August 20, 2017

Easy Like Sunday Morning: The Work Begins

The Work Begins
Back to school professional development is finally over and now the work begins.   Those of you who are school librarians understand that 99.9% of the staff meetings take place in the library.   So this means librarians have to wait until all of the meetings have concluded so they can get to work.

Genre vs. Dewey Collections

This library has not had a certified librarian in a number of years.   Overall the collection is in good shape but needs more books that reflect the interests and culture of my students. You know I'm ordering Corretta Scott King and Pura Belpre Award winning books along with popular leisure reading books to jumpstart my readers this year.   One thing that frustrated the sheer heck out of me was the fiction collection was organized by genre and not by the Dewey Decimal System.  I will share the same comments here that I recently made on my Instagram page.
The first thing I noticed about this topic is that school librarians are split almost 50/50 and have very strong views about it.   I read a really good article written by librarian Hilda K. Weisburg called the, 'The Dewey Debate,' where she eloquently presented both sides of this argument.  I read it and realized that I have partially organized  my collection in the past by genre.  For example, I have shelved all of the Street Literature, Graphic Novels and Anime/Manga books together and in their own bookcase.  I think that is ok, seriously....(please don't call me a hypocrite!)    In my opinion, when the entire collection, including the non-fiction section of the the library collection is organized by genre, it just does not benefit students in the long run.  There is no transfer of knowledge when they are promoted or transfer to a middle school or high school where the collection is organized by Dewey.   Can you image a student asking their school librarian where are the, 'Drama Books,' located?  Now this student must learn the Dewey Decimal system, 'on the fly,' in order to search for the book that they want.  I can already see that some of my students will be frustrated with this fast paced method.  
Another issue I have with collections all organized by genre is that many of the books fall under multiple genres.  I have yet to find some sort of reasonable guidance in selecting the 'dominant' genre to classify it under.  For example, Sharon Draper's pre-teen novel, 'Out of My Mind.' could be shelved under, 'Drama,' 'Realistic Fiction,' or 'Stories About Girls.'    Having a school library collection organized by Dewey means that YOU the librarian must educate and demonstrate to the students how the collection is organized.   School librarians should have a strong knowledge of the books within their collections and can help their students connect to the books they would like to read.  I'll be honest, now that I'm back working with a middle school population, I have to re-familiarize myself with the literature while learning what has been written for this age group in the last five years.   When it comes to finding 'read-alikes,' and I'm not that familiar with the book that my student is reading, I use, Good Reads and Book Browse.   All have a 'related-booklist' or 'read-alike- database embedded in their websites.
I've also heard that genre organized library collections can increase circulation because the books are found in the same geographic area of the library.  This may be so however I have a tool that I use that seemingly gets kids reading:  book displays.   Yes, they are timely and sometimes expensive but definitely worth it because now you can direct students to books written by the same author and introduce them to new ones.  But identifying and connecting kids to books is where I show my greatest value to the school community.  I'm the building expert on literature for my students, teachers and parents and I help guide readers to the books that interest them.   I want my students to have a love of reading instilled within them along with the tools to find books in the library in another library.

Tracking the Number of Books Read by Students
That's one heavy circulation desk!
After my very strong and able co-worker moved the circulation desk by herself while I was in a meeting, (much love for you!) I had to tackle another issue: writing on the back of the book.   For those librarians reading this, before you jump on your soapbox please calm down and let me explain.  This school has not had a librarian in several years.  The majority of the staff has not worked with a certified librarian, so in essence this is a clean slate and a librarian's dream come true to introduce a teacher to the skill base and work of a school librarian. 

In past years, the teachers were putting a short piece of painter's tape across the back of the book and writing the name of the child who checked out the book, the date and how many pages they have read each day.   This was done in the absence of a librarian who could have provided a simple print out of books from Follett Destiny Circulation System that were checked out by the student.   To track books read by the students either or could be used.  This is going to be a challenge for some of the teachers because they are adopting a new norm (or one they decide to use independently) and saying goodbye to one that has been used for quite some time.  It has to be done or I will be receiving books from students that will look like the one below.  Properly taking care of library books is the expectation I have of my students.
Writing on books.....No Way!

I hope you are enjoying my adventures working in a new school library  I think you would agree, with every school, there are different challenges, victories and adventures.  Overall, it's all good because my love for libraries is infectious and I hope my students, the teachers I work with and parents will recognize this rather than the look of shock on my face when I see something I've never seen before.  Until next time!

August 13, 2017

Easy Like Sunday Morning: New District + New School = New Adventure

...and so the adventure begins!
This year will hold new adventures for me as a school librarian.  I'm looking forward to developing my library program, working with teachers and having fun along the way.  
I love LYFT
I arrived in town at 3am on the morning of the district's, 'New Teacher Orientation.'   Surprisingly, the lack of sleep did not affect me as I attend the opening session that began at 8:30am.  I got the 'hissing heffers,' Domino and Daisy Lee settled and fed, jumped in the shower/got dressed and called a LYFT to drive me to the orientation.   I did not trust myself to drive because of the lack of sleep.  

Photo Courtesy of Perkins Eastman
The orientation was held at the very beautiful and modern Dunbar High School in the north west area of D.C.   There were greetings from central office staff, the Chancellor of the D.C. Public School System, Antwan Wilson, and the Washington Teacher's Union President, Elizabeth Davis.   Unfortunately by mid-day, the lack of sleep hit me.  As I sat in the cozy chairs in the library, my chin hit my chest and the back of my head crashed against my back...I was tired! 
Common Sense Media

I somehow woke up and attended two more sessions presented by the DCPSS Libraries Department.  I was awake enough to ask allot of questions.  I know I aggravate the heck out of a presenter because I ask a million and one questions so that I'm clear and will be able to proceed forward with my agenda.  I was relieved to learn that the libraries department has adopted the use of Common Sense Media.   If you haven't heard or used Common Sense Media, consider using the site during the upcoming school year because it is a powerful tool for your library program and school.
My New Home!
A couple of days later, I attended my new school's two day, 'New Teacher Orientation.'  The school is absolutely beautiful and majestic with a huge field where the kids play sports and participate in a myriad of activities.  It was great meeting the new and existing staff along with receiving a very defined overview of the school through hands on activities.    This was very important for me because it will help me develop and align my library program with the mission, vision and spirit of the school.                
One of the staff members commented that they were a little embarrassed by the appearance of the library and items temporarily stored in front of some of the book cases.  My response was, 'I've seen 100 times worst, and no worries - I'm a librarian and this is what I do!"   I'll post before and after pictures in the weeks to come.  If it's one thing I love to do is set up libraries including book displays kids will love for student use.  

So in one week I experienced some firsts:  New District, New School and changing a baby's diaper for the first time in 20 years!!!

Until next time!

August 6, 2017

Easy Like Sunday Morning: Onward

Please note:  This post is a detailed account of some events that have recently taken place in my life personally and professionally.  This post is solely my views, voice and words of expression.  
I love the title and the musical arrangement of, ‘Easy Like Sunday Morning,’ written by Lionel Richie of the Commodores for a number of reasons.  It brings me back to a time when times were good and life was simple.  I remember listening to this song over and over again with my late father.  It was the 70’s and my dad, still holding onto his precious 8-track stereo in his dodge van, would play music to pass the time while driving.  Because we were a family of five, flying was too expensive and out of the question.  Instead we piled into my father's van and traveled to 48 out of the 50 states before I turned 16.  Overall, music was our solace and made our destination seem not so far away.  

While I'm writing this post, I'm listening to, ‘Easy Like Sunday Morning,’ and yes, things will never change. 

Easy Like Sunday Morning:  Onward

My News
My family is my backbone and my greatest support.   So when family needs you, you respond.   Recently, my sister contacted me because she needed some help with her two young children.  Keep in mind, it is very difficult to support a family member who is in need when they live so far away.   After securing a library position near her home, I made the final decision move to the east coast.  With many regrets, I resigned as Lead Librarian for the East St. Louis School District (ESTL)  in East St. Louis, Illinois.   

While I'm happy that I will be able to support my sister better, I'm saddened that I will be leaving a great group of children behind.  Through my position as Lead Librarian, I was afforded the opportunity to visit each school library within the district.  This gave me the opportunity to interact with the children from many of the the neighborhoods throughout the city.   As a woman who does not have children of her own, I always lived vicariously through the many smiles, the energy and the innocence of the children I served.  These moments made my day and brought me inner happiness and joy.  I'm also saddened that I'm leaving my high schoolers behind, especially the students in my Anime Club.  These students helped me build a dynamic Anime collection which is truly the center of the East St. Louis Senior High School library program.   Though we are going to remain in touch, I am going to miss the daily interactions with these kids.  

The People
The city’s nickname, ‘The City of Champions,’ describes its citizens accurately because East St. Louisans are a very proud group of African-Americans.   The city of East St. Louis is located off of the Mississippi river, east of the city of St. Louis, Missouri and currently has a population of 27,000 people.   Historically the city of East St. Louis, Illinois was the scene of one of the bloodiest race riots in the 20th century.  Racial tensions and violence was at its highest in February of 1917.  During that time,  470 African American workers were hired to replace white workers who had gone on strike against the Aluminum Ore Company.  (1)  This lead to the East St. Louis Race Riots where men, women and children were killed.  

On a more positive note, there are very notable people who either are from or resided in East St. Louis throughout their career.   Some of the famous people from East St. Louis are performer Katherine Dunham, Rock and Roll artists Ike and Tina Turner, Senator Dick Durbin, and Jazz musician Miles Davis.  Known as a strong powerhouse for athletics within the St. Louis metro east area, East St. Louis is known for producing athletic talent like Olympians Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Dawn Harper-Nelson and attracting recruiters from  top universities from across the country.  A current example of this is, ‘All-American,’ center Jeremiah Tilmon, a recent recruit to the University of Missouri to play for their thriving basketball program.  

Working in ESTL
I'm very proud of the work the was completed during my two year tenure.  I'm even more proud that the children now have a school library that they can call their own.   Academically the school district has had some major challenges.  Up until 2014, the district had been on academic probation for over 25 years for reading/math scores and falling in the lower 10% of schools within the state of Illinois measured.   Since 2012, the district has been under financial and operational control by the Illinois State Board of Education’s Financial Oversight Panel.   Test scores have slowly begun to rise as a result of new leadership and academic support programs that are in place.

School libraries had been previously closed for eight years within the ESTL School
Weeding project at ESTL Senior High (summer, 2016)

District.  The administration responded to requests of the community and wanted these libraries re-opened under the direction of a librarian that had prior experience with retrospective conversion for libraries.  My former principal, now Deputy Superintendent supervised the ‘re-birth’ of these libraries that began in the fall of  2015.  When I arrived two years ago, I learned quickly that there were no marc records, no electronic circulation system or research databases.  Even worst was the collections had been moved to the classroom libraries by the staff in the absence of a certified school librarian.  There was allot of work that needed to be done.

The administration and school board was very generous and financially invested funds towards a very tedious retrospective conversion project where over 75% of the books had to be imported into the Alexandria circulation system manually.   They then
purchased Gale and and JSTOR for student research and inquiry.  Lastly, they loaded $12,000.00 per school for the purchase of Coretta Scott King, Pura Belpre and popular books students would enjoy reading.  You see, I'm a firm believer that if you want to get reluctant and struggling readers reading and improve reading scores, you must provide kids with books that reflect their race/culture, written by authors of color and books that celebrate their personal interests.  I know this is the winning formula because at every school I've worked at during my tenure in Chicago Public Schools kids reading improved, they read more and test scores rose.  You can read more about my past work in a School Library Journal article I wrote earlier this year called, “K.C. Boyd: A Leader for Readers” .

Bumps Along the Way
While working on rebuilding the school libraries in ESTL, I learned that the district was void of a school library culture.  Teachers and staff wanted a certified librarian but many of them didn't exactly understand all that it entailed having one.   When I arrived
Importing books into the Alexandria system manually
in the district, it was at the cusp of a teachers strike where the teacher had not had a raise in several years.  My salary was scrutinized heavily and many didn't understand why a librarian should be paid so much and to work year round. I totally understood and respected the resentment.  If I hadn't had a raise over a period of time I would have been upset too but with the administration, not any individual.   When the treatment from certain staff members became a bit, ‘too much,’ I had to keep things in perspective.  Some did not care for outsiders and some just didn’t like me at all.   To help keep me grounded, I read Luke 23:34 and focused on the goal of providing a library program and equitable access to books and technology.

Some of the teachers and staff didn't understand why I was ‘gone all of the time,’ or ‘always sitting at my circulation desk.’   The retrospective conversion project for all of the schools took eight months to complete.  I was onsite at each school working side by side with the librarians who had never had the experience of completing a retrospective conversion project.  I also had to visit all of the schools and help them set up their libraries for student use.  As for sitting all of the time, librarians understand this is an age old complaint by those who work in schools where our classroom teachers, ‘stand,’ during instruction. A librarian's work involves working with students at the circulation desk, instruction and upkeep of the collection.  In my case, along
with the above, moving/importing/deleting marc records for all of the schools called for me work at my circulation desk or in my office at my desk.   Those of us working in the library world understand this and the logic, but for a group of teachers who had never experienced a re-birth/ retrospective conversion project, it was hard to understand.  Remember prior to my arrival, ESTL lacked a school library culture.  So this meant educating and sometimes re-educating the learning community on the positive benefits of a strong school library program.  

Last year was the first year that all ESTL school libraries within the district circulated books. The librarians and I received some push back regarding books that were checked out and taken home by the students.  Despite this and with heavy emphasis by the librarians about the importance of taking care of books, we had a overall good year with circulation.  It was an absolute joy for me to see the looks on the students faces when they checked out books and returned for more.  Especially my Anime Club who were such avid readers of not only Anime but other genres.  Despite some of the ups and downs, criticisms and yes silliness, the work was still done by the librarians and I prevailed and had a great year.  You can view the before/after pictures along with our circulation numbers for the school year here.  Over 15,000 books were checked out by ESTL students at eight schools, not bad for our first year!  2016-2017 ESTL Circulation Report

I thank God for Google Maps!
The 14 hour drive from the St Louis to the D.C. area is one I will never forget.  I had very patient movers who tolerated packing all of my personal belongings, mounds of teaching supplies and listening to two screaming cats as we drove through the mountains of West Virginia at night.  I haven't seen those steep hills since I was a child!  I will miss many of the administrators, teachers and employees of ESTL who were kind and encouraging especially when we thought we would never see the end of the retrospective know who you are because I’ve thanked you many times over and over again for your support!

New Teacher Orientation
After working for two years in a dual position of administration and libraries I learned allot about myself.  I really prefer working with children, find myself frustrated when working with some adults, yet enjoy training librarians.   This decision has helped guide me in selecting my next job.  Despite offers from a public library and the offer to teach at a major university, I have some personal goals as a librarian that I still want to accomplish while working with kids.  Plus, my opportunities to train librarians may be presented to me in the future and in a different way.  With this belief I'm happy with my decision to accept a school library position working for the Washington D.C. Public School System.  

My Loves!
I'm happy that I will be working with a group of students in this district who need it most.   Many of these students mirror the students I’ve taught in Chicago and East St. Louis so I feel like I’m on familiar ground.  I'm excited that I will be opening a new chapter in my career working in a field that has helped me personally develop into a more outgoing and outspoken person.  I'm relieved that will be closer to my sister and will be able to read and play games with my niece and nephew every day.  Overall, I'm pleased with the decision I've made to move to the east coast.  I'm still working in a library and having those insightful ‘conversations at the circulation desk,’ with students and that alone in itself makes me happy.  

1.  East St. Louis Race Riots -
2.  School Library Journal. ‘Leader for Readers:  K.C. Boyd.
3.  ESTL 2016-217 Circulation Report.