By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer
Northborough/Southborough – Collaborating with teachers and the community, coordinating special projects, and utilizing new technology are all part of a typical day of a Northborough or Southborough school librarian.
“When I started in 1997, library lessons focused on books and using libraries properly,” explained Marion E. Zeh Elementary School Librarian MaryEllen Remillard. “Now library lessons are so varied.”
All the district librarians meet monthly to share their best practices and often borrow one another’s unique and creative unit ideas. An annual mock Caldecott award, school story walks, author visits, and the One School, One Read project are examples of the idea sharing.
The librarians also share in the creation and participation in the Northborough-Southborough Children’s Book Awards. It is a joint project of school and public children librarians in which a list of 10 books are selected and students in grades 3-5 can choose to read and vote on them.
Although there are many opportunities for community collaboration by school librarians, the true collaboration is within their schools.
At Lincoln Street Elementary School, Leigh King has been collaborating with classroom teachers for 15 years.
“It can be as simple as providing a suitable read-aloud or finding the books needed for a curriculum unit or project,” she said, “or as involved as planning a unit together and facilitating the research in library and going to the classroom to co-teach.”
Fannie E. Proctor Elementary School Librarian Joanne Giancolo noted examples of this as she works with first-grade teachers on the animal homes show project, co-teaches with third-grade teachers on a whale project and poetry writing unit, and works with the school nurse and physical education teacher for health and wellness initiatives with a Storywalk. She assisted with approaching PAWS for People to help students develop better reading skills and build confidence and social skills. Proctor now has a certified Reading Education Assistance Dog (R.E.A.D.) that comes into the library on a weekly basis.
Michelle Rehill at Algonquin Regional High School has updated the library’s non-fiction collection, particularly the science and math areas, to align with curriculum changes per Common Core standards.
One of the biggest changes seen in school libraries over the years is the use and availability of technology.
Marguerite E. Peaslee Elementary School’s Nancy Kellner noted that a card catalog, check out cards and a date stamp were still being used when she started. There was no access to state databases or online encyclopedia subscriptions.
Available technology has made it easier to track circulation and to access online catalogs. The use of iPad apps such as iMovie to create book trailers and Book Creator or LAYAR to write book reviews have added a positive dimension to library classrooms.
At P. Brent Trottier Middle School, Audrey Alenson has helped to coordinate a Skype session with authors Mitali Perkins and Sarah Prineas in conjunction with a book club. And Internet safety has become a necessary topic that many school librarians discuss with students due to increased technology use.
Robert E. Melican Middle School Librarian Janice Bisset commented that students need to also understand how to evaluate the validity of the information available to them through the Internet.
Technology comes with a price tag. Budgets are typically supplemented by PTO funding, book fairs and grants. A dedicated laptop or iPad cart is a big dream for the schools’ librarians due to their portability for full classes to use them for research and projects.
Kellner embraces technology but still strongly believes in the printed page for books especially for elementary students.
“Picture books can be reproduced digitally, but something is lost,” she said. “There is an intimacy between parents and children sharing a book that I don’t think is possible with a device.”
All the librarians’ hard work does not go unnoticed. The Massachusetts School Library Association (MSLA) annually awards one school librarian in each of the state’s six regions with the Super Librarian accolade. This year, Kellner is the recipient. Criteria for the award is based on demonstrated excellence in understanding of students’ diverse needs by creating a unique and welcoming learning commons, integrating information literacy standards for student learning and technology into the content and objectives of the school’s curriculum in unique ways, or providing leadership in collaborative program planning and teaching to ensure both physical and intellectual access to information.
Kellner was surprised, flattered and proud to have received the award, but said “it is far more important to me to be recognized by my students and my fellow teachers. And that kind of recognition doesn’t come with a certificate, it comes with a smile.”
No matter how many changes have occurred to the typical school library over the years, one thing remains constant.
As Jean Terry Donlon, Southborough’s Mary E. Finn and Albert S. Woodward School’s librarian, stated: “Instilling a passion for reading is my first goal.”