For Upper School students, library work becomes even more independent than it is in the other divisions. When students in grades 6, 7, and 8 go to the library they primarily use it to gather information for papers and projects that have been assigned as part of their classroom work.
“The primary value and application of the library for US is research,” says Upper School Head Evan Diamond. “Over the years, Sheila has done an amazing job of both supporting traditional library research with bound books and online resources. She is always current on the best databases for kids to access, and she works closely with teachers to be sure that the library has the books required to support various projects.”
“Both sixth and seventh grades do major research papers that require extensive use of the library,” says Evan, with sixth grade Geography students researching cultural attributes of African countries and Kent Lenci’s seventh grade history students doing a thesis-based research project.
As important as the actual information Upper School students assemble for their papers is, learning how to conduct thorough, balanced, and unbiased research is also paramount. To guide students in this endeavor, Sheila creates “Libguides” specific to the assignments.
“For the past three years or so, Shelia has been designing Libguides which are webpages specially designed to support student research,” Evan explains.
“When the students begin work on a project, she designs the Libguide to contain links to relevant databases, websites, and resources so the kids can find information in a more efficient manner. Our Upper Schoolers don't really have the skills yet to thoughtfully search the web and find appropriate information without a good deal of guidance. Libguides facilitate the process of directing students to the resources that Sheila and the teachers have already vetted. “
Peter Abramson’s Grade 8 Big History classes also use the EBSCO database, a central and deeply valued tool since its arrival at Brookwood in 2012. “Because the students’ research topics combine both science and history, EBSCO provides a really valuable service,” Peter explains. “Its comprehensive database allows students to research topics across disciplines and in a single resource gives them a wealth of information well beyond the capabilities of a general Internet search. It can be more highly focused and is already vetted for bias and accuracy unlike the Internet in general. We are incredibly fortunate to have that power in an elementary school setting.”
Sixth graders in particular make good use of the library’s fiction collection. “Sixth graders have a 30-minute reading period each week, and they are required to read outside books for Language Arts Enrichment class,” Evan explains. “Periodically, they generate creative book reports in an effort to share good books with one another. When a student presents a book to the class, chances are a few of the other kids will find that book interesting and will go out and get it. It is quite common for the kids to go to the library and ask Sheila for her recommendations, and she is known to all of the kids as a librarian who gives excellent book advice.”
Reading and fiction are also celebrated in the Upper School Book Club, another divisional endeavor supported by Sheila and the library. The Book Club, overseen and organized by Grade 6 English teacher Maile Black, is an elective that meets during a lunch period and is open to all Upper School students. The club began when Maile “noticed kids were reading Divergent but didn't really have a clue what it was about. Then other kids wanted to have a "Banned Books" club, which is kind of what it is supposed to be. Certain kids have been really good at keeping it going,” she says.
The library supports the club, which has any where from 15-20 students participating, by ordering “a stack of the chosen books, which any kid who wants can just take. It's really generous and cool.” Titles have included Animal Farm by George Orwell, Looking for Alaska by John Green, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and Divergent by Veronica Roth.
Maile adds, “The best part of this is that so many of these kids love to read, and they want to talk about what they've read. Often, a required reading book chosen by a teacher can take all the fun out of it. When students choose the books themselves and then talk about whatever they want to talk about, it brings reading back where it should be, into the realm of fun and joy, a wonderful pastime.”