Brookwood Librarian honored with "Super Librarian" award by MSLA
Librarian Sheila Geraty has received the “Super Librarian” award from the Massachusetts School Library Association (MSLA), honoring her as a professional who “demonstrates excellence by creating an outstanding School Library program that has made a significant contribution to their school.” To mark the milestone, we sat down with Sheila to talk about Brookwood’s library and the multitude of activities and projects that take place within its walls. We learned quickly that it’s much more than a place where students go to pick up a book now and then.
Sheila began working at Brookwood in 1999 while she was a graduate student pursuing her MLS at the Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science. “I was studying collection development and Librarian Courtney MacLachlan generously allowed me to use Brookwood’s collection for a graduate project,” she recalls. “I worked part-time as an assistant and she guided and taught me best practices for teaching and librarianship.” Sheila took over as head librarian during the 2003-2004 school year when Courtney retired.
Sheila’s love for books began long before graduate school. “When I was a young girl growing up in Southern California, we lived in a small coastal community north of Los Angeles where a library bookmobile made its weekly rounds pulling up in the parking lot at our local market. The librarian must have been paying close attention to my reading needs, because there were always books that were just right for me. I loved the bookmobile!”
Please describe what Lower School, Middle School, and Upper School students do during their library time?
Each of the three divisions at Brookwood has completely different needs and expectations.
The Lower School students range from pre-readers to those who are quite confident and comfortable reading chapter books and novels. When Lower School students first experience library class, it is one of the first times that they make a decision independent of their parents about what to read or look at on their own. These students have specific interests, like dolphins, princesses, Lunch Lady titles, Lego books, or building and construction. Student interests fuel the Shlopak Library collection. (The Shlopak Library is a defined area and collection for the Lower School). Series books are very popular with Lower School students. A chapter book series usually has the same characters and plot style which allows emerging readers to jump directly into the action. Students read through series books improving their fluency and self-confidence.
Middle School students know the types of books they enjoy, too. Popular titles include The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angelberger, The Lightening Thief series by Rick Riodian, and graphic novels like Smile by Raina Telgemeier. These books circulate a great deal. Middle Schoolers are often more influenced by friends, and book selection can be a collaborative experience. In the fourth grade library class, we incorporate script writing, editing, videography, sound, and acting when the students create the Mystery Book films. We have a lot of fun!
Upper School students are very busy with curricular assignments that drive the scope of the collection and the content for subject LibGuides. Upper Schoolers are great readers, too, despite their challenging schedules. The library develops Book Talks for Upper School English classes where we introduce new fiction and nonfiction young adult literature. Both print and eReaders are available and used by Upper School students.
How do you select what to add to the library’s collection?
I read several professional journals, newspapers, book review sites, blogs and Twitter, and attend conferences in order to select the best materials for the collection. Some books in our collection are popular and accessible and serve to nurture the student’s enthusiasm for reading while others offer information and content for reference. I have a passion for children’s literature, and I develop the Eleanor M. DiCroce Library collection based on the best books published, which always includes books that represent diversity (cultural, family, gender). I speak to students to find out what topics they enjoy and often add to the collection based on these interests.
Schools and libraries are changing dramatically in the 21st century. Some school libraries are even going entirely digital and getting rid of books. Can you comment on the changes?
Libraries across the nation are busier than ever. With the emphasis on global connections and understanding, videoconferencing tools like Skyping are becoming more commonplace.
I don’t believe that Brookwood will go completely digital any time soon, or ever, considering its commitment to serving students from Pre-K-Grade 8. The tactile experience of turning the pages, examining the illustrations and moving back and forth when needed to follow the story ensures the longevity of the picture book and chapter books.
Upper School students checkout eReaders all the time. Many prefer reading print fiction but are happy to check out an eReader when print copies are not available. Current research shows that young people still prefer and read print over digital books. I do see libraries becoming more communal, flexible, and serving as a gathering space and area to collaborate on projects.
What are LibGuides and Easy Bib and some of the things you've created to help students in the library?
LibGuides are sets of web pages that consolidate information for students’ assignments. Students save time using a LibGuide because it is developed specifically for a Brookwood teacher’s assignment. The LibGuide often includes the assignment, print suggestions, maps, quality websites, and Brookwood’s subscription databases that meet the research needs. Becky Keller, our assistant librarian, and I create subject LibGuides for students based on a teacher’s assignment and expectations. Examples include: Mr. Diamond’s Africa Research Project and Elizabeth Hammett’s Mandarin class Country Book Project
Sometimes LibGuides serve more generally as a platform for summer reading suggestions or information about the library databases.
EasyBib is a terrific online tool that helps students create citations in MLA styles as well as create a works cited list and parenthetical (in-text) citations. Grade 8 Grade Social Studies teacher, Peter Abramson, suggested EasyBib with its capacity to seamlessly integrate with GoogleDocs. GoogleDocs has revolutionized sharing documents with teachers as well as students and faculty collaborating on a joint project. Brookwood also uses NoodleTools which is a similar application to EasyBib.
Besides these tools, there’s the Brookwood Library Website (Eleanor M. DiCroce Library). For those who haven’t visited the site, what can students and parents find there?
On our library website there are various choices to spur thinking including the Something Bookish Blog, featured book each week, Mr. Falconer’s Literary Glossary, upcoming author visits, subscription databases for research (EBSCO Search Tools, CultureGrams, World Book, and others), LibGuides, student projects (Mystery Book of the Month films), library catalog for books and websites, information for families. Lots of great content!
Several colleagues have praised you for knowing students’ reading levels and preferences so well, adding that you have a talent for helping children find great books that fit their interests.
The strategy for helping students find great books varies. The ultimate goal is the same though: the more interested a student is in the reading content, the more likely he/she will enjoy the experience and naturally look for more information, stories, or authors that bring satisfaction. It can be a very delicate time when pre-readers or beginning readers are learning to master the complicated process of reading. I listen carefully to the subjects they like to read.
Teachers say you're incredibly on top of what's going on in all the different classrooms and that you’re very helpful offering suggestions that will enhance their classes. How are you able to keep track of all that?
I visit the classrooms a lot to find out the current or future curriculum the teachers are focusing on. I would not have the flexibility nor the time to visit classrooms and attend meetings without the amazing support the library receives from parent volunteers. Current parents, Page Fleming and Amy Uroskie, manage and schedule the many parents that give their time to keeping the library organized and helping students locate and check out books.
The weekly division meetings also keep me informed about upcoming plans. I often learn about new materials or ideas from library journals and national and global news sources, conferences, and educational social media. I may know if certain grades or teachers might be interested in the information or I go to the school’s curriculum maps and search to see if any teacher’s curriculum may be enhanced by new content (whether it’s books, digital content, a person-to-person connection, author visit).
I am basically a snoop (detective may be a better word)! I really enjoy learning, and it’s even more fun when I can share ideas or learn from the teachers, parents and students and help them find materials that will support and enhance the curricular directions (or simply an interest area for a student).