The most frequent word used by four Meramec Valley R-III School District librarians as they presented an overview of the media center library program to school board members Feb. 20 was “excited.”
Far from the rows of bookshelves where readers were once urged to whisper, today’s reading centers are a bustle of activity where technology has turned school libraries into media centers that have changed the way students read books.
District librarians are excited about book fairs, book battles, ebooks, audiobooks and Chromebooks that enable students to make movies in the classroom.
At Pacific High School, they are in the process of installing a 3-D printer that will enable students to design an item on a Chromebook and build it in three dimensions on a library printer.
Librarians filled the school board meeting with laughter as they described how students from kindergarten through high school are buying into what they can find in today’s library.
Kim Fleming, Pacific High librarian, noted that for the past four years district librarians have gotten together to become their own marketing agents, selling students on the idea that today’s technology can transform their lives when they take the time to read.
“We’re really excited about some of the progress we’ve made,” Fleming said. “We’ll show you a little bit about what’s going on in the library.”
In the library media centers at each school, instruction is integrated with classroom curriculum, grade-level courses, access to reading materials, lessons on media production tools and book clubs.
“At the elementary level book fairs are a big deal,” said Rachel Schremp, Coleman, Nike and Robertsville librarian. “They are a great way to expose our students to new authors and illustrators. For many of our kids that’s the best way that they get books into their homes.”
“We’re also trying to incorporate more activities into our libraries,” said Amy Reed, Truman and Zitzman librarian. “We do a lot of collaboration.”
“At the elementary level, we promote the Mark Twain and the Show Me readers and have book clubs for those programs,” Reed said. “In January and February, we do a big Writing on the Wall, where we’re doing informational writing. They are having to cite sources, which is a new concept for elementary students.”
Amy Sauvage, Meramec Valley Middle School and Riverbend librarian, noted that middle school sixth-graders now use Chromebooks online to do research projects.
Seventh-graders learn about research tools when doing research, and eighth-graders completed their iSearch project in January and the beginning of February.
“The library tends to be the technology hub at both middle schools,” Sauvage said. “We provide Chromebook management, troubleshooting and helping them find resources to use online, and of course, we do reading promotion, such as our book fair.”
In May of last year, Riverbend students participated in a book battle with 40 St. Louis area schools that came together in competition, like a trivia night.
“Our first semester reading incentive was a trip to the high school to watch a movie. The students selected, ‘Home Alone.’ That was a hoot to watch with 150 middle schoolers,” Sauvage said.
Fleming said traditional paper books are still the key to the high school library and she’s striving to bring newer books into the collection.
“When I took over five years ago, the average age of the collection in my library was 1972. I’ve been working very hard to bring that up,” Fleming said. “I was very excited this year. I’m kind of geeked out a little bit. One of my collections actually made it within the 20 years.”
There is little doubt that regardless of what kind of book students are reading, Chromebooks have changed the use of the library, the librarians agree.
“I’ve been trying for years to get students interested in online books, ebooks, audiobooks,” Fleming said. “It was a real struggle. Every time I would present it, we would get a week or two that kids would check it out and then boom.”
Last year for the first time students checked out ebooks online every month.
“I was really excited about that. I finally had kids who were going in, and without me standing over them and saying, ‘Hey, remember there are books online,’ they were actually starting to look at them,” she said.
Fleming credits the students’ use of technology to the district’s decision to provide students with Chromebooks.
“I think a lot of what is happening is a reflection of what we’ve been doing, trying to get kids at a younger age to look at technology,” she said. “As they move through the grades they not only have Chromebooks at the younger level, but they have them at the high school and they are checking online books out. We’re starting to see that flow now as kids at the high school are all part of what we’ve been doing for the past five years.”
Fleming also is excited to see students check out books during summer school, which she has been promoting.
Another exciting change is the high school converting the old computer labs in the library into new tech areas.
“We were able to secure funding to purchase some 3-D printers and we’re trying to get those set up,” she said. “We’re still in that process, but kids are already coming in and saying, ‘Hey, wait a minute, that’s something new.
“They’re asking questions even though we’re not up and running, but hopefully next year we’ll be able to tell you all about the wonderful things kids are doing with them in the library,” she added.
The librarians are always focused on promoting reading throughout the school district.
This year, they had some students from the yearbook staff come up with the idea to make bookmarks to give out that have pictures from the yearbook, which promotes both reading and the yearbook. The library laminated the bookmarks, which the students distributed.
“It was really exciting for them and was a great idea that gets students involved in reading,” Fleming said. “You’ll be seeing those all over the high school.”
There also is a new element on the movie-making front.
Scott Kovis, district media instructional facilitator, helps students use their Chromebooks to make movies, which has widened the experience. Students who formerly had to come into the library to make a movie can now do it in the classroom using their Chromebook.
School board member Mary Clasby-Agee said the report demonstrates the importance of having certified librarians in all schools, who are coordinating their programs with instruction.
“Hopefully we will continue those building blocks all the way up to your collection,” Clasby-Agee said.