Starting a Book Club at your School

By Pamela Thompson, Library Media Specialist, Col. John O. Ensor Middle School, El Paso, VOYA reviewer, School Library Journal reviewer, TX and YA blogger at Young Adult Books - What We’re Reading Now

You’ve heard about it. You’ve thought about it. Your administrator has asked you about it. Why don’t you start a library book club? Everyone knows that reading is important; there is no doubt about that fact. Book clubs offer a safe place for children to read, learn, grow, belong, and communicate.

Starting a book club is not that hard. In fact, it’s easy and achievable. The rewards are amazing. Your readers will become your best patrons and aides. With just a few simple steps, you can have that awesome, fluid, energetic, and inviting book club.

Book clubs do require some prior planning. To attract your audience, you will need to get the word out. Make flyers, posters and ads. Post them in hallways, bathrooms, and the cafeteria. Place a notice on your school and library webpage. Place signs throughout the library. Finally, have a designated Book Club table near the circulation desk. A long rectangular table works best. Make a sign: “These books are members of the Book Club. Why aren’t you?” Display the titles the club will read all year. Kids will see the displays and begin asking about the books. Go ahead and check them out. Make sure you have enough copies for your club. I bought class sets each year of titles we used. I also used book fair profit to buy class sets from the book fair. Get creative.

I have found that I had some readers who read the book in a couple of days and were dying for more. I asked them to check out other books that interest them until our next meeting, but to keep the Book Club book in their mind so that when we meet again, they would be able to discuss it or recommend it.

This question comes up every time I talk about book clubs: Do I let kids choose the books or do I choose the books? You can do either, but I have had more success in choosing ten titles for each grade level at the beginning of the year. I give a short book talk on each title for that grade level. The book club members vote to choose what book to read first. The title that receives the most votes is the first book that the members will read, The runner up is the second book we read. I try to choose titles that will appeal to both boys and girls and have a mix of genres. Try to select adventure, mystery, paranormal, dystopian, and realistic fiction. Possibly add one nonfiction high-interest title and a great graphic novel.
Club members should feel a sense of belonging. They should decide on the name of their book club. I allow students to vote on each name suggested. Students may want to get book club shirts that show their pride in belonging. That would be amazing!

I allow book club members to check out two additional books. Members also check out for summer. With a signed permission slip, students may check out five books over the break. I have done this for two years and never lost a book yet.

At the first meeting you may want to have an icebreaker or two. Some students may be just starting middle school (or high school). Some may just be shy. If you can get them talking about other things in small groups, they will open up.

One game that works every time is what I call the Character Game. Tell the students to think about book characters. Who would they be given the chance? I have areas for the characters: Katniss Everdeen, the Wimpy Kid, Hermione, or Ron Weasley. You can choose characters that are popular with your readers. Then tell them to go to that area. Each person there has to share one admirable trait about the character that they chose.
After the ice breaker, introduce your first book. Give the students a little background and two weeks to complete it. Chances are most will finish early and want additional help from you in choosing another book to read. After two weeks, we have a conversation about the book. I print out questions and give one question to each student. That person reads the question and chooses one or two others to answer it. You can find additional ideas for games on the Internet.

Going forward with your club, search for ideas on publishers’ websites and teacher sites for each book. I have a folder that has all the questions and discussion guides for the year. For fun, ask several students to perform a Readers Theater. This takes a bit of time to set up, but the results are worth it. Videotape it! Share it on your web site or on social media (with parents’ signed permission).

Students can make book trailers and book talks for announcements during the school day. Also, readers can make shelf talkers for book club books. Your book club books should be visible in the library, in readers’ hands and on the web page. So go ahead: begin a book club at your school!

Building a Productive Relationship with Your School Administration

by Dr. Bill Chapman, Superintendent of Jarrell ISD and 2017 Winner, TASL Distinguished Library Service Award for School Administrators

Let's be honest, most school administrators do not know all that a school librarian does or can do. When your principal, assistant principal, or even yours superintendent was in school, how much time did they spend in the library? Furthermore, when that administrator was a teacher, how often did they visit the library for themselves or with their class? All of these past experiences drive what administrators know about libraries. The modern school library is much different than the ones that these administrators frequented as children, and quite possibly those that they visited as teachers. It is up to the librarians to start forging a relationship with administrators to help them understand what the library, and the librarian can do to assist the administrator in achieving their goals for the campus or district.

First and foremost, get the administrators into the libraries. Discuss everything from the furniture to the books. Explain how teachers, students, and classes utilize the library spaces. Display how and why students are using technology in the library to extend or enhance their learning. Advertise and thank your special guests or presenters who use the library to meet with students. Send administrators pictures and emails when you have special events. Publicize your events on your campus, district, or personal social media pages. Make it hard for your administrator to ignore the content you are creating in your library. Focus on things that make an impact on students and teachers. Showcase students creating, performing, and solving problems. Share those positive experiences that make learning in the library fun, unique, and memory making. In short, make it hard for them to ignore the positive things that are occurring in the library in order to help them fully realize what occurs inside that room.

Next, educate your principal or superintendent on the skills you are using in your library, sharing with students and teachers, and helping meet the academic goals of your campus or district. Let them know that you are willing to assist in in-service training for teachers, either with library specific trainings or classroom instructional tool assistance. Become a part of the academic teams on your campus or in the district. I promise you that administrators are looking for all the help they can get in improving students learning and teaching quality.

Finally, and probably most importantly, do not bring problems to your administrator. Bring solutions. All day long they are bombarded with problems from teachers, parents, and students. If you want to make a lasting impact, recognize the problem, but offer a solution to that problem at the same time. This does not mean bring them a solution that requires the campus or district to outlay funds to solve it. Come to them with a complete and total solution including funding sources. In doing this, you have taken the responsibility off of their shoulders, and help make the campus or district better.

You are working diligently to make a difference on your campus or in your district. It is not that administrator’s don’t like libraries. They may not fully understand what really happens inside the library. It is very feasible to grow that relationship, and it will reap rewards down the road. Just reach out to your campus or district administrators and make a point of showing the importance of the library and the librarian. You do wonderful things each and every day in your library; make your administrators understand just what they are and how you can help the campus or district as a whole.

This message is very similar to the one he offered in a video for the October 2016 TASL Advocacy webinar (recording of the program).

AASL Standards – Evolved and Familiar

By Dorcas Hand, Editor of TASLTalks
NOTE: The title was borrowed from the AASL promotional video.

Certified school librarians across the US are familiar with the AASL Standards and Guidelines that were introduced in 2007. Now, in 2017, we have new standards being unveiled at the Phoenix AASL division conference in November – and the excitement is building. Every district (and many librarians!) will want to own a copy for ready access to the latest thinking about what strong school librarians and their libraries should offer all students. In fact, librarians, libraries and students are the three frameworks that organize the new work – an integrated whole that describes the same goals through three different lenses.

First, there is a short video offering an overview: AASL Standards – Evolved and Familiar – 3 minutes you will appreciate. 

The Standards web portal offers further detail.

Besides the three frameworks that appear graphically on the cover, the new Standards continue to count our basics.

4.  The four domains in which the standards are framed will be familiar from the 2007 Guidelines: Think, Create, Share, Grow.
5.  Librarians continue to have five roles also as in the 2007 work: Leader, Instructional Partner; Information Specialist, Teacher and Program Administrator.
6.  And there are six Foundations to organize and integrate the standards further: Inquire, Include, Collaborate, Curate, Explore, and Engage – all active verbs to motivate strong practice.

You note by now that the 2017 Standards no longer refer to Guidelines at all. Too many readers took the 2007 Guidelines to be optional – but these Standards are real and solid, not just pie in the sky goals.

The portal offers an article from the September/October 2017 Knowledge Quest issue entitled “On the Horizon: New standards to Dawn at AASL 2017.” Author Marcia Mardis, Chair of the AASL Standards and Guidelines Editorial board, offers a review of the process that has led to this new publication, as well as a compilation of six underlying assumptions – yes, another six:
  •      The school Library is a unique and essential part of the learning community.
  •      Qualified school librarians lead effective school libraries.
  •      Learners should be prepared for college, career, and life.
  •      Reading is the core of personal and academic mastery.
  •      Intellectual freedom is every learner’s right.
  •      Information technologies must be appropriately integrated and equitably available.

AASL leadership hosted a TwitterChat on Sept. 18 that has been archived on Storify – lots of great info there. 

And AASL is hosting a webinar about the Standards on Thursday, Nov. 16 at 6pm Central – sign up now and mark your calendar! If you can’t make it to Phoenix, this is your
chance catch up and discover this new tool.

Taken together – 3,4,5,6 – we have ONE
 powerful new resource for strong school librarians and their libraries as they teach students. These new Standards will be unveiled for us all to use in Phoenix on November 9. Preorder your copy now

Images are excerpted from AASL’s National School Library Standards and used with permission.  Any reproduction, reposting or reuse of images requires direct permission from AASL.