Field Trip Fun: Middle School Book Club Goes to the Public Library

School librarian Angie Manfredi took her Los Alamos (NM) Middle School Book Club members to the local public library for a private tour and day of books and fun at the branch.

From left: Waiting at the bus stop to go to the library; working on journals; reading on the bus on the way back to school. Photos courtesy of Angie Manfredi

When Angie Manfredi became the librarian at Los Alamos (NM) Middle School two years ago, there were no regular or organized book programs at the school. Seeing a need, she started a book club.

Once a week, seventh and eighth graders gather at lunch to discuss what they’re reading, learn about publishing, and do book-related crafts. A few times a year, members select a book to read together. And, when she can, Manfredi arranges virtual author visits.

The kids enjoy book club so much that when Manfredi suggested they meet less frequently, the students demanded it stay weekly.

Teacher Jacob Wadlington shows students how to do calligraphy.

And while they love their regular get-togethers, one day each year stands out above all. The book club activities culminate in May with a field trip to the nearby Mesa Public Library, where Manfredi worked for 11 years.

This year, 16 students hopped aboard a public bus to the library and had access to the building for a tour before it opened to the public.

“It was like they were at Disneyland,” says Manfredi.

For so many of these kids, who Manfredi says are quieter and can feel "unseen" at school, book club and the trip to the library offer not just activities but a sense of belonging and a time to feel special.

“They really get treated like VIPs at the library,” she says.

Phones were out for many photo opportunities: A cart full of books; a rarely used dumb waiter; the internal book return.

Mesa Library staff shared details of the summer reading program as well as opportunities to volunteer at the library. There was instant interest. After the first trip in 2023, students volunteered and participated in the summer reading program.

Following the tour and talk, as the library opened to the public, the staff gave the book club a room for the day and free reign of the library to explore as they wanted.

“I didn't really structure it,” Manfredi says. There was no timeslot for sustained silent reading, no mandatory activities. “Because of that, the creativity exploded.”

While some students settled in with books, others explored the stacks. A group of kids cast and shot a movie about the library being haunted, and some learned calligraphy from Jacob Wadlington, a teacher at the school who chaperoned with Manfredi. The library staff let book club members use the branch's button maker and gave them journals left over from a library program. The students were allowed to take free books from those being discarded from the collection, and those with money could go to the Friends of Library store and purchase items.

One book club member found a comfortable spot to read at the library.

Manfredi used funds from a grant to pay for a pizza lunch. That and public transportation made the entire day free.

While students ate, Manfredi read them the picture book, Pizza!: A Slice of History by Greg Pizzoli. Later, the kids spent time browsing more picture books in the library’s collection, enjoying finding ones they remembered from when they were younger.

Because Manfredi had worked at Mesa, she already had a relationship with the branch and its staff. But she encourages any school librarian to reach out to their local public libraries about such a trip. 

“It’s worth the ask,” she says. “It was a time for them to pitch their teen programs, pitch the volunteer program. And it also gave them a chance to say, ‘We did this cool partnership with the schools.’”

Not only will such a trip build relationships between the school and public library, as well as students and their local branch, it may also be unexpectedly exciting for the kids—even middle schoolers.

“Things you and I take for granted, the kids don’t,” says Manfredi.

Before the day ended, the students were excitedly planning for next year and suggesting it become a monthly excursion.

But the best part for Manfredi came many days later. During the last week of school, the one student on the trip who didn’t have a public library card previously stopped in to show Manfredi their new one.

“They'd talked their parents into getting them a card because they wanted to access everything they'd seen and heard about,” says Manfredi. “We immediately sat down so I could show them Libby and Hoopla, and it felt very magical indeed.”

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