Education is constantly evolving, as are school libraries. This is the first in a three-part series exploring the changing roles, joys and demands of running a school library program at the elementary, middle and high school levels in the Cranston Public Schools.
“Kids are in and out of my library all day long,” said Stephanie Mills, school librarian at Park View Middle School’s library.
Located on the main floor of the school, just down the hallway from the office, the door of the library seems to be a revolving one as staff and students make their way and in and out throughout the day.
“I have a large group of students that are in here in the mornings before school. They meet other students here to work on projects, they finish up homework, they socialize,” she said. “Students are also here during their lunchtimes, doing their homework or doing research.”
Mills is on the board of School Librarians of Rhode Island (slri.info), where a large part of her role is to make sure that the goal of helping kids to share, create, think and grow is being met.
“April was School Library Month, which coincided well with Reading Week, and Gov. Gina Raimondo gave a proclamation declaring the month as being dedicated to focusing on the use of school libraries,” Mills said. “My personal goal is to make my library a welcoming place, a place for students to find things that interest them. I make it my personal challenge to find things that are the perfect match for my non-readers. Every book in this library has someone who wants to read it, and every student should have a book in their hands to read.”
A mural painted on the walls of the library states Mills’ mission statement clearly – “Every book a reader, every reader a book” – and the library itself has been decorated in relaxing shades of blue and gray with decor appealing to the students it services, with seating areas designed for both relaxing and working.
“I like to engage in genuine conversation with my students about the types of books they like to read, but I also collaborate with the staff here, too, working with the teams of teachers in the content areas to help support their teaching,” Mills said. “I work closely with the teachers in social studies, health, foreign languages and science.”
Mills has a staff of student volunteers who help her out on a regular basis, and seventh-grader Andrew Ou is one of them.
“I volunteer twice a week. I have fun, and it gives me the opportunity to get information and to read a lot of good books,” he said.
Susan Rose, school librarian at Chester Barrows Elementary and program supervisor for the district’s library program, emphasizes the importance of collaboration on many levels.
“Collaboration is key, between school staff and librarians, between all of our librarians and between our public and school libraries,” Rose said. “It’s important to make sure that our resources are quality, wonderful tools that without our librarians, our students wouldn’t know about. We show the kids how to find the things they need for their projects and assignments, and the kids show their teachers and families these resources.”
Nicole Agyemang, a seventh-grader at Park View, uses the school library for research regularly.
“I find that it’s a good place to do my research for projects, and there are a lot of other books that interest me here,” she said.
In such a technology-driven age, Internet safety is one topic that is on the top of all librarians’ lists.
“Internet safety is important,” Rose said. “Everyone’s first instinct is to go to Google, but yet Google can’t control the ads that are shown there, or the direction the students go in when they’re on there, and we have impressionable students. Our librarians work hard to keep their websites and blogs safe and up to date – a safe place to find their assignments online at any time of day or night, home or at school, housing the resources they need, and it’s all quality material.”
Mills notes that thanks to the collaboration and interaction with the rest of the school staff, the perception of librarians has changed along with the times.
“The kids now call me their library teacher, I’m not just the person behind the desk checking out books. My role has changed greatly in the last 15 years, and it’s a really good thing,” she said. “I help to implement technology. I had a large role in preparing for and helping to give the PARCC tests. I also work with the guidance department to keep the kids safe online. We emphasize for students the repercussions of what they do online, both now and in the years to come.”
As always, Mills keeps her books up to date, keeping up with the latest and greatest, in order to keep the students coming in and interested in reading.
“I make sure I increase the offerings of popular titles, and I make sure that I match my books with the curriculum being taught,” she said. “Most students tell me that they still like a book in their hands, but our library does offer eBooks. I have not yet seen a decline in people who come in looking for a book.”
Additionally, Mills has a role in keeping her library active after school for students.
“I ran a homework club here, and I have run some after school activities in here as well,” she said.
Most recently, the Providence Comics Consortium was hosted at the Park View library for a large group of students during Reading Week.
“It was the first time I’d done something non-academic, and the kids signed up for it,” she said.
Mills agrees with Rose regarding the importance of collaboration between public and school-based libraries.
“In the past, we’ve hosted the Cranston Public Libraries here when they’ve launched their summer reading program, and we’ve had ASK RI workshops here and author visits here as well.”
As a school librarian, Mills loves her role and is happy to be making a difference in the lives of the students and staff she works with, and they like and appreciate her as well.
“Our library is a friendly environment because of Mrs. Mills,” Hannah Murphy said. “It’s a good place to curl up with a good book and read silently, but in the mornings and after school there are lots of opportunities for doing research, too.”
Mills is happy with the changed role of school librarians and looks forward to every day at work as she creates long-term, lifetime readers beyond the school year.
“I wake up every day, really happy to come to work. I really love my job. I am happy to see the kids in here, they are so funny and they make me laugh,” she said. “I’m happy to make my library program what I want it to be. It helps that I’m in such a supportive school community and everyone is supportive of this library being open. They know I’m here all day long, and people are in and out all day. I want kids to love reading beyond the required, to find it enjoyable, not burdensome.”
Readers can visit the Park View library website and “libguide” at cpsed.net/