programs to teens even if they never set foot in the public library -- although I hope that as a result, they will! Additionally, I enjoy offering purely recreational activities and reading opportunities in an otherwise strictly educational environment.
MD: What other programs have been successful collaborations?
AH: The digital animation and gaming workshop we've hosted using SCRATCH, a free, downloadable program (http://scratch.mit.edu/), has been extremely popular and fun. This program is a great exercise in logic and creative expression. We've also had many successful craft programs, particularly T-shirt painting and customizing and button-making.
MD: What are the advantages and disadvantages of being next door to the school?
AH: I am never bored! Every day after school, the branch is flooded by a tsunami of students. The library is often hectic, and we get many complaints about the high noise levels. But I'm not complaining because circulation and program attendance is through the roof.
MD: Do you have any advice for school librarians as far as how we can better work with public librarians?
AH: My colleagues and I are always eager to make contact with the schools and schedule class visits, present database instruction, participate in back-to-school night, promote summer reading programs, and more. Let us know how we can best meet the needs of your students and staff. Please schedule class visits in advance because we want to be prepared and make sure there are no conflicts. And let us know if you need to cancel your visit, too.
MD: How do you prefer to communicate with school librarians?
AH: Because I work between two libraries, e-mail is the best way to contact me; however, I understand that school librarians spend most of their days in front of students instead of computers. I am certainly flexible.
MD: What advice would you give to other public librarians who want to work with nearby schools?
AH: I am constantly inundating the schools with flyers, e-mails, and phone calls, but I've found that nothing is more effective than a phone call to the school principal!
AH: Why did you want to collaborate with me to start a book club?
MD: I thought it would be wonderful for my students to have a book club, and having someone from outside the school involved made it more exciting for them. I also thought you would have new ideas for books and activities. Since I don't work with other librarians on a day-to-day basis now, or have access to many professional magazines, I find that public librarians are more in touch with current titles and trends. I have to admit that I was hoping that you would have a budget for multiple copies of the book club books, since my book budget is so limited, and you did. But I swear I am not just collaborating with you for your book budget! You bring so much enthusiasm and patience to the book club, and I am so grateful for all the preparation you do -- and the treats you bring my students. They really benefit from the book club and look forward to it all month long.
AH: What were some of the challenges to getting started?
MD: We have such a wide range of reading levels among our students, and it's been hard finding titles they can all read, especially those with lower reading levels and some of our special-education students. I think we have evolved toward easier titles and even some graphic novels in order to reach more students. Some can read Twilight (Little Brown Books, 2005/VOYA October 2005) without a problem, while others struggled with even an easier book like My Sister the Vampire (HarperCollins, 2007).
AH: How do you sec the school library setting as different from the public library setting?
MD: It is much easier for me to drum up an audience in the school, I think -- students beg to come to the library at lunch, and to the book club. I pop into a few homerooms the morning before book club or another program to remind students and give them lunch passes, but I have to be careful not to recruit more students than we can handle. In the public library, I remember being grateful if I got a handful of teens to attend a program. On the other hand, my students who do come often have short attention spans -- it can be hard to get them to focus and participate. I'm embarrassed when they don't behave well!
AH: What other programs have been successful collaborations?
MD: I loved our last Teen Tech Week program, where students learned to do animation using SCRATCH. I plan to give them some time at lunch to practice and make new animations. The craft programs are also wonderful. My students are still talking about the button-making program you did recently. Students have come to associate the school library with fun events and technology, in addition to great books.
AH: What are the advantages and disadvantages of having the public library next door to the school?
MD: It's so nice to be able to go over after school to pick up the weeded books you've saved for me, or to drop by to say hello. I also send teachers and students over to get titles I don't have in the school library. There aren't any disadvantages for me, but I hope my students behave well when they go over there after I close up for the day. We can talk about the students we both know and figure out how to work with them.
AH: Do you have any advice for public librarians as far as how we can better work with school librarians?
MD: We need your expertise about popular titles and trends, and your fresh ideas for programs. We need other librarians to talk and socialize with -- like classroom teachers, we sometimes feel isolated in our jobs. You have no idea how much we appreciate the resources you give us, from weeded magazines and books, to slightly used encyclopedia sets, to small prizes or bookmarks for our students.
AH: What form of communication works best for you?
MD: I prefer e-mail or text messages. We probably e-mail each other once or twice a week, which is great. The phone is very difficult for me, since I don't have a direct line or voicemail at work. I also like it when you drop by, or when we can arrange to go out to lunch to plan or catch up. I really appreciate your patience when you come by and I am more than a bit distracted by trying to do three things at once, just as when I come by the public library and catch you at a busy time -- I know you have to take care of patron questions first.
AH: What advice would you give to other school librarians who want to work with nearby public libraries?
MD: Go for it! Public librarians are wonderful and, for the most part, eager to work with schools. School librarians can put public librarians in touch with teachers, who are often hard to reach otherwise, to schedule class visits and publicize the summer reading program.
Doyle and Harwood compare their positions: Harwood is envious of Doyle having summers off but realizes that a teacher librarian has an isolated position and appreciates sharing resources and support with her colleagues at the public library. Doyle would like to have the support staff a public library offers for circulation and shelving tasks but also sympathizes with Harwood when big, sometimes overwhelming, crowds of students come in after school and during breaks. Harwood and Doyle have enjoyed working together to serve the middle school students. As a new librarian, Harwood has appreciated Doyle's experience and advice, while Doyle feels she and her students have benefited from the collaboration. Both are pleased with the amazing results.
Abby Harwood is the young adult librarian at the San Francisco Public Library's Porlola and Visitacion Valley branches. She only has three years of librarianship under her belt but has many years of experience working with children and young people.
Miranda Doyle is the teacher librarian at Dr. Martin Luther King jr. Academic Middle School in San Francisco. She has been a school librarian for four years. Previously she spent six years as a voting adult, children's, and reference librarian at various branches of the San Francisco Public Library.
MIRANDA DOYLE AND ABIGAIL HARWOOD IN THE TEEN AREA AT THE PORTOLA BRANCH LIBRARY, NEXT DOOR TO MARTIN LUTHER KING MIDDLE SCHOOL. PHOTO CREDIT: MILK MIDDLE SCHOOL STAFF
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