Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Reaching Readers Through the School Library

Today we're talking to Adele Koch, the librarian at St. Patrick Catholic School in Louisville, Kentucky. Adele was born and raised in Louisville. She graduated from Vassar College and taught elementary and middle school for three years,. She then received her Masters in Library Science from Indiana University in 2003 and spent four years managing the Youth Services department at the Mooresville Public Library in Indiana. She returned to Louisville in 2007 and has worked as the librarian at St. Patrick since then.

Adele is actively involved in the Jefferson County (KY) Association of School Librarians and was the president of the Kentucky Association of School Librarians in 2012-2013. She is currently on the board of both organizations. And this summer, she and her husband are expecting the birth of their first child!

I grilled Adele on what kids like to read, how she introduces kids to books, and what she does on a daily basis as a school librarian.

What made you want to become a librarian?
LFPL's Summer Reading Program! Love the dinosaur.

While I have always loved libraries (as evidenced by the number of Louisville Free Public Library Summer Reading certificates I have in my childhood scrapbooks), I originally felt I wanted to be a teacher. I completed my elementary certification while in college and volunteered numerous hours at schools in Poughkeepsie. I went to my first interview looking for a 1st grade job…only to have the principal mention that she thought I would be much more suited to 5th and 7th grade Language Arts and Math. She was right! I loved connecting middle grade students with books. It was my favorite part of my job! I have always read voraciously (but never moved up to “grown up” books), so I could talk books with my students, find out what they liked, and connect them with new things. When I realized I was more excited about my classroom library than the curriculum I was teaching, I decided it was time to go get my MLS and move to a library.

"Grown up" books are overrated! How is library time structured in your school?

We have 670 students in grades JK-8th. We have a mostly fixed schedule in our school. I see JK-6th grade 1 time a week for 40 minutes. 7th-8th grade students come in to check out books using a library pass from their teachers. They can come any time to check out a book, even if I am teaching a class. I have a few flex periods a week where I can work with teachers on a project, see a class that was missed, or work on collection management.

What are the most-requested books in your library for kids reading middle grade, and the older kids reading YA?

The most requested YA books as the school year was concluding were The Fault in Our Stars and the books in the Divergent series. I find my older kids tend to ALL want to read exactly the same book, so a similar book will not do unless they are looking for something to read after finishing the popular book of the moment. My middle grade students are a bit more flexible. They seem to get hooked on a couple of series. The most popular as the school year was concluding were The Lemonade War and its sequels, Dork Diaries books, and the Conspiracy 365 series.

Which genres seem to be the most popular, in MG and YA?

My MG students are always interested in fantasy, mystery, and realistic fiction. It is usually hard for me to sell them on a science fiction although Hunger Games popularity has helped a little. YAs on the other hand are much more interested in Science Fiction. Maze Runner and Legend have helped kids who liked Hunger Games keep reading in the genre. Historical fiction is just not going anywhere at any grade level right now. I can’t tell if it is that they do not know enough about the historical time period or if they just don’t want to know about history.

Sometimes I wonder if kids see historical fiction as more of a "lesson" than the great reading adventure that most of it is. There's so much good historical fiction out there, too. Do you see any difference in what the boys and girls like to read? Which books bridge the gap between genders?

I find I always have a large group of girls that want realistic fiction in both MG and YA. It is less popular with the boys although there is a core group that will read all the new sports fiction. In MG, I find the girls and boys do not want to read the same book, even if it might appeal. That is less of a problem in the YA group. The books that bridge the gap tend to be the ones being made into a movie. It is incredible what a movie in the works does for the book, even if the movie turns out to be terrible! (and usually they are!)

The Percy Jackson movie comes to mind. (shudder) And we just did a great post last week about sports fiction! What do you wish there were more of out there (books about specific issues, a certain genre, etc.)?

I find that there are a lot of great books out there on just about any topic a kid could want. Sometimes it is more a problem to get the kids to branch out than to have books in a certain genre. I would love to see more readable biographies. We have a lot of very factual biographies, but kids want to know more about people and hear the story in the person’s voice if possible. There are tons written for adults, but they are too hard for my MG students.

What do you think are the best books to recommend for younger reluctant readers?

My reluctant readers love things like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate and graphic novels like Smile and Drama. They also read a lot of nonfiction because it is short. I often steer kids to graphic novels that tie to novels like The Lightning Thief or Nancy Drew. Then I can guide them to the other novels in the series.

Graphic novels seem to be great for reluctant readers! I love Raina Telgemeier's books. How do you decide what books to stock in your library?

I choose books based on reviews from School Library Journal and recommendations from teachers and students. I also usually stock ALA award winners, the Kentucky Bluegrass Award nominees, current books in popular series, and I try to update several areas of nonfiction each year. I look at the Junior Library Guild website and the Lerner site to see what they have that is new. As a school in the Archdiocese of Louisville, we also participate in Book Bee competition which means adding 2 books per level each year.

I was the 1992-93 St. Bartholomew Book Bee Captain! I knew The Upstairs Room inside and out. Book Bee is where schools form teams to compete in answering questions about a list of pre-selected books. You can find more information on it here

Which MG and YA books do you find yourself recommending the most often?

I find that I tend to recommend books that I have read or series that I have read. When I recommend to a student, I pull at least 3 different books that fit what the student is looking for. Then I let the students pick. We often only stock 1-2 copies of a book in our library due to funds. It is hard when I enjoy a book and recommend it to a student, but then the other students have to wait for that student to finish so they can try it. When I can, I try to get multiple copies of the first in a series so I can have many reading at a time. I usually recommend things that are a couple of years old. The students usually know about the newest things and have read or will read many of the classics in class, but they don’t know much about books just a few years old. I do have 2-3 students in each grade who finish at least a book a week and come to me asking for something new and good each week. There are so many great books out there!

Thanks for stopping by, Adele! 


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