Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Our First Book Clubs at Bethel Middle School

Since I started working as a school librarian, I've always found a way to have a book club. In this post, I'll talk about my current method for administering a book club. It has evolved a bit over the years. Since coming to Bethel Middle School this year I have adapted it for 6th and 7th grades in my current position. The students seem to really enjoy it.

This year we have read two books in 4 separate clubs. In the fall we read The Girl in the Locked Room by Mary Downing Hahn. During the spring semester, we read Pax by Sara Pennypacker. Since we use a Scholastic Book Fair as our main fundraiser for the fall, I use some of the money to purchase book club books (usually from Scholastic). While we are reading a book, I generally have 3-4 book club meetings during lunch in the library. As long as students come to all the meetings and/ or participate in my Google Classroom discussions, they get to keep the book at no cost. I usually have around 10 students in each club. I have a 6th-grade club and a 7th-grade club that meet separately during their lunch periods.

Agreement Form and Scheduling

I create an agreement form for students to sign. It states they understand they are expected to participate in our face to face meetings and/ or Google Classroom discussions in order to keep the book at no cost. If they do not participate as indicated, the form states they must pay for the book or return it to the library. When students signup, I give them a calendar showing the dates we will meet. What has worked best this year is to meet during the last 15-20 minutes of lunch for our discussions. I email a list of the student participants to principals on Fridays when we meet and request them to be sure and release the students to the library halfway through lunch. It has been very successful.

Example of agreement form


As I read the book I develop questions for our discussions. This year the meetings have mostly been led by me. A few students have submitted questions, but none have stepped in to take the lead. I hope to encourage students next year to take the lead on discussion questions where I can facilitate the meetings. I have done this successfully with high school students in the past, and I believe it will be an excellent way to spark growth in my middle school learners. 


It has been very encouraging to see how deep some of our discussions go, especially with 6th-grade students. Many times we have never made it past my first few questions. Students have repeatedly taken the discussions in directions I didn't anticipate. To me, this is the thrill of a book club. Everyone has a unique perspective when they read the text and the story line. This usually comes through in a book club meeting.
A student votes for the book club title for spring semester

Something new I tried this year was allowing the students to vote on the book we selected for the spring semester. I created a Google Form that contained four titles with book trailers. They voted for their top choice. I loved giving the students a chance to share their voice by making a selection. I will continue this practice because it generates buy-in and ownership.

If you have had successful book clubs, be sure to share your stories in the comments below.

New Year, New School, New Job

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Sunday, March 15, 2020

Our Library Student Worker Program

Ever since I've been a school librarian, I've tried to include students in the library program as much as possible. This year I took a job as a middle school librarian after working with high school students for many years. One thing I remember from previous experiences with middle level students is that a large percentage of them want to help their teachers. I began thinking about how this could work well in a 6th and 7th grade library setting. I decided to try recruiting some student workers to help me cover the circulation desk.

A student worker helps a student patron

When I started at Bethel Middle School this year, I immediately focused on creating a welcoming environment for students. I made a sincere effort to talk to students as much as possible. I decided to open the library before school so students could come in to use the library resources and technology. This took off with overwhelming success since each day between 40-60 students came in to the library before school. I knew I needed to recruit some student workers to run the circulation desk so that I could be free to interact with library visitors. I started targeting students that frequented the library by asking them if they would like to work at the desk. A few students indicated they were interested.


I usually start students as workers by showing them how to check in books and what to do with them
Student workers help a visiting class checkout books
when they come in. I also show them how to have students enter their ID number and check out books. I explain our rules which include how many items can be checked out and what to do if a student has an overdue or lost item. I explain that what students have checked out is private information. We go over good customer service practices like greeting students when they come to the circulation desk and using phrases like "have a good day" or " thank you". Most students take to this training very well at this age. I watch over their shoulder until I see them making almost no mistakes before I leave them to work independently.


A reward party for student library workers!
After several student workers experienced success, other students were drawn to this program after seeing students working behind the desk. They asked me how they could become student workers, and I was able to recruit additional students. I had the student workers create a Monday through Friday schedule so that everyone got to work an equal amount of periods. In addition, some teachers allowed these students to come to the library to work during their study skills classes if they were caught up on their work. This rewarded the students, and it provided me additional help in the library. Since I work by myself in the library most of the time, any help is appreciated! I have a Google Form that student workers sign in when they work so I can keep track of who is working regularly.


Since using student workers in the library, I've realized there are several benefits. It helps our library program serve more students and teachers since student workers free me up to get out from behind the circulation desk to meet visitors that need assistance. Student workers benefit because they are learning valuable customer service skills. They learn to greet patrons and help them. They also have a place to belong in the library and are viewed as student leaders by other students and teachers. It has been good for everyone involved.


It has been so good to see students workers grow individually in these roles over the course of the school year. Many have become very proficient as library workers. In addition, our school culture encourages affirmations. Some students have written me some very nice affirmation notes over the year.

This student wrote: 
"Mr. Evans, I am so glad you like me enough to let me work here everyday. 
I love it and I am thankful for someone like you to let me work here. Thank you so much."

We never know what impact empowering students in this way will have on them personally. These notes indicate that it does make a difference. Everyone wants to feel they are needed and important to others. We all want to feel appreciated and vital. For these students, being a library worker does just that. I look forward to developing this program even more in the future. If you have had successful student workers in the library, be sure to share your stories in the comments below!

New Year, New School, New Job

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Thursday, January 23, 2020

Our First Mystery Skype at Bethel Middle School

I started working as the teacher-librarian at Bethel Middle School in August of 2019. In my previous job, I really enjoyed helping teachers connect to distant schools and other places using Skype and Google Hangouts. It is a thrill to see students learn about destinations they may never get to physically visit through such connections. It is also refreshing to see teachers step out of their comfort zones by connecting their classrooms. Since coming to Bethel, I've been looking forward to introducing Mystery Skype to students and teachers. Luckily, I had a teacher in another state contact me about scheduling a session via Twitter in September. I pitched it to a few teachers at school, and we were able to set up a time that worked!

Mystery Skype is a global guessing game that uses Microsoft Skype to connect the participating schools. The students do not know the location of the other school, and they must guess where they are by using “yes” or “no” questions only. Prior to the session, I shared how we would set up the library for the Mystery Skype. We had the following jobs available to students:

Inquirers/ Responders - these students are stationed at the webcam
Atlas Checkers - these students use printed maps and atlases to narrow down possible locations
Logic Reasoners - these students help decide what the responses and questions will be
Photographers - these students used our library iPads to take photos of the event
Video Camera Operators - these students used our library iPads to take videos of the event
Question Keepers - these students recorded the questions and responses
Runners - go back and forth among team members to relay information

On October 11, 2019, the geography class connected with Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child in Summit, New Jersey for their first Mystery Skype session. 

(The class at Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child)

One of our Atlas Checkers in action!

Our students discovered that the other school was in NJ after only 9 questions!

At the end of the session, our students came to the webcam and shared about where we live. The students in NJ also shared about their school and town. It was a very engaging class period for everyone! This activity generated a lot of excitement. We are already working with a school outside of the United States to plan another Mystery Skype session in 2020! I can't wait to see what our students learn!

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Thursday, December 19, 2019

First Semester Reflections

Since starting a new job as the teacher librarian at Bethel Middle School in Bryant, Arkansas as of August 2019, I have a lot to celebrate. When starting a new job, one never knows what to expect. There are new people to meet and learn about. There are new administrators, different students, new processes, and so much more to consider in a transition.

This semester I focused on continuing what the previous librarian had started. She had done an excellent job of creating a welcoming environment, establishing a makerspace, and developing the library collection.  I also had a goal of meeting the learning community and getting to know as many of them as possible. Whenever I have switched schools or jobs during my career, I never try to change much the first year. I use the initial transition period to learn about the community I'm serving. After I've learned how things work, I gradually introduce a few new programs. This year I had the goal of introducing book clubs, library collaboration activities, Mystery Skype, and Skype a Scientist. I thought these four things might be attainable by the end of the school year. It turns out, they happened in one semester due to the forward-thinking educators that I work with! I'll write reflections about these events as time permits! Stay tuned...

I have always kept up with library statistics so I can give an accurate account of various uses and activities in the library. Our statistics from 8/1/2019 to 12/13/2019 revealed a great deal of activity:

  • Total book circulations 12206
  • Class reservations 488
  • Library collaborations 4
  • Classes participating in collaborations 46
  • Book clubs 1
  • Students participating in book clubs 18
  • Posters printed 248

I am greatly encouraged that our library circulations are this high. It requires a lot of work re-shelving books and doing continuous repair maintenance on them. This work is worth it if students are growing their interest in literacy whether it is chapter books, graphic novels, etc. I'm also proud of our library collaborations. These consisted of our library orientations, our collaboration based on Out of the Dust, a lesson about the characteristics of the science fiction genre I team-taught with an ELA teacher, one Mystery Skype, and one Skype with a Scientist.

I'm already talking to ELA teachers about trying a book tasting for our 6th and 7th-grade students when we return from the district's two-week winter vacation in January 2020. In addition, two of the science teachers have indicated they want to connect with another scientist during the spring semester. I'm excited to see what a new semester will bring!

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Sunday, July 28, 2019

New Year, New School, New Job

It is nearly August, and I'm wondering where the summer has gone! You may have noticed that I've been struggling to get out blog articles and newsletters in 2019. I decided to re-enlist into the Arkansas Army National Guard back in February. From 2002 to 2014 I served as a saxophonist in the 106th Army Band. My 12-month high school library job had become so time-consuming by 2014, I decided to not stay in the military unit when my enlistment ended that year. After investing that much time in the Army, I wanted to return to the unit to complete my career. In addition, one of my parents has become very ill this past school year. In the spring, I had an opportunity to take a new library job at Bethel Middle School in Bryant, Arkansas. This new position gives me my summers off so I can focus on my Army career and assist my parents as needed during the summer months. I am excited to have a new challenge at this job. With this change brings opportunities to serve new students and teachers in different ways. I haven't taught 6th and 7th grades for several years. I look forward to re-connecting to this age group with literacy and technology.


Change is intimidating. When we transition to something new, there is so much to learn that it can be overwhelming. Change takes us away from what is comfortable and helps us grow. Every time I have experienced a change in my career, it has helped me be a stronger leader and educator. When we improve, those we serve get a better experience. Everyone wins when we keep that mindset, especially students. In this blog article, I want to describe my process of transitioning as I prepare for a new school year at Bethel Middle School!

Survey of the Facility

The first thing I've done this summer is to survey the facility. It is a beautiful and modern library space that is located in the heart of the building. The library is right across from the main entrance to the building. There are comfortable spaces for students, multiple instructional areas, a makerspace, and endless potential for the future. I took my teacher-librarian wife, Cindy, each time I visited this summer. We are already brainstorming a theme to get the students excited about the library (more on this later).

There is a projector and screen on this wall. Perfect for instruction!
The circulation desk area and entrances.

I love the high ceilings in this facility.

To-Do List

I'm notorious for making to-do lists so I can keep up with things that need to happen. Since I'm new to the school, there is so much I don't know about the learning community. I plan to proceed carefully during this first year. I want to learn more about what great practices and programs the last teacher-librarian had. The students and teachers will want to keep many of these activities and services, so I need to find out what they are and continue them! I've already started a list of questions to ask administrators, teachers, and students. Some of these are:

  • How did teachers reserve the library?
  • What did students love to do in the library? (Makerspace, book club, book fair, browsing, etc.)
  • Who are the teachers that will be most likely to try a new collaboration in the library?
  • Which teachers would want to Skype to a distant place with their students if I support them?
  • Which students might lead a book club discussion with me?
  • What books have been popular? (The previous teacher-librarian left me a report from Follett Destiny!)

Goals for the Year

My short term goals are to get things in order after the summer cleaning in the building. Everything smells so clean after this happened during the recent weeks. Open house will be my first chance to make connections with students and parents. In addition, this will be my chance to make a good first impression to the learning community! I'm working on a theme that will make students both interested and welcome in the space. After getting things ready for open house and the beginning of school, the next goals will be to find and keep those programs that are loved by the learning community. Finally, I would like to introduce a few things I love to do in the library to students and teachers:

  • Student book clubs
  • Immersive collaborations to bring books to life (starting with ELA classes that read class novels)
  • Skype in the Classroom (Mystery Skype and Virtual Field Trips)

I'm super excited to see what happens when school starts. I have a lot of work to do and much to learn about the new people I serve. It's going to be a good year, and I look forward to sharing the stories from the library media center of Bethel Middle School in the coming months! If you have a new job, be sure to share how you are starting off in the comments below.

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Thursday, June 6, 2019

Our Annual Report For 2018-2019

For the past several years, we have used Microsoft Sway for our platform to share library annual reports. Previous to this, I essentially shared a one-sheet text document that contained our statistics. It was a rather boring way to share the report, but it worked for many years. I like how Sway allows us to share important photos, videos, and text with library stakeholders!

View our 2018-2019 annual report here.

While there are many things that library programs do throughout the year, somehow we have to give our stakeholders a snapshot of the year in our reports. We want them to end the year thinking about how the library program made a difference in the learning community. Most importantly, we want to give them a return on their investment in the facilities, resources, and our own salaries! 

What I Share

Some years I've shared more information while for some I've cut back on how much I include in the report. At a minimum, I try to share our library statistics, library collaborations for the year, and reservations made in the library. It is good to be mindful that stakeholders are busy (especially administrators), and they probably will not look through a really long report. However, some administrators might expect a detailed annual report. You will have to use your best judgment as you put your report together. No one knows your school better than you!

I always try to pick the best time to share my report. If I were to share it the last day of school, administrators would be bogged down with so many tasks they wouldn't get to look at it. I generally try to share it during June and/ or July when all administrators are back from their vacations.

Final Thoughts

Over the past 11 years, I've worked for two school districts as a secondary teacher librarian. Both superintendents I've worked for have been impacted by the sharing of a library annual report. I can recall both of them made comments about our library statistics after I had shared the report. My most recent superintendent still makes comments about our annual report statistics. I think it is important to note that a district superintendent is like a CEO of a company. They are interested in seeing evidence of efficient use of funding and personnel. Gone are the days where we are guaranteed a job as a school librarian. Don't be afraid to share the work you do. It is not bragging. It is showing value and relevance. Be sure to share your annual report in the comments below! 

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Thursday, May 23, 2019

How We Were Able to Skype With 4 Scientists

Sometimes cool things can happen when you simply ask. This year, one of our science teachers wanted me to help her arrange Skype sessions with a geneticist. When I met her for our preliminary meeting, I had no idea she would ask for so many connections in one day. I had offered to record a Skype session with one scientist so she could show her other classes, but the teacher requested that we find four scientists to connect with live for all of her classes if possible. In the past, after I discovered the Skype a Scientist program, I had only requested to connect with one scientist at a time. You can read about our first ever connection with a scientist through the program here.

After considering her request, I told the teacher we would fill out four forms and see what would happen. I knew this could be a great opportunity for her students to learn from experts in the field of genetics. I didn't know if the Skype a Scientist program would be able to fill our request. Days went by, and I wondered what the outcome might be.

The email came from Skype a Scientist a few days later informing me that they had found four scientists for us to connect with! The teacher and I were both super excited. After a few weeks, I had received emails from the individuals, and we began planning our Skype session for each of the four classes. We also had practice connection sessions via Skype when possible to ensure everything was working well.

Science Teacher, Mrs. Akin, connects with a scientist via Skype

The teacher began communicating with the four scientists and sharing what content she wanted her students to cover during the sessions. Some scientists sent ancillary materials for the students to review before they met so they could get an idea of what type of work they did. On the day of the sessions, all the connections were successful, and the students were very engaged. They asked good questions and made excellent use of the opportunity.

I'd like to thank Skype in the Classroom, the Skype a Scientist program, Dr. James Priest, Dr. Sarah Prescott, Ms. Syndell Parks, and Ms. Niranjana Krishnan for making these connections possible!

From an advocacy standpoint, I have reflected on how great Skype a Scientist has been for our high school library program. As a secondary teacher librarian, I have a flexible schedule. I think it is extremely valuable when I can use this flexible time to help teachers connect with professionals outside of our school walls! This is important because many teachers simply struggle to have time to make arrangements for connections in the classroom. I've also found that many teachers do not feel comfortable using webcams in the classroom. They tend to appreciate the support we can give in the library media center. I like to do shout outs to the teachers on social media after they step out of their comfort zones for sessions like these. It is beneficial for our learning community to see this via my social media since other teachers, administrators, and parents see the library being used this way. Have you helped teachers connect their students to professionals in distant places? Be sure to share your connection stories in the comments below. Keep connecting!

Other links that may interest you:

Our Outsiders Library Collaboration
Our Book Pickup Service

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