Library media specialists bring libraries to life and to the classroom

Library media specialist Becky Nelson, left, and 5th-grade language arts teacher Katisha Pickrell discuss the Mock Newbery Club for gifted readers at Hearn Elementary School (Franklin County) Aug. 25, 2010.

Library media specialist Becky Nelson, left, and 5th-grade language arts teacher Katisha Pickrell discuss the Mock Newbery Club for gifted readers at Hearn Elementary School (Franklin County) Aug. 25, 2010. Nelson said collaboration with teachers in her school is vital to a library media specialist’s success with students. Photo by Amy Wallot

By Susan Riddell

Becky Nelson says that, while she’s a library media specialist (LMS), she also considers herself a resource.

“Though I work individually and in groups directly with students, I can teach many more of them through teamwork with their classroom teachers,” said the veteran LMS at Hearn Elementary School (Franklin County). “The library and librarian are resources for all instruction.”

Nelson has been an LMS for 30 years, including the last nine at Hearn Elementary. And she’s seen it all.

Still, she said her main goal has stayed focused on getting students excited about reading and making sure they access accurate information from her library.

Collaboration with teachers is vital, she said.

“I plan with teachers before students embark on any big research project,” said Nelson, who offers flexible scheduling to help students in their time of need. “I suggest books for read-aloud and for summer reading. I have helped to create rubrics for research projects and assessments over novels.”

Nelson has worked with teachers to find examples of literary elements in children’s books to use in classrooms. She’s also helped special education teachers create appropriate instructional literature activities or modify regular classroom assignments for their students.

When not collaborating with teachers, Nelson is coming up with ideas to keep her students engaged in reading. They include:

  • Lunch Bunch – students from one grade level bring their lunches to the library and eat while Nelson reads a new novel to them. They read every day until the novel is finished. Then students in a different grade level go to the library, with this pattern alternating throughout the year.
  • Mother-Daughter Book Club –is a monthly evening activity where girls in grades 4 and 5 go to the library with their mothers, grandmothers or an adult female friend to discuss a book everyone has read. This has morphed into a summer, community-wide event for girls in Frankfort.
  • Mock Newbery Club – High-performing 5th-grade readers read and discussed the best books published in 2010 in an attempt to pick which books would win Newbery Medal honors. This activity encouraged students to read a variety of fictional genres and to think critically about writing. “Our group chose When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead as our Newbery winner two weeks before the national committee chose that same book,” Nelson said. “We were thrilled. The process worked. I hope to continue this club for distinguished readers.”

Nelson has tweaked other ideas to suit the needs of her students. She did this several years ago with a Battle of the Books competition. Under her guidance, what started out at Hearn Elementary soon turned into a huge districtwide event with all elementary schools competing for top honors in reading knowledge and comprehension.

Franklin County is one of several districts in the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative that received a three-year grant for professional development with library-to-classroom teacher collaboration. Nelson said she plans to use resources from the grant to “step up her collaboration with all grade levels.”

Queens of Collaboration

Like Nelson, Lone Oak Middle School and Reidland High School (McCracken County) library media specialists Sheila Swab and Terri Kirk, respectively, have a strong base of fellow LMSs in their district with whom to collaborate.

“Not only do we meet every other month as a group, our group is so dependent on each other that we call or text each other before we talk to anyone else,” said Kirk, who called her group the Queens of Collaboration. “I think we have been so lucky to be able to discuss anything, throw out ideas, tell each other what worked and what didn’t and just generally know that we have each others’ backs.

“Several of us also collaborate outside of the district with other librarians around the area,” Kirk added. “We meet once a month with the public, academic, special and other school librarians to promote library services in our community.”

Kirk is in her 22nd year as an LMS and her eighth at Reidland High. Recently, the school was recognized for having an exemplary library when the president of the American Association of School Libraries conducted a nationwide tour of schools with outstanding libraries.

Kirk said it’s important for teachers and library media specialists to work together in planned settings as well as impromptu ones.

“Sometimes the collaboration is ‘on the fly’ so that a teacher might suggest an idea, and I will share ways that we can work together,” Kirk said. “Other collaborations are more formal so that the teacher and I actually team-teach.

“I love for the students to see that the teachers and I work together to help them become more successful,” Kirk added. “I would hate to work alone in a vacuum in the library. I can’t see how that would be helpful to students at all.”

Swab taught in a classroom for several years and is in her fifth year as the Lone Oak Middle LMS.

One of Swab’s collaborative efforts involves teaches technology concepts to both students and faculty.

“I teach the technology concept and then aid the students in their project creation,” Swab said. “I have created separate pages for teachers and students on my library website of sites they can use for both research and tools to use for instruction and project creation. I update the links regularly adding new links and tools as I become aware of them.”

Swab opened a “Starbooks Café” in her library with the help of parent donations and her district’s family resource center. She has hosted book discussion groups in the café for various groups, serving cappuccino and hot chocolate.

This year, Swab is starting an I Hate Reading Book Club. “It’s an effort to reach the male population of our school and help in our gap reduction,” Swab said. “Guest speakers will be invited to meet with the group once per month for a book discussion, and I will meet with the group weekly for a reading time of different reading materials both online and in books and magazines.”

As a middle school teacher, Swab said it’s highly important that library media specialists keep students invested in the library as they grow older and as they go online more and more each year.

“While students are talented in finding ‘stuff’ on the Internet, they are not always successful in finding the ‘right stuff’ or the ‘good stuff’ on the Web,” Swab said. “They don’t know how to determine if what they find is valid and worthwhile, and this is where we are needed in the middle school and high school. A teacher may not have the time or the expertise to teach this to students, and we can play a vital role in education students about ethical use of technology.”

Becky Nelson,, (502) 695-6760
Terri Kirk,, (270) 538-4210
Sheila Swab,, (270) 538-4130