School library media specialists are under considerable pressure to demonstrate our absolute value within our schools. As a fourth-year media specialist, I have seen and read about the numerous cuts to school libraries so very early in my career. Being a career changer going into the library media profession, I never anticipated I would worry daily about my job being eliminated and libraries being managed by un-certified staff. Most recently, I read a social media post about a school librarian who returned to her library over the summer to find library books thrown in the middle of the floor, as two classrooms were being constructed from half of the library space. This story, among several others, has left me in search of the answer to the following questions. Why have school libraries become so disconnected and irrelevant to student learning? Why is the school librarian not viewed upon as an instructional leader and partner?
After much reflection, it was decided I couldn’t keep asking the questions, and instead, I had to create and share the why for our library profession. I made it a mission to step up and participate in any leadership opportunity made available to me as a school library media specialist, and in my reflection, all programs would be based on the student voice of my middle school students. While attending Teacher Leader Academy in a library media specialist cohort at my school district this past year, we were asked to develop a legacy project. My goal was to link the library with reading literacy and create a school culture of readers. Often, library media specialists (and library resources) are overlooked when developing initiatives for increasing student achievement because it is difficult to provide data. I wanted to change this, and I wanted the school library to be a partner in increasing students’ reading scores. Through my legacy project, I worked with a team of 24 teachers and my principal to create a school-wide independent reading program called, Griffin Reads 30. It was a strong collaborative process which now provides our students with 30 minutes of independent, choice reading during each school day. However, the legacy needed to continue beyond our school.
The next step to the legacy project had to expand to our feeder elementary schools to include rising 6th graders entering the middle school in the fall. Before attending middle school, these pre-teens needed the opportunity to visit their soon-to-be middle school, meet me, and learn about our library and our literacy program so that they felt empowered as new middle schoolers. Our library is the heart of the school, and true student voice and leadership are practiced in all areas including the purchase of new books, makerspace programs, and reading promotions and contests. The library is also filled with technology resources and rich databases for student academics. The second part of my legacy project was building “Bridges to Books” for our new students.
This summer, the “Bridges to Books” program was facilitated in July, two weeks prior to the start of the new school year. All rising 6th graders were invited to attend, and the final attendance reached over one hundred students. As part of a community partnership to introduce our students to their library, collaboration was done with our public library and librarians to share the Cobb Library Pass. This free resource connects students with hundreds of digital books and several research databases. Students are also able to use their school student number to check books out from the public library. This partnership creates a strong presence of the importance of libraries, both school and public, for supporting student achievement and providing access to reading and research materials.
Through the YALSA Dollar General Summer Reading Grant, paperback books were purchased, along with bookmarks, and a button maker which we use to create badges for reading achievement. Students also completed a makerspace project during the summer program and a scavenger hunt to locate books in their favorite genres and practiced checking out library books through the self-checkout system.
Bridges to Books was a success, and when the students started school almost two weeks ago, students who attended were eager to say hello to me and began checking books out immediately during the first week of school. The library continues to be the heart of the school, and through this sustainable summer reading program, students will build a sense of pride for the library prior to beginning of each school year. It supports the transition into becoming a teen in the middle school by providing a safe environment, along with friendly and familiar faces. An additional bonus is the ability to showcase the importance of school libraries and certified school librarians as key educators in the academic and social emotional success of students. Through the summer reading program, I feel empowered to positively impact students before they begin a new school, so they will utilize library resources throughout their middle school years.
Lori Quintana is a Library Media Specialist at Griffin Middle School in the Cobb County School District.