Every morning I find at least five scrawled notes on my desk from teachers: "Could you send us 25 biographies on African-Americans.?" "I need as many different types and versions of Goldilocks stories as you can find." "Help! We need fiction and nonfiction materials on water."
As a librarian with 20 years of experience, there's nothing that gets me more excited than these kinds of requests. They offer me the chance to get directly involved with the students and to help teachers in my school.
As teachers, you just don't have the time to do the extensive book research needed to discover the perfect book resources for all your class activities. Luckily, you have a librarian. It's my job to use my deeper understanding of the library's contents to expose you to both classic and fresh, new books that help meet your educational goals. Whether you seldom interact with your librarian or already have an excellent working relationship, there are some simple strategies you can adopt to enhance the teacher-librarian partnership.
Partnership is the key word. Seeing your librarian as your partner in innovative teaching is the first, and most important, step in cultivating a productive relationship. It's also one of the easiest ways to reduce your daily pressures and invigorate your teaching.
Cultivate A Partnership
Regardless of your library's resources or your current relationship with the librarian, developing your teacher-librarian partnership will always be worth the effort. Here are some pointers:
Introduce yourself. Start by meeting with your librarian and explaining that you are eager to take advantage of his or her expertise and that you want to use more library resources in your class activities.
Discuss your teaching goals. Mention some of the topics you'll be covering in the future, even if you don't have specific library-related requests. Your librarian might surprise you with great literature-based ideas to improve your plans. When you make specific requests for books, encourage the librarian to include additional materials he or she thinks are worthwhile. You'll show that you appreciate your librarian's expertise and round out your resources.
Keep an open mind. You'll want to be flexible. All libraries have strengths and weaknesses. Having inflexible expectations will make you focus on how the librarian can't help you. Instead, focus on the ways your librarian can help. Chances are, you'll get more than you asked for, more than you thought you needed-and more than you ever dreamed of.
Start early. Get your librarian involved with your projects early. Although last-minute requests can be stimulating, librarians also appreciate advance notice to properly (and enjoyably) meet your needs. Giving librarians ample notice can turn an impossible request into an exciting challenge and improve opportunities to enhance your lessons.
Provide feedback and thanks.
Each time a librarian provides you with materials, make a point to explain what you found most useful and why Feedback allows the librarian to better match your needs in the future and demonstrates your commitment to working together. Remember to thank and encourage your librarian. Your enthusiasm and positive feedback will be inspiring!
When teachers and librarians come together to enhance the curriculum, combine resources, and share perspectives, they can build everyone's enthusiasm and produce amazing results.
Here are descriptions of a few teacher-librarian partnerships in which I've participated. They'll give you a better idea of what's possible and, I hope, inspire you to develop or further your own partnership. The possible projects and benefits to be gained from collaboration are as numerous and diverse as the number of teachers and librarians out there!
Third-grade teacher Karen Vreeland wanted her 24 students to do book reports on different countries. She asked me to help find good, appropriate fiction books. Unfortunately, there aren't fiction titles for that many countries that would be appropriate for third graders. "What about folktales?" she asked. "Could we find countries there?" That was an excellent thought.
Working together, we decided that each child could pick a country and then find a folktale and nonfiction reference materials on that country. They could then analyze the folktale to pick out characteristics of that country, food, dress, setting, beliefs based on their research into the real place. Perfect! This made for a more interesting project than Karen first conceived and it also gave the students a fun way to learn more about the library.
I made a list of the 25 countries for which the library had the most appropriate materials. We allowed the students to pick their countries from the list before they arrived in the library. (This careful preparation insured greater success.) When the class came in, I read Whuppity Stoorie by Carolyn White (Putnam, 1997), a Scottish "Rumpelstiltskin" variant, and showed them a nonfiction book on Scotland.
I showed them how to look up FOLKLORE-SCOTLAND on the computer to get a bibliography and how to look up nonfiction books in the card catalog. This motivated them and gave them a clear idea how to proceed.
We all had a marvelous time searching for materials, the first step in an ambitious book report project. As my student teacher said afterward, "When you told me how the kids were all going to be looking up and finding different books in two places, I thought you were crazy. I was sure it would be chaos. But it was terrific!" The class was focused, interested, and motivated.
New Year's Bash
Mrs. Ark and Mrs. Parrino's second-grade classes celebrated the Chinese New Year with amazing flare and fun, thanks to a collaboration that involved the school's art and music teachers and the librarian. Pooling the resources of five teachers, we were able to give the children an unforgettable and highly educational experience.
I provided the teachers with resource books and stories on the Chinese New Year. The art teacher helped the students create a dragon costume made out of painted paper bags. The music teacher taught them a song. In the library we read the second-graders Marguerite Davol's spectacular story The Paper Dragon (Atheneum, 1997) with Robert Sabuda's amazing paper-cut, foldout illustrations.
Afterward, we led them in a Chinese paper-folding activity. The crowning moment was when the children, each wearing part of the dragon costume, wove in a long line throughout the hallways, singing the New Year's song and clanging a gong.
After reading Love Letters (Blue Sky: Scholastic, 1997), Arnold Adoff's enchanting collection of letter-poems, I wanted students to compose their own love letters, Adoff-style, to a person or thing that they truly loved. But there was a problem.
In Adoff's book, the innovative collage illustrations by Lisa Desimini are an integral part of the poems, and in my library, crayon is about as fancy at it gets when we illustrate our writing. Fortunately, the art teacher, Dolores Rowland, suggested we do an Adoff project together.
First, I read the book to two third grade classes. Then they wrote a first draft of their love poems in the library, reading snippets out loud every 10 minutes. They weren't at all shy about reading their love poems!
They finished and edited their poems during Writer's Workshop with their teachers, Nancy Havran and Curt Weaver. Finally, Dolores helped them create the artwork and integrate it with their poems. The idea was simple, the activity fun, and we were bowled over by the results of our collaboration.
The research foundation paper, School Libraries Work! 2008 (PDF 303 KB) brings together findings from nearly a decade of empirical studies on the effectiveness of school libraries.