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Library media centers serve critical educational role

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As stated within the Introduction of the Prekindergarten Through Grade 12 Common Core Learning Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy, students need to "become self-directed learners, effectively speaking out and using resources to assist them, including teachers, peers, print, and digital reference materials," while also becoming "proficient in new areas through research and study."

That being stated, visiting our district's library media centers, and knowing how to best access their resources, is critical in any student's endeavor on his/her quest to find a book for mere pleasure, or in an effort to locate information, while researching a topic to fulfill a requirement, in addition to satisfying the answer to a question of personal inquiry.

Both buildings within our district house library media centers, and within each, students are welcomed throughout a six-day rotation by district library media specialist Brynn Speer and library assistant Christine O'Connell.

Speer comes to our district after teaching elementary reading and being a librarian within the Long Lake Central School District within the Adirondacks. She double majored in English and sociology at SUNY Geneseo, and while she worked at the Wadsworth Library as a page and circulation assistant, decided to pursue another degree as a librarian thereafter. From SUNY Albany, Speer possesses a masters of science in information science as well, while a second masters degree is in progress, which will afford Speer a degree as a literacy specialist, birth through grade 6.

Our principal, Tim Cowin, told me that, "Weedsport had been looking for three years for the librarian who could spark the students' interests in literature, while matching the current technological needs for a modern library media center. Brynn has been a great find for us. She can support our students in everything from basic reading skills to the most advanced research we can provide."

Speer works with children in kindergarten through grade 12 within our district. Working within a six-day rotational fixed schedule in our building, classes of those children in grades K through second, consist of read-aloud time, which addresses information literacy skills. Such skills consist of the identification of informational texts, stories, locating materials within the library, using nonfiction text features, discussing the roles of authors and illustrators, locating materials within the library, utilizing the online catalog and databases in an effort to locate specific information.

For the students in grades three through 12, she works in concert with classroom teachers to incorporate skills into the curriculum. Of this work, Speer said, "Instead of learning information literacy skills in isolation, the teachers and I work together to teach those skills within an existing unit so they are taught and then applied directly."

Helping students know not only how to, but where to acquire information and scrutinize the validity of such information in addition to comparing those sources, are all areas that Speer stated she does as well. Again, in an effort to address the rigors of the Common Core Standards, Speer also stated that her students learn to, "not just restate information from a source, but integrate new knowledge in their own words."

In our building, Speer has worked with teachers and students to do monthly book talks, and she has helped students address their needs as they worked to retrieve information, both in print and online for various research projects.

At our middle school, Speer not only assisted the children in their research endeavors, but worked toward taking research one step further, while she used the online presentation tool, Prezi, before having the students comment online in regard to their colleagues' work.

Middle school students have also learned how to create citations for research projects as well, while high school students have also worked on a graphic novel unit.

Along with seventh-grade and eighth-grade ELA teachers, Maribeth LeFevre and Julie Smith respectively, Speer meets with participants of a middle school book club two to three times per month. They are currently in the midst of reading and discussing "Life As We Knew It" by Susan Beth Pfeffer.

In the future, Speer is in hopes to create comprehensive plans within the elementary school to deliver even more information literacy instruction through our library. She would like to engage in more book talks within our building and in our middle school as well.

When asked what the most rewarding part of her position is, she stated it comes when she "connects with the students when something clicks." She stated that, "This can be when a student comes to me, frantic for the second book in a series. They loved the first one I recommended, and they want to keep reading. I have recently had this happen with a fair amount of high school boys and 'The Maze Runner' series by James Dashner. High school boys may be the most difficult group of readers to reach, so when they come to the library desperate for the next book in a series, I couldn't be more pleased."

She also stated that she finds great reward in her position, when, "A junior finally understands exactly what the 'Works Cited' page is supposed to look like and how to create it without frustration."

Speer went on to say that she also simply, "enjoys providing a library that is safe, appealing, and a place to go for answers and information."

In addition to Speer, our students' needs are addressed within both buildings' library media centers by library assistant Christine O'Connell. Working within our district for 20 years, O'Connell processes interlibrary loan requests in both buildings. Along with the processing of new materials, in addition to updating and logging in titles within our automated system, O'Connell hosts class book exchange visits, and assists students and staff with various material requests. Creating displays, and organizing and reshelving materials within the libraries, are also among her duties within our district.

O'Connell told me that she derives great joy, especially when she sees the, "younger students try a new book and have an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, when it is returned." Additionally, she commented on the fact that she appreciates the "opportunity to see and talk to all students during their weekly visits to both libraries."

Our libraries and classrooms are only rooms, and their resources, merely objects, if left to set untouched, while having limited value, until chosen, utilized, and appreciated as resources by those who wish to derive information from within their contents. Thanks to Speer and O'Connell, our libraries and classrooms, as well as their materials, come to life, so that our students' lives can be enriched, and their World, made increasingly more available.

Lynn Cheche Baker is currently a third-grade teacher within the Weedsport Central School District and is the owner and instructor of The Successful Steps Tutoring Service in Auburn. She can be reached at (315) 253-0750.


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I edit The Citizen's features section, Lake Life, and weekly entertainment guide, Go. I've also been writing for The Citizen and since 2006, covering arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.

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