The fresh lens of a new head librarian, the realities of a global pandemic, and ideas whose time have come --- are among the key contributors to several initiatives unveiled in the Odette Library at St. Michael's College School (SMCS).
LIBRARY LEADERS CLUB
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. That's the moral of the story for the new Library Leaders Club, a student-conceived and student-led initiative.
"Last year I tried to set up a book club, but for various reasons including the pandemic, I couldn’t fully see the plan through," says Adam Zanin, a Grade 12 student. "When Ms. Freibauer heard about my hope for a book club, she asked if we could expand it into a Library Leaders Club, and of course I happily obliged."
"Now it’s a book club plus an advisory group," explains Caroline Freibauer, new to her role as Head Librarian at SMCS this academic year. "The goal of the club is to talk about books, promote reading, promote the Odette Library Learning Commons, and to create and run new initiatives. I have also felt that students should have more input, take more ownership in the space so that they really feel it belongs to them."
So far, the club boasts 15 members --- all of them senior students for now --- the result of safety protocols and traffic restrictions in the space.
"Our goal this year is to make the library accessible and exciting for everyone, even during the pandemic," adds Zanin, who co-leads the club. "Because only Grade 12s are allowed to stay here, many people cannot discover books or resources. We want to show them that the Odette Library still has so much to offer," says Zanin, who plans to study English after graduation.
"Reading has been a large part of my life for as long as I can remember. It isn’t only a much-needed escape from the anxieties of our world, but it opens my eyes to different experiences and opinions and helps me make sense of the conflicts in my own life. Reading has been the best education I’ve received," he says.
Cameron Campione is also a co-leader of the club. "The Odette library has been a large part of my journey at St. Mikes," says Campione. "In Grades 9, 10, and 11, I would be there for at least two hours a day. Having access to the library made doing ARP (Accelerated Reader Program) much easier and having a quiet space to do work made the stress load of classes much easier."
"I have a very good relationship with the librarians,” he adds. “They have been good role models for me and I realized that with COVID-19 some students would not have the same library experience I had. I am trying to give the rest of the students the best experience with the library that they can have during this pandemic."
For Freibauer, student voice --- within the 14,000 books and dozens of databases, ebooks, and digital resources --- is key. "I really do want them to have input into what books we have in the collection and what activities we run. They know what students are saying and thinking. This is going to be an exciting partnership!"
Building a strong foundation of the new club for younger and future students is also a motivator.
"My main goal as a co-leader is to give the younger students a chance to enjoy the library as much as I did in my high school years," says Campione. "It will be different for them with COVID-19 but I want them to think about the library as a great place to go. You can use it to study, read, there's a spot for group projects, and they have some resources that can't be accessed anywhere else in the school. If you have access to this library, use it."
Adds Zanin, "I am so grateful for the amazing librarians who have been so helpful and kind since my very first day at St. Mike’s. Having ‘book-talk’ with Mrs. Gray [recently-retired Head Librarian] or Ms. Zawadzki, or getting a recommendation from Ms. Lopez are some of my most pleasant memories from my time here," he says, adding, "We are so lucky at St. Mike’s to have three experts who want to help you discover all that there is between the pages of a book."
THOUSAND BOOK PROJECT
A by-product of COVID-19 --- as students cannot peruse shelves in the Odette Library for safety reasons --- the new Thousand Book Project takes browsing books to another level by having students use the Destiny online catalogue, plus adding a twist.
"We want to make the catalogue more robust by including reviews from students who already have read the book," says Freibauer. "Students looking for books benefit because they can access advice from their peers before making a choice, students writing the reviews improve their writing skills and hopefully the whole school community will benefit from a vibrant conversation about books we are reading."
Students are provided templates for the written, audio (podcast), or video reviews they wish to submit. All reviewed materials must reside in the Odette Library and can include previously-read books.
"Some students are preparing the reviews as part of their Accelerated Reading Program requirement,” adds Freibauer. "This year students only need to read three books but they also have to submit a review of the book when they are done. The ARP reviews will be forwarded to us by the teachers. Once the ARP requirements are fulfilled, students just need to send us an email to register for the Thousand Book Project and then they can begin reviewing books."
Two key footnotes: reviews will earn points for their respective House, and prizes will be handed out to the top reviewers!
DIVERSITY BOOK CLUB
The New York Times bestseller, "White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism" authored by Robin DiAngelo and published in 2018, is the debut read for the new Diversity Book Club at SMCS, created for faculty and staff.
"The goal is for us to explore the topic of diversity, to learn more about it and to think of ways that we can make a difference at SMCS moving forward," says Freibauer, who has run teacher-led professional development book clubs for adults. So far, 15 staff members have joined the club.
"For the first meeting we sent out a short video of Robin DiAngelo talking about white fragility and had the group contemplate two questions before coming to the meeting," continues Freibauer. "At the meeting we worked to ensure that this would be a safe space where people would feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and concerns and at the same time wouldn’t be afraid to question what other people were saying. Then we did a little activity called ‘Playing the Race Card’ where each person wrote down six words to explain how race plays out in their lives. This sparked a lot of great conversation."
The Diversity Book Club is co-facilitated by Freibauer and Daniel Lumsden '96.
Club members will decide together which book to read next.
NOVEL COLLECTORS ITEMS
Beginning this month, every time a book is signed out at the Odette Library this academic year, a special, impactful item will be included inside --- a collectible bookmark.
Some --- like the ones created to coincide with National Bullying and Awareness Week --- include key messages.
"The Odette Library has always created bookmarks but this group, which feature #bekind have been especially popular," says Freibauer. "So, the thinking was to create different collections that students may want to keep. Future bookmarks could feature student art, student poetry, or book recommendations by staff and students."
According to Freibauer, the Library Leaders Club is already looking at expanding the bookmark offerings in strategic ways. "They would like to create a series which feature past winners of the Reading Olympics and design them like baseball cards. I am hoping that other students or student groups will want to design a collection moving forward."
READING OLYMPICS TO EXPAND
When the curtain lifts on its 12th year, the Reading Olympics at SMCS will be bigger and bolder.
For the first time, it will include students from every grade.
Previously senior students were exempt. This year, participants will also be able to earn points for their House.
Conceived as an additional tool to promote reading, especially important in a visual and digital age, the Reading Olympics will begin in the late fall and run until spring 2021.
More information will be made available on Edsby.