How Public Libraries Help Make School Librarians Indispensable.

As a middle school librarian, I consider one of my greatest tasks to be ensuring that all of my students, regardless of ability or interest, have plenty of choices when visiting my library. Middle school is challenging, though: we have students who may be reading at the 3rd grade level (or below), students reading on the 10th grade level (or higher), and students reading on middle school level as well. Because of this, I take my duty of previewing books and other resources before purchasing very seriously.

While I tend to use Amazon to “look inside” or to see what others ultimately purchased, the resource I use the most for previewing is my public library. I love being able to look through their online catalog for certain topics to see what they have or titles from a particular author or genre. If I see something on Amazon or on a recommended list, I check the public library to see if they have it or if it’s on order. If they do, I immediately request it or place it on hold. This way, when I visit the public library, I already have several titles on hold from different branches so I can easily walk in, check them out,  browse a display or two, and head home. Yay for the library saving me time (and gas)!

Now, if you have some time, it is worth it (although occasionally dangerous) to browse through the library’s stacks and look for ideas for new displays. Being a former elementary school teacher and having taught middle school as well, I absolutely delight in looking through the picture books, especially the displays of their new additions. I’ll pick up a few and read them, wondering if I can find a way to justify that particular title in my collection. Then I browse the juvenile nonfiction and fiction. Then the YA section. Did an author I love write a new series I didn’t know about? Oh, there’s a new title on (topic)? It can be a good 2-3 hours before I leave, my arms full of possibilities. It is a marvelous feeling. And for free!

I bring them home to peruse, and either make note of ordering them or immediately put them back into my library books bag. (Do you have a bag just for your public library books? I find it keeps me more organized and as soon as I’m done with a book, I put it in the bag so it’s ready to go when I go back to the library. So easy!) Sometimes I’ll bring a book from the public library into school with me if I’m interested in purchasing it for a particular department or grade level. I will approach the teacher(s) and explain my thoughts, including why I thought of that particular department or grade level. I did this with my art teacher, because I was looking to spice up my art offerings (ours were very old and very sad looking). I did some research on the public library catalog and requested several titles. When I brought them home, I divided them into which ones I thought could be good and which ones were definitely not (ie: too old, text size, etc). When I brought the ones I thought were good to show her, she loved just about all of them, and educated me a bit about what students study in her art classes. I was able to purchase new art titles because of not only the teacher’s input, but because I used the public library’s offerings and previewed them myself. They’re perfect for my students and perfect for my staff. The art teacher asked me to let her know when the new books arrive because she can’t wait to use them! Mission accomplished. This interaction has also become the foundation for a new collaboration partnership with art. Who would have thought the library could collaborate with art??

Don’t have the $$ for ebooks? Not enough print copies on your shelves of popular books? The public library can help out there, too! Your students may or may not know that if they have a library card, they can also access their ebooks and academic databases, as well as books in print. I’m sure all the promotion it would need is a flyer, a public librarian to come do a talk (or screencast!) for your students, and advertise with your students how they can get a public library card. Now you’ve expanded your students access to all kinds of things – for free! – and massively promoted the public library at the same time.

It should also be noted that public librarians are outstanding at what they do and can be amazing partners to work with when cross-promoting programs, offering book talks, summer reading support, ideas for new books, and helping to supplement your collection when your special education or ESOL students need more than you can provide. Some can also pull special collections for particular units being studied! Working with the public library can result in major benefits, including this article about a middle school in Ohio. How cool! In some areas, depending on the partnership, public librarians are invited to attend school librarians’ meetings to share ideas and important information. They can also book space when your school library isn’t big enough to host a competition or event, like Battle of the Books. Public libraries (and their librarians!) are incredibly helpful, and I think are often an untapped resource for us as school librarians. (PS: Thanks to all my school and public library friends for their contributions to this paragraph!)

What’s the bottom line? As librarians, we owe it to our students and staff to have both a print and online collection full of resources at their disposal. These offerings should be recent and appealing enough for any patron to checkout to use for either academic or personal growth (look for my upcoming posts about weeding!). We can’t just rely on reviews all the time. We know our clientele. We know the standards being taught in our schools. Although it may be once again considered “working overtime” like this post I wrote about book festivals, it is activities like these – taking time to peruse the public library and working with their librarians – that will ultimately benefit our students and staff. If our patrons know they can rely on us to provide information they need – or didn’t know they need – consistently and in a variety of ways, then we have truly become indispensable.

As an aside: If you want to know what new titles your public library is buying, you should checkout! All you have to do is enter a zipcode to find your local public library and an email address. Every week (or whenever your library orders) you’ll get an email that lists new books they’ve purchased by topic, both print and ebook format – and it’s free!


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