What I Learned When I Gave Away Books

First some necessary background information.

1. My school didn’t have a librarian for at least 3 years before me.
2. My school is Title I, which I discovered means that many publishing companies send the school a TON of copies of a few books for “classroom libraries” at the end of the year.
3. My school has gone through a HUGE number of transitions in the last 15 or so years. It was a middle school, high school, “learning center” (whatever that means), twilight school… It also received a lot of leftovers from other schools when they were closed. And at one point, a high school from down the road was moved to our building “temporarily,” along with all of their stuff, and never moved back.
4. As far as I can tell, no one had ever gone through most of all the stuff that had fallen into corners of classrooms and the library.

So I decided to go through it. Because we are moving and it’s a good time to clean house.

As I began to go through the process, I realized that something better should be done with all the books I was finding than donating or sending to classroom libraries to collect dust. I couldn’t justify adding all of them to the collection. Most were old, paperbacks that I didn’t think would get enough attention off the wall and would just end up being weeded out within three years. I also didn’t want to just throw them away. But they needed to be used somehow.

I decided that I wanted my students to have first crack at these books. Obviously, my students come from low-income households. They’re struggling in school. They need to read over the summer but they have no books. Why not let them take these? So, with no rhyme or reason or method whatsoever, no display-like advertising, I threw these books, cover up on the work tables. They were everywhere. There were so many of them. And I told the teachers to bring their classes for a few minutes and I spread word through those students who were constantly checking books out over the course of the year. And I made sure that every student who walked in knew they didn’t ever have to bring these books back, that they were theirs to keep or give away or whatever they wanted.

THE RESPONSE FROM STUDENTS WAS OVERWHELMING. They flooded the library and took as many as they wanted. Boys who hadn’t checked out anything all year FREAKED OUT and took all the old “Star Wars” books and then told their friends to come get more. They asked me how many they could get and when I said “However many you want!”, they asked if I had any bags to hold all the books they wanted. They asked me over and over again if they really didn’t have to bring them back.

I almost cried.

I believe that this occurred because the books were free to take, to keep, to have. There was no responsibility on the student to bring the books back. If a book got destroyed, it didn’t matter. I truly believe, after this occurrence, that my students want to read, but do not have the ability (for a number of reasons) to do so.

I will do this at the end of every year, in every school I work at. I don’t actually know what happens to books I weed out and box up to be collected by the Media Services department, but I feel certain they wouldn’t mind if I gave them to students instead.


What I Learned When I Ordered Too Many Books

or: Genrefying is a Legit Thing

or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Covers

or: Some of the Theories About Diversity in YA Might Be Wrong…

Okay, I didn’t really order too many books. My library is being packed up and moved to another building for the next school year while ours is being renovated, so one of my goals for this school year was to do a major weeding project in fiction and to order mostly fiction to update the collection. I want to come back to the new Learning Commons with a fresh, clean, desirable fiction section. I’m fairly certain that I was pretty successful at this.

But I ordered like 200 new books and they arrived as I was in the middle of my weeding project. I did not want to confuse myself by shelving them and having to put hands on them again when I already knew I wanted them here.

So I put them on the tables in the MC. Literally just cover up on different tables, organized by genre. Essentially I had a mini collection of fiction organized by genre and displayed so you can see all the covers.

The amount of attention this drew was MIRACULOUS. Students who normally read got SO EXCITED. Students who didn’t normally check books out went through them and checked books out. They TALKED ABOUT THE BOOKS IN FRONT OF THEM. It. Was. Tremendous.

Here’s why I think it worked.

1. Genrefying. When we throw all the books on the shelf in alphabetical order by author’s last name, we don’t give possible readers anything to go on to find a book except for whatever they can see on the spine.

2. Covers. I mean just read number 1 again.

I’ve been considering genrefying my library for a while. I did it at a middle school library I interned at and then did a lot of research into it and I really think it’s a good idea. I think I’m going to add that as a goal during the move and transition, but I’d also like to find more ways to shelve or display books with the covers out. Does anyone have thoughts or suggestions?

Also, and I’m going to do a more specific post on this at some point, but I noticed that many students did not care what was on the cover as long as it looked cool. This is a big thing for me. I always thought that a young black girl would probably not pick up a book with a young white girl on the cover, and I don’t think I got that thought from nowhere. I feel like I’ve been hearing it, reading it, discussing its factness for a while. It may be right in some cases, but it really wasn’t the case for my students here. If the cover was engaging and enticing, it did not matter what race the character pictured on the front was at all. I’m very intrigued by this.

I had a genius idea today!

I have been working on the new website for my Media Center for about three weeks now. It’s taking a while simply because I find it so difficult to stare at a computer screen for more than a couple of hours at a time. And there’s a lot to think about since I am starting from scratch on this project.

I am really close to being done, with only three sections/pages saying “Coming soon!,” and one of those legitimately can’t be updated yet because I still have a couple of battles to fight.

Part of the way through the day today, I looked at my schedule for tomorrow and realized that I am scheduled to teach the first 45 minutes of three classes for one teacher and give the students in another three classes at the same times a list of web resources for a research project on biomedical careers.

As I am only one Media Specialist, I can only be in one place at one time. I freaked for a minute while I was trying to figure out a way around this problem. That’s when I realized that something like a list of web resources – scholarly, credible places for students to start their research – is something that doesn’t necessarily require that I be present with the students.

And then I realized that students really need a copy of those web resources that they can get access to if they need it again later.

And I realized that, as a Media Specialist leading my school into learning and developing 21st century skills, I needed to find a way to do all of this digitally.

And then I remembered that even the most minor of collaborative efforts with teachers, such as a list of web resources, needs to be documented, for both me and the teacher.

The light bulb went off.

What I ended up creating is a blog page on my Media Center website called “Classes.” I was already using the blog function for news and happenings. On this new page, I can post class assignments by the teacher, title of assignment, and date it was assigned. The text of the blog, in the case of tomorrow’s assignment, is a list of the links I’m offering to help them get started. In other cases, it may be something different.

Each post can be categorized by the teacher, subject, and nature of the help I’m offering. Students can access this at any time, so if a student needs to make up the assignment, they don’t need to come see me as well as their classroom teacher. Best of all since this is by far the type of collaboration I do most often, I do not have to be present in order for it to help the students. I can be present, but it frees up that time, if necessary, for work in other areas.

I think that’s really important when your Media Center is a one-woman show. You have to find ways to make things work without you being present at all times. As one person, you can only do so much. But you can find ways to extend your reach using other resources.

Storytime isn’t Just a Tradition!

I am in LOVE with this article entitled Secrets of Storytime: 10 Tips for Great Sessions from a 40-year Pro! In case you don’t want to read the whole thing, the author’s 10 tips are highlighted in red.

One of the main points of this article is simply stated in this early quote: “My longstanding belief [is] that storytime is for children and adults.” Parents learn how to build literacy skills in their children, as well as learning about library programs and services and how to foster interest in reading.


When I was a classroom teacher (in a high school setting, mind you), I used storytime often. Teenagers need to be given the chance to address difficult subjects in simple formats. I realize that this is a little different, but I think what this public librarian has recognized is that something as simply as reading a story out loud is an educational experience for everyone involved.

I work at a school that, at this time, caters mostly to high school age students with small children who accompany them to the school and are in the pre-K rooms in the same building. This is, quite literally, my second day on the job, so I’m not sure what programs are already in place, but one of my ideas is to do storytime with the parents (high school age children) and children.

I’m really excited to try it and will update the blog on the progress and success!!

Reading for Fun

Here is a really interesting article from The Guardian summarizing a research project about the importance of reading for pleasure for teachers.

I wholeheartedly agree with pretty much everything the article and research says.

In my English classroom, we read the “classics” that we were able to in class, but I always had students read their own choice of books outside of class. I love talking with them about their choices and hearing what they had learned, and it always helped when I was able to say “Oh, I loved that book” or “I’m so glad you liked it. It’s the next thing on my list to read!” But it was extremely hard to keep up. I didn’t read Twilight or The Hunger Games until several years after they were first mentioned in my classroom. The article does mention a teacher’s lack of time to read, which was always difficult for me. I read mostly during the summer.

As a librarian, I *should* have more time to devote to building myself professionally through reading, as I won’t have things like grading papers to do. I think it’s really important for librarians to remember that and help teachers keep up with the reading interests of their teenage students.

Perhaps something like a once-a-semester booklist for teachers of books the teens are loving right now, or YA books that have movies coming out that the teens may be interested in, could be helpful to teachers. It would offer suggestions to the teachers for easy reads, and even if they don’t get to reading any of the titles on the list, they would at least have heard of them and be familiar with the plot thanks to the booklist. This could also easily be something done at the end of the year as a summer reading list for teachers. Obviously, this would be nothing required; it would just be something helpful for teachers, no strings attached.

I really like this idea. As a bonus, those are the type of lists I’d be creating for the students, too, so it wouldn’t be a heaping amount of additional work to make them for an audience of teachers instead of students.