Gardening seems to be emerging as my current blogging arc so this week I’m posting about sowing the seeds that, I hope, will someday grow into a real life elementary library!
The Challenge: Get More Books Into Elementary Students’ Hands
We are a PK-12 school with one library. Middle and high school students visit us before school, after school, and throughout the day. Beginning in grade 3, elementary students take the quarter-mile, up-hill, trek from the elementary to the library located at the very top and far opposite end of the campus. Mid-Pacific is nestled in beautiful Manoa Valley in the mountains above Honolulu which is known for a frequent rain that locals call “Manoa mist.” I must admit that I love when it rains on elementary class days because I get to admire the “iPad raincoats” that the elementary kids make out of Ziploc freezer bags! It’s amazing how creative kids can get with a Ziploc bag, markers, and brightly colored duct tape.
Given our limits on space, scheduling, staffing, and the basic fact that furniture that is right for a 6′ 4″ high school boy is never going to work well for a 3rd grader I have to say that we do pretty amazingly well with our programming. That being said, I decided early on that improving our elementary students’ access to print books was going to be one of the things that I most wanted to improve.
Floating a “Little Idea”
My original idea was for us to purchase books for teachers’ individual classroom libraries. When I floated my little idea with our elementary principal, however, she suggested that we consider building a collection that could be housed in a central area and accessed by multiple classes. In the blink of an eye the idea for an elementary library collection was sown.
Think Big, Then Think Bigger!!!
During budget season, I wrote up a proposal for a one-time infusion of $10,000 specifically to be used to launch an elementary print collection with the hope that I could subsequently get an additional $3000-$5000 added to my budget to maintain and add to it. My hope was to be able to launch a lending collection with enough titles to have sufficient critical mass that students would not be in the position of having browsed and read everything of interest to them after their third visit to the collection and $10,000 seemed like a nice number. Because there is currently no space where an elementary library can be housed permanently, our initial plan is to house the collection on carts that can be moved. $10,000 might seem like a lot of money (and it is), but one of the main drawbacks to life on an island in the middle of the sea is that shipping costs for things like book trucks can be astronomical. Shipping on a $300 truck from a library supplier might easily run us an additional $150+ for shipping.
The week after my conversation with the elementary principal, I was approached by one of our Mid-Pacific eXploratory (MPX) teachers to ask if we had a use for some book shelves. MPX is a cross-disciplinary project-based learning curriculum into which our 9th and 10th graders may opt.
A defining aspect of the MPX curriculum is that student projects solve real world problems so our high schools students set about solving the Library’s elementary library storage problem. Students interviewed us to assess needs, designed shelves/carts, and learned welding and painting skills as they built our carts–skills that they will continue to improve upon when they design and build electric bicycles in a culminating project on sustainable transportation solutions!
As you might imagine, incorporating student-built carts/shelves required flexibility beyond choosing books trucks out of a catalog, but it was an opportunity to make the library a central part of our students’ learning experience in a non-traditional way, and amazing serendipitous opportunities like those are just too precious to pass up!
Choices That Will Scale(?)
Because my elementary budget proposal was written for the 2016-2017 school year and we just could’t wait to begin, we began purchasing some PK-2nd material on a small scale so that we could begin to develop sustainable processes and polices. Among the kinds of things we considered were:
- How should books be cataloged?
- How should elementary books be processed before they go onto a cart?
- How does one create a hidden collection of books that reside in a different space and that won’t show up when patrons search the catalog in the library?
- Without an elementary librarian, how will the books be checked out?
- How will we inventory?
- How long should books be loaned?
- How will returned books be processed?
- What happens if a student loses a book?
To keep it short(er), we decided to catalog books with an ELEM prefix in the call number. Add a “Mid-Pacific Elementary Library” stamp with the school address to the title page. Stamp the top and bottom of the book pages with our “Mid-Pacific.” Add a book pocket and check-out card to the back of the book. Catalog the books with an “Elementary Library” material type that is a “hidden collection” in Destiny (thank you to the generous folk on the listserv who helped me figure that piece out). Decided that we’d try self-check out with physical cards. Decided that we would commit an hour of library staff time each afternoon to set-up date due cards, process returned books, and place the books back on carts to be borrowed. Decided that we would inventory books once per quarter to see how we were doing with losses and damaged material. And that we would not charge PK-2 students for lost or damaged books to start.
Expect the Unexpected, but Just Keep Moving Forward
Needless to say, I am HUGELY excited to see our pilot for this initiative coming to fruition. I have to say that the all the moving parts and everything being an unknown is spectacularly un-nerving, but my administrators are excited and supportive so the reality is that my fears are just…fears. In the end, getting more good books into the hands of our youngest readers (Our youngest PK students are in the class of…2030!!! Hahaha!!!) is all that really will really matter in the end.
As much as I love welcoming elementary students into our current library, my dream is that we end up with an elementary collection that is large enough, used enough, and valued enough that the only logical next step will be to build us a space and to bring on a elementary librarian to make the physical space into a real fully-realized elementary library!
Planting a seed in a garden and nurturing it until it blooms or bears fruit is an act of faith. I’m planting the seeds of a library, planning on giving it love and care, and hoping for the best!
Wish us luck!