I’ve realized where I am. Now, where do I go from here?

I started the school year with a vision and goal for doing more to build our community of readers. At the LLA Conference last spring, there were two sessions that really inspired me — a session from my friend Elizabeth Kahn about her library’s book clubs and a panel I facilitated that included students and librarians that are active in the Louisiana Teenage Library Association. This had me fired up to start something.

The start of this school year has been particularly challenging for me. This year brought on schedule changes that have me really struggling with library expectations and maintaining consistency in our library space. I’m spending a lot of time in a purely supervisory role during large amounts of free time for our students, and it is extremely draining. Coming to terms with this added stress took away quite a bit of my enthusiasm and slowed down my momentum in kicking off student book clubs. 

In early September, I was finally ready to get things started with three different grade-level groupings for book clubs: 6th & 7th, 8th & 9th, and 10th – 12th. I made announcements, posted flyers, and sent out surveys and email reminders. I wanted to spend time asking the students what THEY wanted from THEIR book club, and I had some fun Lit Chat cards to have some “get to know you” conversations. For the first group’s meeting, seven students showed up, the next group had four, the final group had two. These meetings are at a time during the school day when nearly all students are available. Frankly, I was disappointed by the lack of turn out. 

Both leading up to and immediately following the book club meetings, I asked quite a few of my students about coming (or why they didn’t come) to book club. The number of times I heard, “I’m not really a reader,” shocked me. Especially coming from kids that I know are readers — or that were literally checking out a book at that very moment. With those conversations, I started coming to the realization that our student body as a whole has some negative feelings towards reading or being considered a reader. The fact that I am at the beginning of my fourth year at this school and just now having this mind-blowing realization is embarrassing and has me feeling ashamed. How did I miss this?

In my previous school, my circulation numbers were astronomical. I know that was a different school, different enrollment size, different grade levels, and different demographics. Those results were also something that was built over time. I’ve done some good things at my current school and made what I thought was positive progress. I started off with weeding and genrefying the fiction collection, then continued on to complete the massive weeding of the outdated nonfiction collection. The circulation numbers here have never been high, but my teachers have quality collections in their classrooms and many of my students prefer to purchase their own books instead of checking out from the library. This is how I rationalized the low circulation numbers. With middle school, I brought over the same Battle of the Books program that I created for my previous school. I’ve been extremely proud of the student involvement in the program these past few years, although this year has taken a bit more pushing to get teams filled up for the kick-off. All of that to say that I’ve done things. I’ve made progress and had some success. I’m trying to remind myself of that as I’m feeling disappointed, frustrated, and inadequate.

Right now, I feel stuck. I’m a do-er, a planner, a person who likes to have ideas and put them into action. The fact that this particular conundrum comes at a time when I also have a lot of feelings and roadblocks from some other semi-related situations is keeping me stuck, feeling like I’m spinning my wheels. I’m hoping that a series of thoughtful conversations and brainstorming sessions can get me moving on a path forward. I know myself and my patterns, and I need to be busy, feel needed and relevant, and be making progress on specific goals/projects to feel solid in my work. These things have been lacking for me for a while now, and I have to find a way to turn it around.

Have you turned around the reading culture and views on reading in your school? I’m especially looking for ideas that have worked in very high performing high schools.

8 thoughts on “I’ve realized where I am. Now, where do I go from here?

  1. I’m in a similar place at my school right now. I’ve been here three years and I’m still trying to adjust and figure out what works best. Some programs have been amazing, while others have fallen flat. My focus right now is on nurturing relationships with students and connecting with them in smaller groups. But it’s definitely a process that doesn’t have a simple solution.

    1. It is comforting to know that I’m not alone. I’m really struggling with this right now, and as someone who is always solution-driven, I’m having a hard time knowing there is no clear answer.

  2. Funny timing with this post since I just finished reading Game Changer! by Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp last night, and they talk a lot about this issue. Have you read it? Maybe you could try a few of their ideas to turn around the reading culture. I’m at a high performing K-8 and I know what you mean, and at least most of our kids still check out a lot of books, but it’s mostly the same kids.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Kate! I’ve read Donalyn’s other books, but not Game Changer. I’ve ordered it at your recommendation, though, and look forward to reading it!

  3. Yuuup! Exactly my situation. When graded SSR was dropped, so did the numbers. I have put together a few fun activities that get some participation but still didn’t move the needle with check-outs. I have a lot of kids who come in to do research projects with the classes but don’t make it to the check-out counter. Ditto the large numbers of kids who come in during lunches. Even my library “groupies” are fewer than in years past. Sigh…

  4. This is year 3 for me at this school and the first two were mainly focused on getting the collection under control and building relationships. While I feel like the first two years have definitely made a positive difference, I too am at the place where I’m wondering what my focus should be now. I have my core readers and active book club members, after genrefication (which made a big improvement) our circulation has leveled out. I’ve been trying to make more progress getting my teachers to be readers and have them be more open with sharing their reading lives. I think the “in” might be through their teachers and not just English. I can relate to what you’re feeling. We offer a PD course each semester for teachers to read a book and learn a new tech tool. I’m thinking of starting a strictly social book club for teachers so our students see more adults reading. I’ve also thought about starting a Lunch and Learn series bringing in different speakers, some of whom can be literacy related. I’ve worked with some of our other clubs like Serteens and Student Alliance to get our book club members and students in those clubs to work together on some literacy service related projects I’m hoping that will help me connect with even more students. Our kids are very focused on things that will help with college and scholarships so I’ve inquired about getting a cord for book club. I’m always surprised at how much that graduation recognition will motivate them. I’ll continue to think and share. Keep your head up. You’re a wonderful librarian!

  5. I too am in a new high school this year and working to really get our collection circulating. The biggest thing that has been working in our favor has been scheduling our ELA classes to come into the library once a month and offering book tasting events. If nothing else, we always have simple displays with QR codes up so that students get inspired.

    As for changing the culture at this school (over 2000 kids 9-12) it is going to take a literal village. I have been trying to stoke a conversation between the ELA department head, a few of our principals and the English academic facilitator.

    Just keep pushing. You are making a difference! You are an inspiration and a guiding light to so many of us out here in the Library world!

  6. Tiffany – thank you for posting this important issue. I like how you also did an update of your progress about a month later. I would like to commend you for recognizing a problem and trying different ways to overcome it. This is a true testament of being a great teacher – never give up and try something different.
    A suggestion is to hold book fairs if you haven’t already. A fair demonstrates student’ interests and allows you to choose books from the collection as part of a bonus. Our school is elementary (K – 7) so I ask grade 6 & 7 students to help choose the books. Upper intermediate is always a challenge to find titles to encourage reading so this is a way to involve students.
    Keep up the amazing blogging,

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