Libraries Welcome All Families: A Conversation with Urban High School Students about Representation in the CT Nutmeg Nominees

This post was first published on the ALSC Blog on April 23, 2019

Jillian Woychowski is the Library Media Specialist at West Haven High School and a member of the ALA Interdivisional Committee for School and Public Library Cooperation

Kymberlee Powe is the Head of Children’s and Teen Library Services at the West Haven Public Library

I am very lucky as a school librarian to work so well with my public librarians. Our city’s children’s and teen services librarian has held card drives and visits me on a regular basis. We’ve coordinated getting materials for each other and worked together on summer reading. We also share the experience of serving on our state book award committee. I served on the High School Level 2018 Nutmeg Committee and Kym just wrapped serving on the Middle Grades Nutmeg Committee for 2020 (see nutmegaward.org). Being on the committee for a state book is a serious time commitment, requiring reading 75-150 books and monthly meetings to discuss them. For both of us, making sure our students were represented in the eventual nominees was very important.

Kym comes to West Haven High School once a week to hold a book club with students in our Program for Accelerated Credit-recovery in Education (PACE) program. Students in PACE “have had difficulty succeeding in the regular setting. The program offers credit recovery and and intensive support system so that these students can learn the appropriate skills and behaviors needed to be successful in school and beyond. The program takes a unique outside-the-box approach to teaching and learning in order to re-engage students in their own education, with a focus on college and career readiness” (Program of Studies, whhs.whschools.org). Students receive 90 minutes each of Language Arts and Mathematics a day, along with contemporary issues and environmental education to give students an awareness of their own community. Technological literacy rounds out their curriculum.

This March, Kym and I sat down for a conversation with two PACE students to talk about being an urban librarian and the challenges for equity, diversity, and inclusion in potential award-winning literature.

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Gimme a C (for Collaboration!): Collaborative Book Talks

As a public librarian, I’ve found that book talks for state-wide award list titles are a great opportunity to collaborate with school librarians, teachers, and staff at the beginning of each school year. Teaming up to promote the lists aligns with ALSC’s core competencies by collaborating with other agencies serving children (6.4) and the programming guidelines established from YALSA’s Future of Library Services report by engaging teens via outreach to schools (3.2) and developing rich, mutually beneficial partnerships between public libraries and schools (5.0).

Many states sponsor young readers’ choice awards that provide many benefits to young readers, such as the opportunity to discover and read books that they will enjoy. The lists typically include a diverse selection of genres and voices. Deciding on titles to vote for presents opportunities for open discussion among students, library staff, and teachers.

Students in Illinois are served from kindergarten through twelfth grade by four different awards, all sponsored by the Illinois School Library Media Association. As a teen librarian, I read and book talk the nominees for the Rebecca Caudill Book Award at two different middle schools. This list includes 20 titles, so sharing the book talking load with other librarians saves my time and voice. At one school we split the list 50/50 (top half/bottom half), while at the other we just agree to read as many as we can.

Book talking together helps us to learn book talking techniques from each other. I openly admit to memorizing the best, most interesting bits from other peoples’ book talks to use whenever I am book talking on my own. The diversity of the Caudill list means there are always a few titles that I love, and a few that just don’t appeal to me. I can’t fake enthusiasm for a book, but another person’s enthusiasm – whether it comes from listening to their book talk or talking with them between talks about what they like about the book – is often contagious. At the very least, I can truthfully tell students that I know another great reader who loved the book.

Finally, collaborative book talking is a fantastic opportunity to introduce students to staff from both school and public libraries, while supporting and promoting each other’s library collections. If a title is checked out at one library, then we can invite students seek it at the other.

Since we are always pressed for time, here are some time-saving techniques:

  1.   Arrange the books so that the students can see the covers, and let them choose what titles get talked.
  2.   Have a 30-second “elevator pitch” prepared for each book, so that you can cram any that aren’t picked into the last few minutes of your talk.
  3.   Ask the class whether they’ve read popular books on the list like Hunger Games or Cinder. If they have, then skip those and segue into a similar title: “If you liked that one, then you may like this one…”

Donna Block is a teen librarian at Niles (Ill.) Public Library District and a member of the AASL/ALSC/YALSA Interdivisional Committee on School-Public Library Cooperation.

Posted originally: http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2015/09/gimme-a-c-for-collaboration-collaborative-book-talks/