Having now worked in four different libraries and for five different communities, if there’s one thing I know, it’s that school partnerships can really be difficult to obtain. Currently, I’m very lucky to work for two communities that have really opened up to me without much arm twisting or teeth pulling angst. I have great relationships with four schools at this point and have been working with each of them in some capacity for the last year. I know how rare it is to have such luck with schools, so I wanted to just share the one thing that’s really made all the difference for me.
For me (and again, I know it’s not always this way for everyone), it’s been simple.
I just find ways to be around.
I started my position in the middle of the 2013-2014 school year. My predecessor had already done a great job of reaching out to local schools and hosting Battle of the Books practice competetions. This is a great program to offer, if you’re up for it. Personally, I recoiled from the idea of carrying on that tradition because, while I don’t mind being the center of attention for a storytime or other fun, energetic activities, I could not get into standing in front of an audience, reading and repeating questions and enforcing rules.
(And on a tangential note: If you don’t feel excited about a successful program that someone before you hosted, I think you should forgive yourself a little and let it go. If you don’t love it, you’re not going to do it with the same energy and joy and you’re going to miss out on sharing something that you love. It’s better to pass on your passion for a program to 10 kids rather than your ambivalence to 100.)
When the 2014-2015 year rolled around, I was determined to go out and meet some local school librarians. The week before school started, when teachers and faculty are getting set up, I visited 6 schools and simply introduced myself to their media specialists. I chatted with them about their media centers, how much I loved what they were doing, got excited with them about our common geekery, and I made sure to tell them that I would be thrilled to help with any projects they might be undertaking. I didn’t push any information on them. I just wanted to share a fun moment.
Almost every month afterward, I targeted a school and I would just drop by with some quarter sheets advertising our programs and I’d do the same thing as the first time.
Within a few months, a couple people started asking for help with things. For instance, one school librarian asked me to collect donations for her makerspace. Others just wanted some information like resources for new songs and fingerplays or help with finding performers to bring in. I’ve arranged for them to borrow iPads from our tech lab and installed apps they need.
After several months of literally just showing up unannounced and being happy to help, I’ve seen some great progress. Going into the summer, I’m speaking to every student in those four schools I mentioned. I’ll be meeting their classes, telling them about summer reading, and sending them home with a library card application and schedule of events. Before school dismisses for the summer, I’ll be picking up any card applications they’ve been able to collect and then I’ll have library accounts prepared for them when they visit us. I’m also invited to the open house for one of these schools and I attend staff meetings at another. One school (within walking distance of the library) plans to bring all their grades to our branch once a month next year. I mean, how cool are school librarians?
(If you’re looking for some read alouds for your class visits, here’s a stack that’s worked wonders for me.)
And if you’re thinking you might not have time for this, believe me, I understand. I have a hard time making it work myself, but the rewards for those 30 minutes I take to stop by a school are amazing. Let me leave you with one last story.
One particular school librarian was clearly just humoring me when I would stop by. At one point, she told me that, “unlike the public library” her job was “different everyday” and she frequently referred to me as an “adult librarian.” After helping her with a couple projects through the year, she contacted me in the spring to talk about the possibility of combining our summer reading programs. Despite the icky feeling I had about her perception of my job, I really admired her work and thought she had an incredible summer reading program, which was typically a lot more popular than ours. She hosted weekly family nights at her media center and even drove a bookmobile to trailer parks and low-income housing. This year, her funding was stripped, but she knew exactly what to do. She asked me to provide the programs and space with her staff to help.
We made plans to keep my smaller branch open later to accommodate more kids, brought in newer, bigger shelves to store more books, worked with the City to provide more space for us, and I’ll be training her volunteer staff to use our software and help close the branch. We’ve worked hard to make sure that every student in her school has a library card and we’ve brought every class on a walking field trip to the library for a tour and a talk about summer reading. After a month of tours and watching me interact with the kids, I overheard her tell a child that I was the “children’s librarian.”
I silently walked to the back and did a wild victory dance.
To date, we’ve added 56 new kids to the public library and the applications continue to roll in. We’re so excited to keep up the momentum, and another elementary school heard about this and is considering doing the same next year.
Guys, take 30 minutes and just be around.