February 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Jacksonville (FL) Public Library’s Collaborations Are a Win-Win for Students, Library, and Community

Some of Jacksonville Public Library’s (JPL) most innovative school partnerships revolve around jokes, bumblebees, and school accreditation.

Rebekah  Mitchell reading in library at North Florida School of Special Education.

Rebekah Mitchell reading in library at North Florida School of Special Education.

Rebekah Mitchell, youth services senior librarian for the West Regional Library, helped the North Florida School of Special Education gain accreditation by developing and modeling the school’s new library after the public library. The school goes up to high school level, in addition to a transitional level up to early-20s. Mitchell stayed on as part-time school librarian, teaching students basic research skills and how to use library resources. She still reads books from JPL’s collection to her classes, both at the school and when they visit the public library.

“My entire goal is to get students going to the library, and hopefully transition them into becoming lifelong library users,” Mitchell said. As a public and a school librarian, Mitchell has a unique perspective. “Being at the school has changed my entire perspective on people,” Mitchell said. “It’s given me a great appreciation for all kinds of diversity. I feel like I serve people better at Jacksonville Public Library from having worked at the school.”

David Foster, a full-time library assistant in the Children’s Department at Jacksonville’s Mandarin Branch Library, is making a difference at Great Strides, a school designed specifically for children with developmental disabilities. Foster leads a storytime for students each month, an outreach that is near and dear to his heart—he has a nephew with Asperger’s syndrome—and believes himself to be on the autism spectrum. With the school partnership in its sixth year, he’s recently taken on an expanded role, and has been invited to attend quarterly faculty meetings.

In a presentation to faculty, Foster shared books—children’s nonfiction and fiction, parent/teacher, and adult nonfiction—to highlight resources the library can offer about the autism spectrum and Asperger’s syndrome. He met with teachers in their classrooms to understand how the library can supplement the teachers’ curricula.

For his typical storytime format, Foster reads two or three books, interspersed with songs and fingerplays. A soothing, quiet song, “Good Morning,” starts the session, and “Wigglety-wigglety, Bumblebee” encourages students to state their names, which promotes social skills.

David Foster with dry-erase board.

David Foster with dry-erase board.

Faculty and students enjoyed “Wigglety-wigglety, Bumblebee” so much they presented the Mandarin branch with a dry-erase board with bumblebees and student signatures. Foster and the school look forward to his monthly visits and they’ve already asked him to visit two days during summer camp.

Foster is pleased the library takes an active role in community outreach. “During my years at the South Mandarin and Mandarin Branch libraries, I have met so many families whose lives share the autism experience,” said Foster. “I am proud that our libraries offer resources that support children and families with special needs.”

Humor can be a powerful tool when it comes to encouraging children to read. Research shows that reading and sharing riddles, jokes, silly rhymes, and funny stories can enrich vocabulary, and boost reading skills, social skills, and critical thinking. That’s why Anita Haller, senior librarian of Children’s Services at Southeast Regional Library, organized a monthlong Humor Festival, and collaborated with media specialist Rhanda Hardee from Greenfield Elementary School to kick off the event with a Joke Fest.

Jacksonville PL Humor FestivalJoke Fest at the Southeast Regional Library was hosted by Greenfield Elementary School Joke Masters—students who had mastered the joke-telling process from reading, writing, memorizing, and rehearsing to performing before an audience. Nearly 25 third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders participated and more than 60 people attended the first event.

The Humor Festival ran throughout April—National Humor Month—with events for all ages at the four libraries of the Jacksonville Public Library’s Southeast Region. Programs included improv comedy; stop, drop, and read for fun; cartoon festivals; a film festival; and family humor hour. The libraries were decked out with humor materials, complete with decorated joke boxes filled with jokes. Humor Festival proved a good vehicle for children to practice reading and public speaking skills and share a laugh with others.


Olga Bayer is the Community Relations & Marketing Librarian at Jacksonville (FL) Public Library.

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Building Literacy-Rich Communities
Hosted by Library Journal and School Library JournalStronger Together is a national gathering of thought leaders and innovators from across the country who will share where and how partnerships between school districts and public libraries are having success. Join us May 10–12 at the University of Nebraska Omaha, as we explore the impact these collaborations are having on the institutions, communities, and kids they serve.