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Not your father’s school librarian

NORTH END — The days of index finger to the lips and the “Ssssshhhhhh” are over.

Learning requires communication, even when taking place in the library.

“We want people to be engaged and excited in their learning and if that takes chatting, then great,” said Kingston High’s librarian Ian Patrick. “We actually have a lot of fun in here. There’s a lot of laughing.”

In fact, the library is the the heart of every school.

The rooms which brim with books with pages full of knowledge are as essential to any school as the cockpit is to any successful flight.

The librarians and library tech assistants are the pilots — the souls who keep the schools’ life blood pulsing and thriving, learning and growing.

“The libraries are the heart of the school,” said Breidablik Elementary’s librarian of 12 years, Mary Fox. “We get to see all the kids. We get to match them up with material that will keep them reading and learning their whole life — that’s our function.”

Aside from the all-important tasks of hooking students on reading, helping them learn and assisting teachers with prep time and class demands, the district’s librarians and assistants keep learning functioning as normal by completing a multitude of behind-the-scenes jobs.

The KHS library is home to approximately 6,200 titles and an additional 15,000 textbooks. At least 200 students funnel through its doors each day.

“As a high school librarian most of my time is spent supporting teachers and what they’re doing,” Patrick said. “My number role is to support the curriculum.”

Patrick and tech assistant Julie Kass man the library from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. but often stay late. Twice a week they chaperone a Buccaneer athletes study hall from 7:15-7:55 a.m.

When the duo isn’t assisting the students they get down and detailed with book classifications and orders. Last year alone they shifted and transfered around 24,000 pounds of books while they simultaneously bar-coded, labeled, stamped, assigned and entered nearly 20,000 books into the library system and removed several thousand. They’re still going.

“We’re still doing it. It took a lot of the year last year, it was huge,” Patrick said, adding it’s not a very glamorous task. “It was stunning how many thousands of pounds of books we moved around.”

Part of the librarians’ job description is to order the materials to fill the shelves, and similar to a sports official they get the final yes or no say on what fits the bill. Patrick selected 6,200 titles to fill the shelves, and no he doesn’t read them all. For him it’s an “organic process,” combining student interests, teacher needs, various book review sites and his own likes and dislikes.

“I have to be sure they’re appropriate for the age level, not too hard or too easy,” said Patrick who reads 75 to 100 books per year. “It’s actually really fun to do.”

Patrick even launched a contest to keep students reading. He was recently awarded $500, as he was nominated for and won Komo TV’s teacher of the week award. With the cash he purchased two iPods, and students who read and log an online review of the book are entered to win.

Breidablik Elementary, Mary Fox

The Breidablik library is home to approximately 18,000 books, nearly 2,700 books are checked out each month and a minimum of 330 students filter in and out during the course of a week.

It’s also home to a tree house, a water fountain, pet lizards and a boat full of stuffed animals – basically any child’s paradise.

“It’s such an opportunity to be around my favorite things — books, critters and kids. It’s just the best job,” Fox said.

For Fox, there’s no typical day. She’s a teacher, who’s scheduled as a specialist and covers planning time for staff. She spends time with the fourth- and fifth-graders every four days for an hour, the third-graders every three days for an hour and kindergarten through second-graders every three days.

At the start of the year she teaches the little readers how to care for books, find materials and the function of the library. As the year progresses she incorporates the school’s classroom needs into library time with various projects.

“I tie what I do with what’s happening in the classroom,” Fox said. “The library is open all the time. During recess students come in and read, write and play. This is just a nice place for them to cool out at lunch time.”

Just like Patrick, she and tech assistants Mary Kay and Karen Sheflow, catalogue, process, shelve, select and purchase the reading materials. However, Breidablik’s method of selecting materials differs slightly: It involves fluorescent colored sticky notes.

Students leave notes of recommendation on her desk, which on Friday was covered with four book titles written in student penmanship. Fox also seeks out award winners and relies a lot on book lists.

“I never seem to have the right books about the right animals at the times they need them,” said Fox, who’s currently lacking armadillo and lemming selections.

The Breidablik library also hosts a reading challenge and if the students meet it they’re invited to an end-of-the-year sleep over, where the pajama fashion show is always the biggest hit.

Librarians love their jobs, the students and reading of course. About the only thing they don’t like is being asked what their favorite book is: It’s always the one they’re reading at the moment.

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