It's hard to believe, but my book fair starts on Monday. There's still some logistical kinks to work out that are giving me really odd dreams (like the one I had two nights ago, where my third graders stormed the library, holding credit cards to pay for their books, and the internet died) and some minor moments of panic, but it'll all work out in the end. At least, that's what I keep telling myself.
I'd asked for our book shipment to be moved to Wednesday after realizing that if they came Thursday, I'd only have a day to set up before a holiday on Friday. They came late in the day, but luckily just in time for a community volunteer and two mothers to arrive to help with setup, which made the whole process go more quickly. I'd already begun unpacking when they arrived, and between the boxes, the three long tables rustled up and my two usual round ones, the easels and the books, we were quickly running out of space to move. But, many hands make quick work, and by six p.m. all the boxes had been unpacked and stored, books placed in easels and on tables, and we went home satisfied and pleased with our work.
Yet, as we worked, I noticed that for a K-8 fair, there were surprisingly few materials for the K-1 crowd, which annoyed me. I made a mental note to complain about it later to my Scholastic rep, but thought nothing more of it. By the time I arrived home at 7:30, I had begun to feel tremendously unwell, so much so that I delayed going in the next morning until 11 a.m. I arrived feeling feverish, congested and achy and walked into the library to find that four more boxes had arrived. Here were the missing materials, only now I had to figure out what to do with the fact that I had four more boxes, no more tables, and no more space. To say I wanted to burst into tears is an understatement.
Luckily, I realized that the slots that divide the easels into four could be removed with a little effort, and so I set to work. I then began paring down the number of books on display, leaving out a few copies for the older students' books, but generally opting for only one or two per book for the younger kids. I worked throughout the afternoon, rearranging again and again until finally, at about 2:15, I got the last books placed. Granted, I then had a giant pile on my desk that needed to be put into the closet for storage, but at least the book fair was in order. With the help of a student volunteer, I soon got those cataloged into an Excel file and stashed away (they will need to be organized somehow so that I can easily distribute them for purchase, but I'll cross that hurdle on Monday).
I am nervous about how the displays will hold up when the students come to look at them on Monday, but I'm hoping that some creative arrangements with the teachers will minimize the issues. I've still got signs to make (since Massachusetts charges a 6.25% sales tax and I don't want kids to come in short when they make their orders, I'm writing price tags for the books that include sales tax), but I will say that for now, the book fair looks pretty darn good.
During library school, cataloguing was the most notoriously difficult class, and though I found it a challenge, I also found it appealed to a certain part of my brain. There's something immensely satisfying in puzzling out why an item has been categorized one way versus another, and what that choice reveals about the person who made the decision. Some books are very straightforward, but others could easily be a blend - especially in the holiday book section, as I'm currently finding. Where do you put a book with a St. Patrick's Day theme that isn't purely factual, but blends facts about the holiday with a story? Is it non-fiction? Fiction? If you put it in fiction, will you be doing students who want to find books on St. Patrick's Day a disservice?
These are the questions I find myself pondering as I work on automation, but as I've worked, I've noticed an interested, albeit somewhat frustrating (to me) trend. As I've said before, I rely on WorldCat and the Minuteman Library Network catalog to classify non-fiction books. I look up the book, find a call number, and use it. But with holiday books, I'm noticing a trend across the country to recategorize these books in their own call number: HOLIDAY. Gone are the Dewey Decimal categories for Halloween, Easter, St. Patrick's Day or Christmas. Part of me understands this - it's easier to group all the holiday books together and then subdivide into the specific holiday name. I like the specificity offered by Dewey, which is why I've elected to categorize my books by it, but clearly I'm bucking the trend.
It's a hot topic in the school library world at the moment as well - whether to categorize a collection by subject/genre or by Dewey. Neither system is flawless, and I think my ideal is a blended system, where books are grouped together by topic but also organized by Dewey number, but it's interesting to see that this trend is very much in force in the holiday book section.
One of the main struggles I have had to contend with in my library since beginning is the state of utter disarray the library is usually in at the end of a Wednesday, when I teach K-1, K-2, and special needs throughout the day. The little kids are excited about book checkout, and in their rush to find the perfect book, they have an unfortunate tendency of leaving books strewn about all over the floor and the shelves, leaving me or one of my student workers to clean up after them. I've tried talking to them and reminding them as they search to put books back, but it never seems to sink in.
That's when I decided I would experiment with shelf markers. The librarian I worked with for my elementary practicum used them to mixed results, but I figured something would be better than nothing. Using tips gleaned from Cari at The Centered School Library, I asked for paint stirrers at Home Depot (they handed over an armful), bought a $3 tin of trial paint in a vibrant shade of orange, and snagged some cute back-to-school themed cardstock and Modge Podge at Michael's. I started by painting the sticks on both sides, two coats each. I learned the hard way that unless you're careful, you're going to get newspaper stuck to your sticks, but I managed to get the worst of it off.
Next, I modge-podged the cardstock onto the top of each stick for decorative purposes - one layer on the wood, then another over the paper. Once they dried, they looked really nice. And best of all, after incorporating a short demonstration on how to use them, the kids managed to use them more or less as intended, and when the day was done, I had about a 95% improvement in tidiness - I still had to put away a few books, but it was a much easier task than the massive cleanups I'd been doing at the end of the day before. I will definitely be using these again (but first I have to remember I have them!), because the time it took to make them is a small investment compared to how much time (and stress) is saved by using them.
I came across this idea ages ago on Mrs. Lodge's Library Blog, and immediately fell in love with the concept. Common sight words are glued to building blocks, which students can then use to form poetry. I thought it offered a fun twist on the idea of magnetic poetry, and would incorporate the idea of play and learning nicely, and so I purchased a bag of 90 blocks from Amazon for about $10, printed out the Dolch sight words, and set to work with my jar of Modge Podge.
As I worked, my roommate couldn't resist using the blocks to make poems, which encouraged me - if a 27-year old found enjoyment in using this center, surely it would prove a hit with my students.
I experimented first by introducing it to my first grade and PTC class (special needs). The results were less than stellar. While the students had a blast playing with the blocks, the concept of using the blocks to make poetry did not sink in. The library centers are meant to incorporate play and learning together, which was clearly not happening, so I regretfully made the decision to make this an older student center only. I tried again with fifth grade, and this time, the center proved to be a huge success. The students definitely need more words (which means I'll be buying another set of blocks and adding in some more advanced vocabulary), but they had a great time making poems. The only thing I will note is that some of the words have already started to come off, with minimal use. I don't know if the solution is to use more modge podge or figure out a stronger adhesive, but I'll have to investigate further.
If you've ever tried running a Google search for something that you're certain exists but you just can't hit upon the right combination of words, you'll know how powerless and frustrated you feel.
Now imagine you're the librarian of a school library and students ask multiple times a day "Ms. Bery, do you know where this book is? Do we have it?" The only answer I'm usually able to give is a thoroughly helpful "I don't know" or to point them to browse in the right section. It's a frustrating exercise and it makes me feel as though I'm not serving my students to the best of my abilities, and I'm not. Our library is lucky enough to have a lovely little collection, filled with wonderful books, but without the power of a catalog, card or otherwise, there's simply no efficient way to find out what we do or do not have in our collection.
My frustration with this state of affairs has led me to begin the painstaking work of automating the library. It sounds simple, but it's actually a fairly involved multi-step process.
I start by pulling a selection of books off the shelves. I then evaluate each one, seeing if some need to be weeded (and some definitely do - I think the oldest book I've pulled off the shelves to date was published some time in the 1950s). I then begin the process of entering the remaining books into LibraryWorld, our online catalog. Most of the time, I am able to locate a record for the book through a different library network, but sometimes I have to enter it manually. I must then scan in the actual book using its unique barcode (which I put on), and enter a call number. For fiction, this is easy: FIC and the first three letters of an author's last name. For non-fiction however, I rely on WorldCat and the local Minuteman Library Network catalog to see how other libraries have classified the book using Dewey Decimal Classification. I record the call number and save the record of the book electronically. Once the spine label with the call number has been affixed, I place the book back on the shelf.
It's time consuming, but it's also rather gratifying seeing my efforts pay off, slowly but surely. My hope is I am able to catalog the majority of the non-fiction collection before the end of the school year so that students and teachers alike know exactly what we have and can make more use of the library's collection.
One of the things I am most grateful for as a new librarian is the helpfulness and generosity of my colleagues across the state in terms of offering advice. As the book fair approaches, I've wanted to get a heads up on some of the important logistical aspects of organizing and scheduling a successful fair. So I reached out to my professional network, otherwise known as the Massachusetts School Library Association.
MSLA is comprised of school librarians from across the state of Massachusetts, and in addition to sponsoring a yearly conference (which I sadly had to miss this year), the primary service it offers is an email listserv to communicate with other members. All I needed to do was send out an email describing my situation (working two days a week, running this without the help of the Parent Council), how big my school is, and what questions I had. Since I sent the email out four days ago, I've gotten literally a dozen responses from librarians (some of whom I know, some of who are perfect strangers) answering questions, offering advice and insight, and inviting me to get in touch with them for any follow-up advice.
Personally, I find this invaluable as a newbie trying to find my way, but I've also witnessed time and again how the listserv helps even experienced librarians. Joining the MSLA is one of the smartest things I've ever done for my own professional development, and I am both grateful for the help I've received and looking forward to sharing my experiences and expertise when the need arises.
Yes, the book fair is coming - in a month, to be precise. Now, I've never run a book fair before, and my school hasn't had one in over five years, so there's no precedent to rely on. I'm starting from scratch and flying solo, which is both exhilarating and a little terrifying.
Though Scholastic is wonderful at providing everything you need, my situation is complicated by the fact that I'm only at school two days a week. That means I have about six days of actual work time (in between teaching a full load) to get everything off the ground and organized. Throw in standardized testing and organizing a parent night, and there's a lot to be nervous about, but I have to hope for the best. I've resigned myself to the fact that I may well have to put in unpaid time to get this off the ground, but I'm committed to making this a success for my students. The ones who know we're having a fair are SO excited, and I owe it to them to make this a great experience.
I plan to make full use of Google Docs to engender collaboration between myself and the members of my committee, which should hopefully help (and cut down on the number of emails I have to send my principal). I'm also grateful for the help of the 5th grade homeroom teacher, who has volunteered to give up part of his planning time to help me.
The fun part of the book fair is that it allows my creative side to run wild. Pictured are the 100,000 reading minutes challenge bookmarks from Scholastic's website. I'm challenging our students to read (the equivalent of 20 minutes/student/day), and if they reach 75% of the total (though they're being told 100% for obvious reasons), there will be a teacher vs. student quiz show. I also plan to work some math skills in by asking students to estimate the final tally and maybe some other guessing games. There will be a 'match the teacher to their favorite book' display on the bulletin board, and I plan to utilize a third bulletin board that's gone untouched since my predecessor left to have kids do a "periodical table" of books read (another Scholastic idea).
The day of parent night, kids will dress up as their favorite book character. At the parent event that night, I'm running with a "fair" theme - popcorn, light dinner, games like a beanbag toss, face painting, a photo booth (idea shamelessly stolen from The Centered School Library), a costume show by the kids, and maybe a talent show. It'll be a lot of work, but if I can pull this off, I think it'll be an exciting, memorable event for the entire community.
My name is Ms. Bery. I am a PK-8 library media specialist in the Boston area. In addition to being a certified school librarian, I am also certified in instructional technology, and have a strong interest in exploring and integrating technology in new and exciting ways in the classroom.
I am also a 2016 PBS LearningMedia Local Digital Innovator, and a 2015 recipient of the Massachusetts School Library Association's President's Award.
Check out the Sandbox for apps and websites I've found useful in supporting student learning and creativity. I also review children's, middle grade, and young adult books on Instagram.
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