Dartmouth Middle School, Dartmouth, MA
At the Dartmouth (MA) Middle School Library, the 20 members of the MakerClub and the 40 Lunch Bunch Book Club participants get first dibs on borrowing and using library materials, and they also have a say in purchasing decisions. That’s just part of why they love it there. School libraries of the past were often “friendly places for a quiet time of studying without being interrupted,” says eighth grade library volunteer Nathan Stone. With teacher librarian Laura Gardner at the helm, the DMS library has those qualities. But, Stone says, “we are also all about innovation.”
When Gardner arrived at the DMS library, administrators told her, “‘We want you to make this a fun place,’” she recalls. “We want students to want to be [here].” Eight years in, her passion for books and learning is evident in the library volunteer program that has expanded from 10 students when she arrived to more than 65, plus six adults. (See “How To Run a Library Volunteer Program that Students Love”). Now, Gardner says, kids walk down the hallways with books open in front of their faces, even bumping into people because they are so absorbed in their stories.
“I’m most proud of what we do to promote reading at the school and what a reading culture we have,” says Gardner, a self-described book lover with a soft spot for realistic fiction. As the sole librarian in this middle-class community where 20 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, she works with an annual budget of $13,000, supplemented by $5,000 from PTO-organized Scholastic book fairs. Eighth grader Nate Westfall gave $20 of his allowance money to buy books for the library last year. “His allowance is split into three categories: spend, save, and donate. His ‘donate’ category is my library,” Gardner says. Her students got a taste of advocacy in February, when Gardner invited lawmakers to the campus for the Massachusetts State Legislative breakfast, and kids and parents advocated for school library funding.
By joining a consortium of libraries across the state, Gardner increased the collection tenfold, from 10,000 to 100,000 titles. She added to popular genres such as dystopian romance, fantasy, and graphic novels, and built up the nonfiction collection. “Working with the English Language Arts teachers, she realized how limited our nonfiction section was,” says DMS assistant principal Carl Robidoux. For Gardner, reading is also intertwined with mastering 21st-century learning tools. The DMS library holds the distinction of placing the most books on hold in the district with the MassCat system, a network for resource-sharing among school, medical, law, special, and small public libraries. “The most important thing is that we have kids reading good, complex books on many different topics and thinking critically about what they read,” says Gardner, who appeared on Dartmouth Community Television earlier this year. She works closely with teachers as well, showing them how to use various web platforms and working to increase rigor and encourage independent research and proper citation in class assignments.
Opportunities for tech exploration at the library include a LEGO wall, and an HP Sprout computer and a Makerbot Replicator Mini 3D printer, along with robotics tools such as Spheros, Ozobot, and littleBits. The library also hosts a class set of desktop computers, two laptop carts, and 10 iPads. Students can use a green screen to make videos with iPads.
Gardner is a 2016 ambassador for the iPad video production app Touchcast, and her students have made more than 200 videos for class projects—and for fun—over the past two years. For a recent project, students analyzed Public Service Announcements (PSAs) from the Ad Council and made their own PSAs on teen social media use. During the library’s Hour of Code competition, Gardner brought in a parent who programs professionally; the event culminated in a luncheon for top coders. Solo STEM exploration flourishes, too. Last year, a sixth grader named Oliver taught himself how to use Tinkercad and printed 15 projects. Gardner says, “I want [the library] to be a place where students always feel welcome, [and] where they belong, whether they are completely crazy for books or they like to tinker in the maker space.”
Grace Hwang Lynch is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has written for PBS, PRI, Salon, and BlogHer. Follow her on Twitter @HapaMamaGrace.
About the Award
SLJ presents the third annual School Librarian of the Year Award in partnership with sponsor Scholastic Library Publishing. The award honors a K–12 library professional for outstanding achievement and the exemplary use of 21st-century tools and services to engage children and teens toward fostering multiple literacies.
This year’s award recognizes one winner and two finalists from a strong pool of 48 applicants. The winning school librarian receives a $2,500 cash award, plus $2,500 worth of print and digital materials from Scholastic Library Publishing. The two finalists each receive $500 in materials of their choice from Scholastic Library Publishing.
THE 2016 JUDGES: Kristina Holzweiss, 2015 School Librarian of the Year and librarian and library media specialist at Bay Shore (NY) Middle School; Jodi Mahoney, principal, Greenbrook Elementary School, South Brunswick, NJ; and the editors of School Library Journal.
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