Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Downside of Being a School Librarian

I have spent the last 30 years working in public schools in Louisiana. I have to say, except when I taught in a classroom that was federally funded, that I never had the funding that I needed to run my program. When I became a librarian in 1991, I knew immediately that the budget from the district and the state would not be enough to maintain and improve the collection. There were some block grants and some school money that helped in the early years, but I knew from the first time that I stepped into a library that I would have to hold fundraisers if I wanted to provide my students with a vibrant program. You can't run a library on nothing though I wish that you could. 

When I arrived at PFTSTA eight years ago, the district gave me a budget to match our student body of 175 students. I was starting a library from scratch at a new school. I needed funding. The principal, at the time, had received grant monies to outfit the school, and luckily, she was generous with the library. You may think that $40,000 is a lot of money, but when a library has nothing, this money does not go far. I began to write grants and found funding to build a collection. This was just after Hurricane Katrina, and there was money flowing into southern Louisiana. Most of those sources now require schools to show high poverty with 85% or higher free or reduced lunch. My students are not wealthy, but our percentage is much lower than that making us ineligible for many grants. 

Gearing the middle school up for the library fundraiser
Running a fundraiser is one way that I ask for support from our community and raise money to stock the shelves and have money for programming. This was the first year that we held a book fair because we didn't have the space until we moved into our new facility. I was happy with the results of the fair, but our profit of $1000 does not go far when buying books or electronic resources. On November 10th we kicked off the fundraiser for the middle school students. We work with Great American Opportunities (GA) and have done so for many years. A few years ago the sales rep asked if I wanted to try a special program with GA. It is kind of crazy, but we earn a profit of 50%, so it is well worth it. The students sell out of a catalog that changes each year. Family, friends and neighbors place orders in the catalog, and I have to submit the orders before the Thanksgiving holidays. The items are not shipped until early February. The students do not collect the money until the items arrive at school. It is a long wait from ordering in November and receiving the items three months later, and sometimes, people forget what they ordered. Since I always make a tidy profit, this fundraiser is a necessary evil. I really hate to ask students to sell for me. It just doesn't feel right, but without fundraisers, there would not be enough money to keep the library up to date. 

I usually love my job, but this is one aspect that I wish would go away. I wish that every library could have the funding needed to provide quality services to our students. High quality libraries are libraries that students want to use because they are attractive, have new books, have resources needed for class assignments and offer programs that make the library a fun and vibrant place to visit. I talked to a colleague who recently went to work at a private school. There are two libraries in the school with one budget but that budget of $35,000 a year is extremely sweet. My total budget in a good year is about $4000. Before you say that is crazy for a school serving 6th-12th grades, I need to tell you that the district pays for a couple of databases (Gale and World Book) and the library management software (Destiny). The school pays for another database (Britannica Online) and  a couple of other electronic resources including Turnitin, Easybib and Britannica Image Quest. If my budget had to fund those wonderful resources, I don't know how we would make it. 

I know that other libraries have fewer resources than we do, but I also know that there are many libraries with lots more resources. Though fundraisers are not something I enjoy, I do what I think is necessary. In my dreams I imagine a library with a large budget, but for now, I am staying here and using my problem solving skills to figure out how to buy the latest reads for my students who never want their favorite series to end. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Louisiana Book Festival 2014

Two years ago, I took a group of about 9 members of Bookmarked to Baton Rouge for the annual book festival. We skipped last year, but there were so many young adult authors who were attending this year that I thought it was a good time to go again. Since the students had to get their own transportation to Baton Rouge which is about 90 minutes away, it cut down on who could attend. I had two members of Bookmarked join me as well as a sibling who attends a different school, and two members of BRiMS who spend every lunch period with me. The kids all had a blast. From 10:30 until 4, we attended three author sessions and three author signings, ate lunch, visited the exhibitors and authors hawking books at tables and climbed the steps of the state capitol. 

Ruta Sepetys on the left and Chris Wiltz on the right

The students with the authors, and I am standing on the right
Our first stop was a 30 minute presentation by Ruta Sepetys, who I call my friend and who visited us at PFTSTA in 2013. Ruta says that Chris' Wiltz's book, The Last Madam, was the book that pushed her to try her hand at writing. I have heard them speak before, and they are both delightful and insightful as to the state of mind of a writer. Ruta writes historical fiction that is a hard sell, but her two books are so beautifully written that it would be a shame to pass them up just because of the genre.

Our second author event was the presentation to Kendare Blake for her book, Anna Dressed in Blood, which was the honor book from the Louisiana Teen Reader's Choice awards. She spoke for over an hour because she talked about the honor book and another series of hers that begins with the book, Anti Goddess.  Her books are creepy with lots of supernatural elements. Her work is not my kind of thing, but the kids were on the edge of their seats as she described the premise for each book and her inspiration.

These two were thrilled to get Kendare Blake to sign their books

The third and last author event of the day was a panel with Natalie Parker, Julie Murphy and Tessa Gratton. These three authors had been on a road trip for 2 weeks visiting book stores and attending book events as well as finding unusual roadside attractions. All three find setting a crucial aspect to their stories, and they used their travel time to get inspired. They were funny, told stories on each other and gave the audience a glimpse into their writing process. One thing that surprised me was their description of the short stories that they posted online as writing exercises with their critique partners. They said that some of the stories were good but many were not, but the stories remain available online for all to read. I couldn't post anything that would embarrass me later. I think they are very brave ladies.

Tessa is on the left with Julie in the middle and Natalie on the right 

Books by the three authors
Meeting author, Vicky Shecter, who wrote Curses and Smoke

What a great day we had in Baton Rouge! 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

SLJ Summit 2014 Learning

Photo taken and shared on Flickr by SLJ
I just had a very intense but wonderful weekend in St. Paul, MN with 200 other school librarians. Every year, for the last ten years, School Library Journal has sponsored a weekend where librarian leaders from across the US can convene and learn and talk and network and figure out how school librarians will save the world. We will you know, even if it is only one book or one kid at a time. It is called the SLJ Summit.

The conference is free, and the many vendors help to provide meals and receptions where the librarians can spend time talking with their colleagues. It is very cool to be in a room with the many people that I follow on Twitter or through their blogs. It is impossible for me to process everything that I learned and talked about last weekend, but I thought that I would list some of the highlights here so that I can remember what the weekend meant to me.

Slide from Dr. Mark Edwards' presentation

The Summit opened with Mark Edwards, who is superintendent of schools in Mooresville, NC. He is an active advocate for school libraries and school librarians. When he had to make cuts two years ago, he said that he never thought about cutting the library programs in his schools because they are too important for the kids in his district. He knows that not all superintendents agree with him, and he has served as an advocate for all librarians when he talks to district administrators throughout the US. He brought a cadre of librarians from his district with him. They spoke on a panel talking about how they infuse the four Cs of 21st century skills including collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity into their library programs. They had some great ideas. Here is a link to the presentation that Dr. Edwards made along with the librarians from his district. Rather than list my take aways from this panel, I am going to suggest that you open the link to the presentation and see what each of the media specialists shared. There are ideas and links with lots of examples from their libraries. 

Patricia Polacco shows the keeping quilt that her children had made for her
One of the author speakers for the event was Patricia Polacco. I love her work because she creates picture books for older students. When I was an elementary librarian, I used her work with 3rd and 4th graders. She spoke from the heart and let us know that teachers and librarians don't know the power they have to save the students under their care. She had multiple learning problems herself that made school very difficult, but she had several teachers along the way who helped her foster her gifts. She made for a very inspiring speaker. I was thrilled to have a chance to tell her how I would read Pink and Say every year to the 4th graders and how I would finish with asking them to shake my hand because I shook the hand of Patricia Polacco who shook the hand of the man who shook the hand and so on until her many greats grandfather shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln. All the kids would anxiously put out their hands until I shook every single one of them. I use to love reading that book even though it always made me cry. 

Rock star librarian, Joyce Valenza, led a panel of librarians who all spoke on how they viewed their role as leaders in their schools. They used the metaphor of an animal to describe their style of leadership. Here is the padlet that Joyce created for all the attendees to get a chance to voice what kind of leader they are. Some of the characteristics of a leader that were listed include: evolutionary, brave, have grit, adaptable, able to take care of others, able to endure and empowering of others. Before I attended the Summit, I went to a local library conference where the keynote speaker said that every library leader has one thing in common. All know how to advocate for themselves and for all libraries by sharing what they do with those who make the decisions be it in the school, the district or at the legislative level. I think that the leaders at the Summit would agree. 

My lego duck
The keynote for the second day was given by Stephan Turnipseed from Lego. He gave us five legos and told us to build a duck. He said every time that he does this with a large group, no two ducks are alike. He talked about creativity and how as librarians we can inspire our students. Then he explained that transformation, combination and exploration are the three types of creativity that can be done alone or in collaboration. All students can be creative we just have to figure out how to tap it. Love that idea.

One of the best panels of the whole weekend was near the end, when six librarians and one teacher gave five fifteen minute learning sessions. Each of them spoke about a successful program that they have instituted in their school. I especially liked hearing how Andy Plemmons gives the students in his school voice by deciding what books should be purchased for their library's collection. Each year he gives the group a chunk of money to spend. Very cool idea. I also liked the inspiration behind Pernille Ripp's global read aloud. I have been following her on her blog and was delighted to get to hear her speak. 

It was a wonderful weekend, and I was thrilled that I could be a part of it. Now I have to see how I can continue to transform my library into a place that serves all the students in the school.

Read some blog posts from other school librarians who attended this marvelous event:
Jane Lofton in California
Cathy Potter in Maine
Jennifer Reed in Massachusetts 
Highlights of the Summit from School Library Journal

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sometimes Getting Nominated is All you Need

The other day I received news that I was nominated for an Outstanding Educator Award from the University of Chicago. Every year, the university asks freshman to nominate a teacher from their high school who have made a direct impact on them. Patrick Taylor alumnus, Thomas Sostarics, nominated me. After receiving the letter, I texted Thomas a big thank you, and he responded by telling me that it was the least that he could do for all the support that I gave him and all of his classmates over the years that they attended Taylor. I feel so honored that he thought so much of me. Thomas was always an outstanding student, and when I wrote recommendations for him for college, I ended this way, (Thomas) "is going to be a real asset on any campus where he lands, and he will take advantage of every opportunity that you offer him. This is one of the students whom I will miss most of all when school starts up in the fall of 2014." It is so true. I miss him each and every day, but I know that he was more than ready to have flown the coop. I also know that he will soar now that he has the world of opportunities open to him at the University of Chicago.

I was sent a certificate, the plaque above, and the letter below

Double click on the letter above to read

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Thank you, Chris Grabenstein

I met Chris Grabenstein at a conference last March, and I was delighted by the way he captured an audience's attention. I knew that my students would love having a chance to talk to him. So I selected his book, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library as the read for the middle school book group in October. It was difficult to find a date that worked for both of us, but a few months ago we were able to confirm a date for skyping with him. BRiMS had the best time talking and listening to Chris because Chris Grabenstein is a hoot. He was very entertaining, and no question went unanswered. Some of the kids had some super questions for him, like asking him how living in New York has influenced his books. You can find out more about this Skype session and see more pictures by visiting the library website here

Monday, October 20, 2014

Bookmarked President Writes Post for The Hub

Over the summer, Destiny Burnett entered a contest to write for the YALSA blog, The Hub, during Teen READ Week. She along with 30 other teens are being published all month long in this well read blog. She wrote a wonderful post on diversity in YA literature, and it was published today. Open here to read her post

Excited about Teen's Top Ten 2014 List

My book group, Bookmarked, helped to nominate the books that were on the list for Teen's Top Ten. Teens around the country just finished selecting their ten favorites from the 25 nominated titles. What a great list it is! I can't wait to share the list with my students. I know that they will be thrilled too. 

Watch this video from YALSA announcing the titles or see the list below.

Teen's Top Ten
  1. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (Macmillan/St. Martin's Griffin)
  2. Splintered by A.G. Howard (ABRAMS/Amulet Books)
  3. The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson (Tor Teen)
  4. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (Penguin/Putnam Juvenile) 
  5. Monument 14: Sky on Fire by Emmy Laybourne (Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends)
  6. Earth Girl by Janet Edwards (Prometheus Books /Pyr)
  7. The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau, Joelle (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  8. Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson (Random House/Delacorte Press)
  9. Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo (Macmillan/Henry Holt Books for Young Readers)
  10. The Eye of Minds by James Dashner (Random House/Delacorte Press)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Recap of Teen READ Week 2014

Dream Catchers 
Every year, I enlist the help of members of the high school book group, Bookmarked, to help me plan and execute all the activities for Teen READ Week. Because let's face it, it is the middle school students who get excited about the games and contests that we plan. There are always some high schoolers who participate, but it is the younger ones who get into the spirit of the week with gusto. This year was no different. Each day students could answer the clues for the guessing game that we play in some variation every year, as well as another special activity for each day during lunch. 
No, she did not guess the correct number of candy bars

Creating a dream catcher takes a lot of concentration
When we began planning, none of us was taken by the theme Turn your Dreams into Reality. The idea of careers and jobs just didn't seem very exciting for TRW. It turned out to be a great theme. Our clues for the guessing game revolved around the jobs of our favorite book characters. For the jar that we fill with items where students must guess the correct number, we stuffed Pay Day bars and 100 Grand bars which we thought fit the theme. We created dream catchers for turning our dreams into reality, and we took photos and added speech bubbles explaining what we dream to be when we grow up. The scavenger hunt did not actually fit the theme, but it revolved around books and libraries so we thought it was fitting.appropriate. 

These girls found a book and are deciphering a clue for the scavenger hunt

The students could only access the library OPAC to help with the clues
You can find lots more pictures of the week on the library website. Open here to visit the page of pics

Monday, October 13, 2014

First Book Fair at PFTSTA

The first book fair ever to be held at PFTSTA ran from Monday, October 6th through Thursday, October 9th. It was a long four days but definitely worth it. We sold $4700 of books, posters, pens, erasers, etc. I had lots of help at the cash register from the members of Bookmarked and BRiMS. They did a super job of helping make it all happen. The middle school students had a great time picking out fun reads, but surprisingly, the high school students did, too. Not much more needs to be said except the place was packed on Wednesday during the middle school grandparents' breakfast. Unfortunately, I was too busy to take pictures while the special visitors were in the library shopping with their grandchildren. Below are photos that capture the week for me. 


None of those pictures of students with books in their hands were posed. The kids were engrossed in the titles that they found for sale on the shelves. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Getting Ready for Teen READ Week 2014

Last week was book fair and next week is Teen READ Week. As the week progresses, I will post pictures here. Per our usual game plan for TRW, the library will be hopping with lots of activities, games and contests every day at lunch. Members of Bookmarked helped me plan and will be my assistants next week. I have got all the supplies ready to go, and I can't wait for lunch time on Monday. 

Turn Your Dreams into Reality  @ PFTSTA LibraryTeen Read Week 2014

PicturePrize for guessing the correct number of candies.
1. Annual Library Book Mark Contest: Two winners-one from middle school and one from high school-will receive a $20 Barnes and Noble gift card, and their bookmark reproduced to give away to the PFTSTA community. You can visit the library for a hard copy or open here: and print out from the web.
All bookmarks are due in the library by Wednesday, October 15th at 2:30PM.

2. Dream Jobs Guessing Game: Every day during Teen Read Week, you can visit the library to get a clue about a character from a book or movie who has a special job. If you answer correctly you will receive a prize. You may enter this contest once a day each day of the week.

3. Fine Forgiveness Week: You may return any overdue book/s during Teen Read Week without having to pay a fine.

4. Guess the Candy in the jar: When you go to work, would you rather a PayDay bar or $100 Grand? The winner’s answers must be closest to the correct number without going over. Guess the correct number of candy bars in the jar and win a PayDay tin bank. 

5. Vote for Teen’s Top Ten: Members of Bookmarked helped nominate books for Teen’s Top Ten, now you can help select the best of the best. Vote for up to three of your favorite books from 2013 here:

6. Now showing in your library: Visit the library at lunch on Monday, to watch an episode of the television show Twilight Zone, "Man in a Bottle, " narrated by Rod Serling, an episode of someone who is unhappy with his profession and dreams of improving his life. Popcorn will be served.

7. What do you dream to be? Visit the library at lunch on Tuesday and Friday, and we will take a picture of you. You will put a thought bubble over your head using and type in what you dream to be in the future. Photos will be printed out and hung on a dream catcher that you can make on Wednesday.

8. Play Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Scavenger Hunt: Visit the library on Thursday and form a team of three. You will have a chance to play a scavenger hunt among the shelves of the library. Spirit monkeys will be awarded for those who find all the clues and solve the riddle.

9.  Create a dreamcatcher for you picture: Visit the library Wednesday and Friday at lunch for this activity. Materials will be available for you to make a dreamcatcher.

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