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July 29, 2014

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Patterson’s Passion: Revitalizing School Libraries Will Take Big Ideas—and Bold Action | Feedback

Bestselling author James Patterson’s print editorial [“My Say: Man on a Mission” Nov. 2013, p. 20] and its online version, “Let’s Save Reading—and School Libraries” continues to create quite the stir. His challenge to “embark on a crusade to get kids reading more books” has already generated dozens of ideas on how to achieve this epic feat. Here are just a few of our recent favorites. You, too, can join the conversation online.

SLJ 10 2 13 web Patterson 200x300 Patterson’s Passion: Revitalizing School Libraries Will Take Big Ideas—and Bold Action | FeedbackThank you for your advocacy, Mr. Patterson! One idea comes to mind: media labs in schools with certified school librarians. Include a training program to equip school librarians with the skills needed to facilitate participation in content creation through these labs. This should include collaborative content creation and sharing among students, classes, and schools to enhance the learning experience. Reading isn’t just about consuming and comprehending text; it’s also about participating in the author’s creation. After meeting Maximum in your novel When the Wind Blows, I wanted the story to continue, because you created an engaging community of characters through your storytelling. Empower students to tell their own stories, because content creation and storytelling are just as important as reading to develop robust literacy skills. Access to hardware, software, and digital tools through a media lab affords multiple mediums for storytelling, creating, and sharing. Developing creativity, storytelling, collaboration, and digital writing skills can have a profound impact on student engagement and success.

Valarie Kingsland
Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Seward, AK

To save school libraries, public perception must change. We need to make the public passionate about the importance of libraries in children’s lives and outraged at the very thought of removing them. Music programs faced similar problems back in the ‘90s, but despite the economy, [they] are in much better shape than library programs today. When our school tried to scale back the music department, parents showed up to meetings in droves, circulated petitions, and wrote letters, and ultimately the school board kept the department intact. Sadly, the board cut all of our elementary librarian positions instead, and the public outcry was minimal. Those cuts stuck, our reading scores are dropping, and our administrators are scratching their heads. The increase in public awareness of the value of school music programs is in large part due to an incredibly successful media campaign accompanied by two Hollywood blockbusters, Music of the Heart and Mr. Holland’s Opus. Today, VH1 sponsors the Save the Music Foundation, which could serve as a fabulous model for what could be done for libraries. Perhaps a similar foundation could raise awareness and donate books, subscriptions to research databases, and even computers. As for movies—any ideas for a script, Mr. Patterson? What about Chris Grabenstein’s Mr. Lemoncello’s Library? We are not the librarians most parents remember from their youth…but the importance of reading has not changed!

Maggie Bokelman
Eagle View Middle School Library
Mechanicsburg, PA

I take inspiration from author and independent bookstore owner Ann Patchett. With every interview, Patchett is restoring faith in the printed word. Taking a cue from Patchett, we could hold up exemplary school libraries for the public to admire and get on the media circuit ourselves to promote how they are making a difference in children’s lives and why books matter. We need Patchett, Patterson, and other galvanizing personalities to stump for us and restore confidence in the future of school libraries. Imagine a video with impassioned library spokespeople spreading the word. The video could also feature some of our nation’s most luminary school libraries and librarians. These could be recognized as “James Patterson School Libraries,” which perhaps could bring funding and press opportunities. Every year, different libraries could be featured and given the opportunity to strut their stuff and hang their own plaque on the wall. That which you pay attention to grows.

Kirsten Truman
Ockley Green School Library Portland, OR

Librarians = tech leaders

Re: Harold Boyer’s Feedback letter (Nov. 2013, p. 8), I definitely disagree. School librarians definitely do not embrace every technology that comes down the road. Rather, they do evaluate new technologies and share those that are worthwhile with their students and staff. Every good school librarian should be and is a technology leader in his/her school providing essential guidance in using technology effectively, efficiently, and responsibly to enhance learning. Students need our services more than ever to help them navigate the online world and the new technologies available to them. At the same time, we continue to maintain print collections and guide our students in balancing print and online resources as we prepare them for college and careers and to be lifelong learners. A good library provides two things, both of which are essential: 1. the physical library, for getting materials (and guidance from a librarian in finding them) and 2. the virtual library, with 24/7 access to needed resources that have been carefully selected by librarians (and the ability to contact staff for help). To provide just the first would be a huge disservice, limiting patrons to only when they can visit the physical library. I, for one, do my utmost to make myself indispensable by keeping on the cutting edge of technology, guiding users through both electronic and print resources, and providing both on-site and virtual support. It is those librarians who fail to make that a goal who are sabotaging our profession.

Jane Lofton
Mira Costa High School Library
Manhattan Beach, CA

Dear Harold Boyer: Your profound misunderstanding of the school librarian’s role speaks more to your own obsolescence than any in our profession. School librarians are instructional innovators. They partner with classroom teachers to enhance student learning across disciplines. They are organizational leaders, curricular experts, and readers’ advisory specialists. In the words of Doug Johnson, they are indispensable. The notion that a school library program and/or librarian can be “replaced” by mobile technology is absurd. It may be that all you do is manage a print collection, but please don’t diminish the work of industrious, innovative school librarians by applying that tired and outdated stereotype to what we do. If current library users want print books on their shelves, they have them. Proactive librarians are building collections for the future, one in which patrons can take their library with them. The fact that you see that as a reduction of library services, rather than an expansion, highlights a profound lack of vision on your part. Maybe you can be replaced by an iPad, but I sure can’t.

Michelle Luhtala
New Canaan High School Library
New Canaan, CT

The joy of reading

I just finished “Soapbox: Why Reading Sucks” (Nov. 2013, p. 22) by Pernille Ripp. She is right on! I have long believed that we really need to listen to kids about what they want to read; so often, I get parents in the library who are looking for books they want their kids to read or teachers who want kids reading only certain things. This often gets kids disconcerted about reading in general because they never get to choose what they want. Indeed, sometimes they lose the joy and experience of reading because they feel “directed” on what to read. I love that she had the guts to ask the question of her kids, and I’m pleased with SLJ for running the article that I think so many librarians, parents, and teachers need to see. All of them should be asking the same questions of their kids and giving kids a bit more credit for reading, even if it is something they might not approve of or enjoy. Thanks for an insightful piece!

Sharon Verbeten
Brown County Public Library Green Bay, WI

This article was published in School Library Journal's February 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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