How to Partner With Your Local Library

By Jonna Kuskey

Our high school, like many across the nation, has eliminated its library. To fill this void, our English department has worked intensely over the past several years to obtain books for our classroom libraries by applying for grants, writing numerous Donors Choose projects, asking teachers and friends to donate books, and scouring the bookshelves of secondhand stores. Still, we have a fraction of the books that our old school library housed, so we put our heads together to brainstorm solutions to this problem. We realized we were ignoring the most obvious solution, one that was free, easy, and right under our noses: our local public library.

Most teachers in the US have the benefit of a public library in or near their communities, and there are librarians within these buildings that love books as much—probably more—than we do. When we reached out to our local library we were overwhelmed by their kindness and enthusiasm.

With the Moundsville-Marshall County Public Library, particularly Librarian Extraordinaire Kayla Grose, who specializes in youth services and literature, we have created a strong partnership that helps us put books into the hands of students.  Here are a few ideas that may inspire you to partner with your public library.

Library book sale previews: Our local library sells print books a few times each year to make room for new books. Prior to its book sale, the library invites us teachers to go through the stacks of books to be sold and take what we want for our classroom libraries, free of charge.    

Library card sign-up: Rather than students having to go to the library to apply for or renew a card, we have students fill out the forms in their English classes. We send the forms to the library, and the cards are sent to students’ homes. Collaborating this way provides equitable access to the library. Every student in our school can have a public library card without having to figure out how to get to the public library.   

Book distribution: Not only do we eliminate the need to travel to the library to get a card, we eliminate the travel to check books in or out. Either a librarian or a teacher drops off and picks up books as needed, so students don’t need to worry about how to check out or return books.   

Book Club: Our school is a member of the ProjectLIT book club, and each month we need to obtain multiple copies of the title members have chosen to read. Money to purchase multiple copies of books for this club is limited, so we posed this problem to our library, and once again they came to our rescue. When our book club votes for the book-of-the-month, we collaborate with Grose to see how many copies of the chosen book the library can supply. Then, Grose sets about scouring the libraries in our state and requests interlibrary loans to secure even more copies of the book. This year, our public library is offering even more help securing books for our club by purchasing multiple copies of our monthly book selections. Once these books have been read and discussed by book club members, the library will take half of the purchased books to put on its shelves and the other half is graciously donated to us to distribute among our classroom libraries. 

Lunch with Books: In tandem with our monthly book club, interested students can meet with English teachers and Grose at the end of each month during lunch to talk about the club’s book. Our school has two lunch periods, so Grose stays and has lunch twice, so she can hear and participate in another book discussion with different students. 

E-book access: The e-book apps our public library uses have been downloaded to our students’ school-issued iPads, and we teach our students how to search, check out, hold, and download e-books. In addition to using the Overdrive and Libby apps, this month the library began using Hoopla, a subscription service it chose to purchase specifically because it will provide more books to our school’s students.

This partnership has not only benefitted our school but also the library. “Participating in Lunch with Books allows me to make students aware of library events and educate them about how the library can help them with more than just accessing books,” said Grose. “Working with teachers and students also makes us more aware of what students need, and together, we can figure out how the public library can help meet those needs.”

Grose believes “most public libraries would be excited to work with local schools. If you want to start a book club or work with the library in any way, talk to a librarian at your public library to see how they can help you.”

I second her recommendation. And when you do make that call, my hope is that you find your Librarian Extraordinaire like we found ours.

Jonna Kuskey is a National Board Certified Teacher at John Marshall High School in West Virginia, where she has taught English for 14 years. She writes a monthly column for the Wheeling Intelligencer, and is a 2018 winner of the Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Award and the 2017 recipient of the CEE James Moffett Memorial Award for Teacher Research.

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