The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 20, 2008

From fun reading to serious research, the Carlisle School Library has it all

During the school year, poke your head into the library between 7:45 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. and you will see classes and individual students spread out in various corners of the Carlisle School Library, diving into books or using computers. The library is a very busy and versatile place, used as a research facility, a meeting place for staff, and as a classroom.

Carlisle School Librarian Sandy Kelly (third row, left) teams up with Gleason Librarian Erica St. Peter (third row, center) to tell fourth graders about Gleason’s summer reading program. Carrie Abend, a 2008 CCHS graduate and library volunteer is with the group (front row, center). (Photo by Cynthia Sorn)

The swirl of activity in the school library is overseen by Librarian Sandy Kelly. She explains that a school library differs from a public library, because the school library works closely with teachers. Good communication with teachers is the key, she says. “The librarian is part of the team.”

The library is filled with resources geared to a pre-school to eighth-grade population. There is good support for all levels of learning, says Kelly, including special needs students. Special Education plans are shared with her which helps her assist teachers in finding books that would be suitable. “We discuss and point to good books.”

While Kelly is a nationally certified K – 8 School Librarian (Library Media Specialist is the new term), her early background is as a teacher. She has a master’s degree in education and has taught many grades. Her experience as a librarian began while she was teaching in Woburn. She is also the president of the Massachusetts School Library Association, a four-year commitment.

Her double training as a teacher and as a librarian gives her a teacher’s perspective in her job. As the year progresses she follows the changing curriculum in all classes, making materials that pertain specifically to the students’ studies easily available.

Love of reading starts early

Kelly says that Carlisle students love to read and come to the library. She recalled a year ago when, at 7:45 a.m. on the first day of school, a middle school student was ready to check out a book before the first class of the new school year had a chance to begin.

Younger students enjoy the experience of picking out books. “I like to focus on a love of reading,” Kelly says. She encourages the younger students by helping them choose books, and shares stories by reading to groups where she always finds a few youngsters crawling up onto her knee. She said she loves following their growth through eighth grade.

Students learn research skills

Students in higher grades undertake more serious research, she said. “It’s an active place, and often there are two or three classes going on at the same time.” Students doing research may be using encyclopedias, non-fiction books, periodicals such as National Geographic, or one of the 14 computers. For large projects, a cart of laptop computers may be used as well.

The first big research project, in second grade, purposely does not involve the computers, Kelly said. The focus is on team work and the basics of research. She introduces the project to the second graders by first telling them she has “adopted” the whole class and they may possibly move to Alaska. The goal of the project is to find out, based on their research, if they want to move to Alaska. When asked if any student confused this “pretend” with reality, she said just one student so far has had a moment of panic, which quickly cleared when he was reassured he would not really be moving to Alaska.

The students brainstorm on what they may need to know about Alaska, such as the climate and history of the state. They then break into groups to do research with non-fiction books. Parent volunteers assist the students in the research. When the research is completed, the groups are given a chance to vote on whether or not to move. “Some years they vote no,” she explained, “because of bears.” Other years the students are eager to move because they have read about the gold found in Alaska during the Klondike days.

The students use the computers for research for the first time in third grade, although the computer use “is minimal. “We start online with the Grolier Encyclopedia.” The library receives a free subscription to Grolier though a state program. Teaching concepts of what makes online resources good or bad is an important part of a research project, she said. Kelly also focuses on when to use a computer and when to use non-computer resources.

The school library is part of the interlibrary system, and students can search online to find materials both at the school library and at the Gleason Public Library.

Tracking state and national trends

Kelly is involved in Governor Patrick’s “Massachusetts 21st Century Skills Initiative Advisory Group.” The group, with representatives from business, educational, and governmental communities, is creating a plan to support the teaching of skills deemed necessary for the 21st century, with an emphasis on technology.

Kelly is also serving as one of the two Massachusetts representatives on the American Association of School Libraries Affiliate Assembly. Her membership is partly paid by her professional development funds. “I use this experience to gain the information and vision I need to keep up my skills in a rapidly changing environment,” she said. The Assembly identifies issues relating to school libraries and brings them to the national American Libraries Association.

“I attend two national conferences each year [and] will be heading to Anaheim next week to meet with over 25,000 librarians from around the world to learn about the current technologies [and] strategies and to hear the best and brightest people in the library profession,” she explained. “All of these experiences give me a global perspective, which I use in my work here with children and teachers in Carlisle.”

Make time for reading

Kelly believes that many children are overscheduled after school, which cuts into reading time;“Free reading drops off, because they are so involved in activities.” Kelly and the Carlisle School teachers collaborate with the Gleason Library to encourage students to read during the summer. Gleason Young Adult Librarian, Erica St. Peter, visited the school library last week to encourage students to join Gleason’s summer reading program. “It was a nice way to introduce Erica to the kids,” Kelly said, “and get them excited about summer reading and joining the YA program.”

Donations augment budget

Kelly has found some creative ways to keep the library collection growing, even in tight budget years. “I’ve been very fortunate. We receive fabulous support,” she said. The library, in combination with the Carlisle School Association (CSA) holds an annual book fair in the spring which brings in vouchers to purchase books. She orders new material through the state discount purchasing coop to save money. She said she has also received donations through birthday parties: parents have asked families to donate to the library in lieu of gifts. She sponsors a holiday book sharing in which a family can purchase a book for the library. Participating families can choose to have a bookplate with their child’s name added to the new book.

Staff cut, volunteers needed

Kelly said the position of Librarian Assistant was cut from the budget for next year, and she will sorely miss Meaghan Engdahl, who worked 20 hours a week entering in book data, interacting with students, and overseeing library volunteers.

Kelly recently put out a call for volunteers in the Buzz, the Carlisle School newsletter, explaining, “We will really be depending on our volunteers next year to keep our school library program operating as smoothly as it has in the past. If you or someone you know can volunteer please contact me at Everyone is welcome, but folks who can dedicate a two hour block at least every other week usually are the most comfortable and proficient with our operations.”

Kelly said she is very concerned about how all the work will be accomplished. “I will focus on the kids,” she said. “The paperwork can wait until I can do it.” Her stipend for the position of Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator was also cut from the budget, leaving the school without a coordinator for the next year.

Despite her concerns for the coming year, Kelly is an enthusiastic librarian. “I love my job,” she said. “I get to work with kids and teachers and have a real impact.” ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito