The Importance of School Visits, by Kate-Lynn Brown
As a teen librarian, I’ve done three school visits for two different libraries. The first was while I was still in college. I spoke to the sixth graders about volunteering for the Summer Reading Club during their lunch.
A middle school cafeteria at lunchtime. I was thrown to the wolves. Even the most seasoned veteran would be scared by the gossip, the hormones, the frenzied atmosphere created during the teens’ social hour. It was a moment that made me realize I was cut out to work with teenagers: yes, my palms were clammy. No, I was not afraid to stand in front of this group and convince them volunteering at the library would be the best part of their summer. I got on the microphone and scanned the tables for familiar faces. I caught a few and smiled. The speech I had rehearsed all week came out naturally. Students waited for me to finish (and were relatively attentive while I spoke), then swarmed me for fliers. I stopped by each section of tables to make sure they didn’t have any questions. I nailed it.
My subsequent school visits have been in more official capacities: with a full-time teen librarian, I spend all day in a classroom or media lab performing book talks. We each pick three or four books to present to the teens, offering variety with at least one nonfiction title, one graphic novel, and one fiction book. To prep we read the books, pick passages to read aloud, and create and practice a presentation to get the teens interested in each selection. My coworkers who have been doing this for a while have impressive Google Doc archives of their go-to book talks.
The day is exhausting–and I don’t know how teachers run through a lesson multiple times in a day or week! Bright and early, we run through our library spiel: Who has a library card? Here’s how you get one! Who comes to the library? Here’s why you should! We let the students pick the order we’ll talk about the books in, taking questions and initiating conversations about each title throughout the class period. The bell rings, and we start over again.
So why are school visits so important?
- We get out into the community! I have been thinking a lot about outreach lately, and it’s something that successful public libraries all seem to do and do well. That being said…
- The library is much more than its building! Someone said this to me at a graduate school event recently, and it resonated. You might know that the library is more than a building with books in it, but you should remind the members of the community you serve of this, too. So, as a teen librarian, going to the schools serves that purpose. I directly serve the teenage population, so they should see me in spaces important to them.
- We reach students who we might not have otherwise! Some kids might never come into the library–and if they do, might not approach the librarian and ask for a recommendation. This ensures we’re reaching a much wider audience and getting more teens excited about different things the library has to offer. If they recognize us, they might even feel more comfortable coming up to ask a question.
- We are given a captive audience. Teens hear about titles we have, events we’re running, and programs we’re starting. It’s one of the few times we’re guaranteed a captive audience! What we have to say isn’t lost in their social media feeds or irrelevant when compared to their after school chatter. Whether they doze off at their desks or hold on to every word we say, for that class period the teens are ours. Of course, in a classroom we’re not going to see every teen patron that visits the library; but over the course of a semester worth of visits we hope to reach a good percentage of them.
- We get so much out of it. I see the teens in a new environment where they’re more comfortable. I’m going into their workspace instead of having them come into mine. I see kids get excited about reading who might not be big readers! That’s the point of book talks for me: how can I sell this book so even a reluctant reader might be drawn in enough to pick it up? What can I tell an avid reader to make him go for this title over any other other? It’s one of the challenges of this job that I love.
- We get to read outloud- and the teens get to listen! I love reading to them. One of my favorite parts of creating a book talk is picking out what passages to read aloud.Teens love being read to. Even the teachers love being read to! I’ve gotten to the end of a passage only to look up and see every eye in the room is on me, at full attention. While younger kids are read to all the time, it really doesn’t happen often for teens. I think being read to is a totally underappreciated art, and a great way for people to experience a story in a different way.
One of the times I feel most important as a librarian is when I leave the physical space of the library and go out into my community. As a teen librarian, going on school visits is a huge part of that. I love any chance to interact with my teens and try to create a meaningful experience for them, especially when a book or another resource we have is a part of that experience!
Meet Kate-Lynn Brown
Kate-Lynn is a teen services information assistant in New Jersey. She is currently a student in the Rutgers Master of Information program, which she will complete in May 2018. She loves reading thrillers and creative nonfiction. You can find her digital portfolio here and follow her on Twitter, @katelynnbrown95.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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