To Shush or not to Shush – the Results

A big thanks to all of you who responded to my recent blog post and survey on whether school libraries should be a quiet place for study during exam times.  It was reassuring to read your many comments and discover that I’m not alone in being conflicted about which way to go on this issue and how to achieve the results I want once the decision is made.

If you haven’t done so already, can I suggest you take a look at some of the responses on the original post.  They sum things up nicely.  Generally some of the main points to come through were: that balance was difficult to achieve and then maintain; if possible have a separate area for those studying; need to make accommodations for group study where some chat and discussion is necessary.  My favourite response was the librarian who responded: “Well, it depends on the time, on the day, and on how much sleep I’ve had the night before!” Classic!

I know some of you expressed an interest in the poll results so here they are:

As you can see, of the 141 responses, 61% of you thought that yes, school libraries should be a quiet place for study during exam times, which is a solid majority but not an overwhelming, resounding yes.  There was certainly a lot of grey area, with many of you as conflicted as me when considering not only what’s best and juggling that with what the students want, but also how to achieve this goal without coming across like the wicked witch of the west on a bad day!

After my musing on this issue I opted for giving posters another try.  This is what we have plastered all over the walls and doors of our library

Has it worked?  Too soon to call I think, but I’m not sure it’s made any tangible difference.  However, neither have we had anyone complain or comment on the noise levels (which to my mind, or should I say ears, has been bordering on excessive at times!).  I’ve been deliberately taking a much more relaxed approach to this issue this year and my sub-conscious is obviously stressing about it as I’ve been experiencing some bizarre dreams around classes and control in the library in the past week!  Believe me, this is not common.  I don’t usually dream about my library so the two sides to Senga are continuing their warfare where they can.

But what about next year?  I have decided to take a much more proactive and evidence-based approach to what will no doubt still be an issue at the beginning of term four 2013.  Here are my three steps to hopeful success:

  1. Run a survey for the Year 12’s and 13’s early in Term 1 to gauge how their experience of using the library was for this exam season.  I’ll then see how this matches up with our anecdotal evidence and what we saw happening during this time to develop a tentative plan
  2. Immediately after school exams in Term 3 we will conduct a second survey of all senior students about their intended use of the library during NCEA exams and what their expectations for using this space would be
  3. Early in Term 4 we will publicise and market how students can use the library during exams to the whole school through assemblies, newsletters, roll call notices and posters.  Our intention would be to repeat the survey from Term 1 2013 in Term 1 2014 to measure any difference in responses based on our attempts to satisfy our customers (i.e. our students AND our staff who still use the space for teaching junior classes)

Fingers crossed this will help us to achieve the right mix for our school community here at Hargest and leave me feeling as sane and serene as possible come November 2013!

To shush or not to shush …. that is the question?

Today is the first day of our secondary schools here in New Zealand being senior-less after the antics and hi-jinks of yesterday’s final day of classes for our Year 11-13 students. Of course, those of us in the school library know that we’re really not senior-less at all. In fact, here at Hargest anyway, we find that they make their way here in droves every day. Ostensibly they’re here to study for their NCEA exams, but often it’s for various other reasons, some of them with a strongly social agenda indeed.

Now, I’m no party-pooper but invariably this is the time of the year where the two sides of my personality do battle. The Senga on my left shoulder says:

“They’re all good. It doesn’t matter if there’s lots of excited chatter, frivolity and laughter out there. The library is a social space and should be able to be used as such.” while the Senga on my right shoulder is frowning and shaking her head:

“What about the serious students who have come here to actually study? Don’t they have a right to some peace and quiet? Should they have to combat the constant distraction of their more social peers discussing their plans for Friday night or what dress they’re wearing to the Year 13 leavers dinner?”

And of course, lets not forget the junior classes that are still booking in to work in the library.

So I’ve decided to let you, my fellow librarians, sway me in the direction you think I need to go.

To shush or not to shush …. that is the question. Or should it even be a question?

What do you do in your library? Please help me reconcile the two distinct and at-the-moment warring sides to my personality. Have your say on my little poll

And if you feel strongly enough, leave me a comment as well, explaining your position.

Reflections on the Hargest Book Club and why I need to find a new wheel

wheel, tyre and parts

I’ve been running a student Book Club here for the past 8 years …. and this year the wheels fell off …. so I’ve put it into a wee hiatus while I ponder and reflect on what has worked in the past, why it has become somewhat unwieldy and how I want it to “rise from the ashes” in 2013.

The Hargest Book Club started in May 2005  and had 17 students come along to that first meeting.  By the end of 2005 we had grown to 24 students, with 12 of them being regular weekly attenders.  I was a happy librarian.  We were feeling our way and finding our feet.

After discussions and trialling a few ideas it became clear that the main benefits of coming along to Book-club as perceived by the students were

  • Unlimited issues – as long as they had no overdue books
  • The chance to help us select new books for the library
  • The opportunity to read the latest acquisitions before they made it to the library shelves

During the ensuing years I’ve experimented with a range of activities and approaches.  We instigated a shared lunch at the end of each term, which the students loved and when numbers got too large to do this, we instigated our Hargest Library Xmas Party, which we held after school had finished for the year and stock-taking had been completed.  We sent out lovely invitations and after the first year we also included our team of 30-strong student librarians.

These parties proved very popular, and were a lovely way to end the school year. (even though Lisa and I were often exhausted and questioned our state of mind at the time of planning it!)  We just ordered pizza, provided Xmas nibbles and played Xmas carols.  We played games such as First Lines, where students had to match the title of a book to the first line from the book; Literary Hats, where they were given a party hat on arrival which had the name of an author on it and they had to ask the other students questions to work out who they were; we gave them the opportunity to select  summer holiday reading and one year we saved up books we’d weeded from our fiction collection and let them take what they wanted. The last two years, students asked to bring some games along to play and Twister  became an hilarious but firm favourite.

It is very difficult to get them all to go home!  One year my then eight year old (he’s now about to turn 11) who of course had to attend the Xmas Party (after all, I was technically on holiday!!) had a lovely time as the stayers sat round in our reading room taking turns to read a picture book out loud to him, complete with voices and gestures to fit the story.  They the proceeded to sing him happy birthday (even though his birthday isn’t until January.)  It was a sight that did this librarian mother’s heart proud.

I had a core group of Book-clubbers who had stumbled into book club after one of their gang suggested it when they were newly Year 11 students.  They referred to themselves as the “Nerd Herd” and were a bunch of bright, eclectic teenagers who were articulate and well-read.  This lot moved onto university  after finishing at Hargest last year and with virtually no Year 12 students, it left a big hole … with me too, though I’m pleased to report that they come in to visit whenever they’re home on holidays, usually with a Starbucks coffee in hand for me and we’re planning on a “Nerd Herd” reunion luncheon at the conclusion of their end of year exams when they’re all home for the summer.

Some of our book-club lovelies from 2007 in their Library OWL T-Shirts with Owly, our library mascot.

We had occasional visitors join us for Book-club.  Some talked to us about the books they have written, some came and read to us, but mostly we remained a social group where we chatted about the books we love to read, recommended our favourites to each other and enjoyed the feeling of belonging in our little group. However, our “little group” didn’t stay little for long.  Numbers continued to grow each year, until finally it reached a reasonably unmanageable 55 members in 2011 (we can only comfortably fit about half that number in our library classroom and we would regularly have 35+ attending each week).  Something had to give!  And I preferred it wasn’t my sanity!

I’d tried a couple of different approaches to combating the size issue.  Three years ago I even tried having a separate junior and senior book-club, but it changed the dynamics of the group so much that there was rebellion in the ranks, and we reverted to the status quo.

My perceived Book-club benefits included:

  • giving students a safe place to come and share about reading
  • students from Y9 to Y13  could mix together and get to know each other
  • raising the profile of the library
  • giving students who came along a greater sense of belonging to the library

Some of my challenges have resulted from those benefits. The level of ease and camaraderie within the group, coupled with the large numbers attending eventually tipped it over into chaos. They became so chatty and casual that even after gentle and finally not-so-gentle reminders of respecting everyone in the group and listening politely while someone else was speaking or giving a book review, their behaviour didn’t improve. Also our school day changed about four years ago to only one period after lunch. This also meant a longer interval and a shorter lunch break which resulted in not enough time to do anything meaningful with the group.  These challenges, coupled with busyness-syndrome and Book-club fatigue resulted in me calling a halt to our regular weekly meetings at the end of last term.

The dust has begun to settle somewhat and I’ve appreciated a little distance from the issue (and to be honest, the students!).  Enough to have been starting to think “Where to from here?”

So some of my musings around what the new and improved Hargest Book Club might look like?

First things first …. I plan to be more organised! I am a huge fan of Suzette Boyd and I’m totally in awe of what she has created in terms of library services at Scotch College.  At Scotch they have a Literature Club for their boys and they have posters made to promote what’s happening at their gatherings each term. Check out what they’ve got happening for the boys this term. They have some very cool ideas.

I’m considering meeting less frequently.  I’m thinking once a fortnight might work better.  Alternatively, I might be able to find a reliable 2013 Year 13 student from my library team to help organise and run Book-club next year.

Using Scotch College Library’s concept, maybe have certain things happening on certain weeks to encourage more non-traditional membership.  Some of the things I’m considering are

  • Running a quiz once a term
  • Having one meeting a month as a “choose your new books” session
  • Having one meeting a month where students create book reviews in whatever format they want to, be it written, videoed, maybe in book-trailer form
  • Arranging a special guest once term.  Authors are few and far between down South, but we have some cool people locally who might be prepared to come and read a short story or part of a book to them. (one year I had our Drama guru, Jonathan Tucker, who has been teaching here for 47 years this year, read his favourite horror story to the group.  (He was well-known for this delicious activity when I was a student here!)  Well, I could’ve sworn some of the younger student’s eyes were going to pop right out of their head!!)

I’m very conscious of not creating more work for myself as the time factor is a biggie, but on reflection, Book-club has become an institution here at Hargest and it’s up to me to find the right wheel to fit this buggy!

PS: Meet our Book-club mascot:

And a well-travelled mascot he is too!  Owly went with Lisa, my wonderful team-mate here in the Hargest Library, on her overseas trip to the UK last year.  We will make sure he travels to other places too during this year so we can run a competition at the beginning of next year where students have to guess where Owly went on his holidays.

Like something out of a Dystopian novel

I’ve got my dander up this morning.

Those of you who know me will testify to the fact that I can be garrulous and a bit feisty but I normally attempt to keep myself under control – just.

But I’ve just become incensed this morning after reading this article in the Guardian entitled: Kensal Rise library stripped in night of books and Twain plaque. (Thanks to Val McDermid for tweeting it and drawing it to mine and Twitterland’s attention).

So sneaking into a local public library and stripping it bare of books, artworks, furniture at 02.30 in the morning has now become standard practice? What has it come to in the democratic world when this sort of behaviour is considered acceptable!?  Do our voices no longer count? Has the push to save money finally crashed over the public’s right to demonstrate and have a say in their local government issues?

I shall pause for a deep, cleansing breath ….

Nope, that didn’t help.  It still seems totally ridiculous behaviour.  Obviously the “they can’t put it back once we’ve destroyed it” premise is at play here.  It’s these types of things that make you feel helpless in the face of the government “Big Brother” mentality.  Heaven help us if this type of policy and it’s implementation was to ever reach NZ shores!  It just doesn’t bear thinking about. 

So I say, people everywhere, love your libraries, treasure them and at every opportunity tell the people who fund them (yes, you elect them!!) how much you want and value them! Don’t make the mistake of being passive about it, or assuming this could never happen here. It would seem this should never be taken for granted in case you end up like the library users at Kensal Rise – libraryless.