This article originally appeared in the summer 2014 Harker Quarterly.
Every day is “library day” at Harker’s lower school campus, where daily checkouts have skyrocketed to an all-time high.
From its humble beginnings as a place used primarily for storytelling in Harker’s former K-8 program, the Bucknall library has evolved into a bookworm’s paradise and 21st century research space for K-5 students.
When Harker’s lower school relocated from the upper school campus to the Bucknall campus in 1998, library development had been identified as a top priority during many in-depth long-range planning sessions. Improvements to the newly purchased lower school campus included the conversion of the multipurpose room into a library, which then benefited greatly from the school’s annual giving campaign for the purchase of books.
Today, a wealth of materials are available in the library, from DVDs and videos to books on tape and downloadable titles for e-readers. There are also professional and parenting resources, graphic novels, fiction and non-fiction books – more than 19,000 items in all.
“No student on the Bucknall campus should ever go home to an empty nightstand!” enthused Kathy Clark, lower school librarian, who has been working at Harker for the past 19 years. “There are a total of 1,200 items in circulation as of right now,” she reported, adding that several hundred books could be checked out on any given day.
A past presenter at the Harker Teachers Institute, California Association of Independent Schools and Internet Librarian and International Society for Technology in Education, Clark is also a member of several library associations as well as a former Harker parent.
Her son (Daniel Clark ’10) currently works with Harker’s tech and theater departments. He worked on sound and lighting, as well as acted as a microphone handler, during the recent library-sponsored Ogre Awards, which is a beloved annual production and part of the library’s grade 2 curriculum of comparative folklore.
To help keep up with increased circulation, the lower school library’s staff of three is aided by a dedicated group of 18 parent volunteers, many of whom have stayed on even after their children moved on to middle school.
“Without the volunteers, we couldn’t do it. They are the heart and soul of the library,” said Moureen Lennon, a library assistant who also works as the library’s volunteer coordinator. “It’s a huge commitment and ensures that students can check out in a timely manner. All new volunteers are trained on where library items are located and how to reshelve the books,” she added.
Along with expanding the library’s collection, Clark helps students navigate the use of 21st century technology tools for research. Yet, cautions Clark, even though students can research online nowadays, it’s more important than ever to learn basic information skills. To that end, teaching them how to find, evaluate and use information for research, both online and in print, is a primary focus.
“I can still remember a time when we used to ask the students if they had Internet access at home. Now it’s a given. But the question is what’s the best way to search for information online,” explained Clark, adding, “Google is not always the best choice.”
However, Clark stressed that the lower school library offers information in a variety of formats which provide lots of developmental options for students. In addition to the library’s extensive print collections, all Harker students have 24/7 access to more than 90 outstanding subscription databases and thousands of fiction and non-fiction titles through eBook subscription services managed by the libraries.
No matter how they prefer to read books, all lower school students enjoy weekly visits to the library, either for formal classes or free-reading periods. In the primary grades, classes are taught a story-based curriculum, using teaching techniques such as acting, listening and stimulating the imagination. Noting that books were the precursor to television and the movies, Clark said that many folktales heavily influenced popular children’s movies. “I tell the kids, I don’t do Disney … I have the originals!” she said, referring to the impressive collection of international folk and fairytale books available in the library.
Although grade 5 students do not attend formal weekly classes, Clark sees them regularly as she collaborates with their subject teachers to teach important research skills through engaging projects and assignments. Additionally, grade 5 students are encouraged to simply read for pleasure through a library program called the Fifth Grade Reads Project.
“In grade 5, we noticed a drop off in interest (and time) for reading due to increased homework and extracurricular activities. We launched the program to help fight that reading drop-off,” said Lennon, who came up with the idea for the project, in which students are regularly introduced to various authors and their works, but are then free to choose and check out anything they want. They are also given free-reading time in the library.
Another important element of the lower school library is its ongoing collaboration with teachers across subjects and grades to enrich lessons with information literacy skills.
For example, a group of grade 5 students – Emma-Leigh Stoll, Nilisha Baid, Ryan Tobin and Srinath Somasundaram – were recently in the library videotaping a scene for their “Famous Americans Project,” a special cross-disciplinary assignment between their computer and social studies classes. The project relies heavily on library research to ultimately create original short historic films depicting the lives of selected high-profile individuals.
With a gray wig and other props, the group was creating a film about Susan B. Anthony, an American social reformer who played a pivotal role in the women’s suffrage movement. The team agreed that the best thing about the project was how much it mirrored the real working world as a truly collaborative experience. The students said they relied heavily on the library’s resources to write their historical script.
Another exciting collaborative effort, new this year, is a grade 4 endeavor utilizing both the library and math lab, which formed from a career project developed as part of the fourth grade curriculum.
“This year we were lucky to embark on collaboration with elementary math teacher Eileen Schick for fourth grade,” reported lower school librarian Katrina Nye. “Students worked on a career project, creating a basic household budget and getting hands-on experience using their online research skills. Every class learned the basics of Web evaluation, gaining an understanding of different sources of information, and using them appropriately in a real-life context.”
Earlier in the school year, fourth graders worked on a country research project in a collaborative effort between the librarian and language arts teacher. Meanwhile, working in small groups, grade 3 students researched the care and habitat of zoo animals. They then created a “virtual zoo” using online project pages for their library class. (To view those results go to: http://library.harker.org/zoo.)
In addition to an array of year-round programs and projects, every spring the lower school library hosts a popular annual book fair, which coincides with Grandparents’ Day. Held in the Bucknall library, the sale includes a wide variety of books. The proceeds support the purchase of additional library materials, but, said Clark, the greatest benefit to the school is the wonderful sense of community the book fairs inspire.
According to Harker’s library director, Sue Smith, information literacy is the cornerstone of the library program schoolwide. “Students enjoy rich collections of print and eBooks selected to support their interests and passions. We promote reading through book clubs, book talks, author visits, special displays and summer reading programs,” she said.
Reflecting back on her own library lessons, grade 4 student Zeel Thakkar said, “I would use library skills in my career … when I read through work-related information and pick out the information I need to solve a problem.”