March 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

School Library Renaissance in MA School District

front left:  Lainie Wood: son 10y/o (4th grade) and daughter 8 y/o (2nd grade) middle left: Christina Murphy: son 6 y/o (1st) and son 8 y/o (3rd )  Back left: Heather Roman: daughter 8y/o (3rd) and son 11 y/o (5th) Front right: Melissa Upton: daughter 8 y/o (3rd) and daughter 5 y/o (K)  Back right: New principal as of 10/31/14, Stacy Phelan

Swampscott parents and Hadley Elementary School principal, Stacy Phelan (back right) Photos courtesy of Hadley Elementary School

Never underestimate the perseverance of focused parents and a supportive school district. One year after Swampscott (MA) School District proposed budget cuts to its middle- and high school librarian positions, the district is undergoing a library renaissance. (SLJ covered Swampscott in February 2014.)

A new cataloguing system has been installed at all five schools, a new high school librarian is in place for the current school year, and a school librarian for the middle school will be hired for the 2015–2016 school year, with school librarians for all three elementary schools starting the following calendar year (2016–2017). Those promises, now being met, have recharged parents in the school district who are now volunteering at Hadley Elementary School, ready to fill in the staffing gaps in the meantime.

“Once they posted the high school librarian position and the PTA paid for the cataloguing system, there was a lot of excitement,” says Melissa DeFilippi, the parent who spearheaded the school library push last year. “The school district is fulfilling its promises, and so there’s more interest in helping out.”

At Hadley Elementary School, where DeFilippi is co-president of the PTA, part of that help included manually cataloging the 7,000 books in the school library that remained after a tough culling. Many books were in disrepair, some were moved to the middle school and others had some first aid—plastic covers and transparent book tape—coordinated by fellow parent Melissa Upton, herself a former reference librarian at a Boston-based law firm.

The shelves at Hadley Elementary School required manual cataloguing.

The shelves at Hadley Elementary School required manual cataloguing, which was done by parent volunteers.

“Kids are not always gentle on books, and our hope is to get them back into their hands quickly and hopefully get one more use out of the more popular titles,” says Upton by email. “My biggest challenge was that I have never worked with children’s books before, and I did have to do some research on the important authors to have in the collection and also how to decide what can be weeded out.”

Cataloguing by Upton, parents Christina Murphy, Heather Roman, and Lainie Wood ended in early November of this year, and by January parents expect to have the library open an hour a day, three days a week after school. Parents will be able to pick up their children and come up to the library to use the space and check out books. Two mornings a week, the K-4 students will also be able to exchange a book, and teachers are being invited to use the space as well. Plus the PTA has donated $1,000 for new titles.

All of this work is being done by parent volunteers with the backing of new school principal (as of October 31, 2014), Stacy Phelan, who suggested a grand opening party for the rehabbed library on Dec 19. There, students will see the spruced-up space along with posters of their teachers holding up their favorite books and covering their faces—making the children guess who is who from the titles.

“All this energy is creating a new buzz throughout the school and people have realized how important the library is and what we have been missing these seven years without one,” says DeFilippi, by email. “Now that this buzz is created, we feel that licensed staff can’t be far behind.”

You may also want to read:

Massachusetts Parents Fight For School Librarians—And Win

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at

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