At our meeting at the Polonsky exhibit this spring, someone shared a sentiment so succinct, yet that at times can feel so cuttingly accurate: “no one understands what we do.” While this resonates with me deeply, it gives me yet another reason to be grateful for this community we have all built: we understand what we do. We have each other to learn from and lean on.
I am so filled with gratitude to have such a wonderful group who understands so profoundly what we all do and why we matter. I am humbled by this community of incredible educators, who fight for their students and for access for all, for freedom of speech, whether or not we agree with what is said. There is and will always be work to be done, but I look forward to doing it all together.
As the 2021-22 school year comes to a close, I cannot help but reflect not just on this year, but the arc of these past few school years. As we all grew tired of phrases like “social distance,” “abundance of caution” and the dreaded “remote learning,” much had to be put on hold. While the shape of our days might have returned to normal, in many ways we are still living out the consequences of this challenging time.
I look forward to reconnecting more next year, bringing back more time for those quality interactions that we have most lacked with those who understand what we do best.
I wish everyone a summer full of well deserved rest. Take a deep breath, and know that in the fall, we will be together again.
If you asked me, some twenty Book Fairs ago, what I thought the purpose of a Book Fair was, I would have told you that it was a way to raise funds for the school and get some more books into the hands of students. Over the two decades of organizing these Fairs, my early career preconceptions have been thoroughly turned on their heads. Few are the occasions that elevate a school librarian to the status of ‘rock star’, but at St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s, this highly anticipated event has become a highlight of the school year. This year’s Book Fair, which was a return to our traditional in-person event, was typical of the Fairs that have preceded it. And over the years I have learned to take advantage of this momentum to make the Book Fair into a celebration of reading. Here is what I learned:
1. Book Fairs are ways for children to come together and share their joy of reading. In September, without fail, one question I am asked by many students is, “When’s the Book Fair?” Some other snippets overheard over the years include, “I can’t wait for the Book Fair,” “the Book Fair is my favorite,” and perhaps reflecting some pandemic rebound, was, “This is the best day of my life!”
2. Book Fairs fosters independent thinking and decision making. As humans, we crave autonomy and independence and this is no less true with children. I think part of the appeal of participating in the Book Fair is that children can exercise their self-reliance by selecting their books and being in charge of purchasing them. One week prior to the Book Fair, my lessons will include teaching the youngest children to locate the price of a book, encouraging my third and fourth graders to practice mental math when determining the total cost of their purchase, learning to stay within your budget, and financial etiquette (i.e.: the concept that it’s not polite to talk about how much money you are bringing to the Book Fair). All basic stepping stones to introducing students to the idea of being responsible consumers.
3. Librarians are the experts and we know our student’s reading preferences. This means circulating throughout the Fair and making tailored recommendations. At St. Hilda’s, we intentionally schedule our Book Fair the week before Memorial Day, and promote it as an opportunity for students to buy books for their summer reading. Our summer reading lists are distributed two weeks prior, so students have a chance to peruse books they might want to read. I quickly learned the reality that as much as I try to encourage the vendor to coordinate their inventory with my summer reading lists, inevitably, certain titles won’t be available. Students are reminded that the Book Fair does have an online presence, which is available to them until the end of the week.
4. It’s important to partner with a vendor that works for your planning situation. Over the years, I’ve collaborated with BookSmart, Allbook Fairs, Signature Fairs, and Scholastic. There have been benefits and disadvantages to each. For the past several years, Scholastic has been our retailer. One considerable drawback is Scholastic only provides titles belonging to their publishing house. This year’s very modest selection was particularly evident as pandemic shipping delays and indirect consequences of book banning affected the titles made available to us. However, if your staff of Book Fair volunteers is on the smaller side, then Scholastic remains a viable consideration as the set up and post event packing can be done in approximately two hours, leaving the remainder of the time to prep your Fair for the celebration you intend it to be (see point number six). All good work requires revision, and next year I hope to collaborate with Book Culture, Morningside Heights’ local independent bookstore.
5. Librarians are the promoters of Book Fairs. I use our school’s main public forum, the Gordon Chapel, to announce the coming of the Book Fair. I discuss the significance of the Book Fair by presenting a short talk to the student body on various book-related topics. This has included the history of Book Fairs, famous first lines of books, and my personal journey from reluctant reader to librarian. I’ve also spotlighted some of the various themes I’ve used over the years to generate excitement.
6. Celebratory decorations set a festive tone. Though it can be a cliché, themes can be useful. Enchanted Forest of Stories, Reading Is So Delicious, and Splash into Reading have been some of my best-loved over the years. This year’s theme, Reading Colors Your World was borrowed from iRead’s 2021 Reading Program. This seemed to me an appropriate motif for our return to an in-person Book Fair, as we could all use a little color in our lives after two challenging years. Drew Daywalt’s, The Day the Crayons Quit, Hervé Tullet’s, Press Here, and YuYi Morales’, The Dreamers were the inspiration for our Book Fair decor and the art for our summer reading lists. All visuals were purchased last year via iRead’s website.
7. Finally, you can’t go wrong with a raffle. I set up an estimation station, where children can guess the correct number of objects in a jar. Keeping with the theme of the Book Fair, this year it was crayons. The prize is a $25 gift certificate to be used at the following year’s Fair.
Book Fairs are a lot of work. There are a seemingly endless number of details to attend to, and the event itself is a two day marathon I often call the Olympics of Readers Advisory. Every year, however, the smiling faces of my students leading up to, during, and even a week after the Fair make it all worthwhile. Many thanks to my amazing colleague Lilian Kysar, Library Assistant, who deserves much of the credit for all that goes into making a successful Book Fair.
Hello, HVLA world! Megan Westman (she/her) here, HVLA Secretary and Lower School Librarian & Equity Coordinator at the Nightingale-Bamford School. I’m happy to share reflections from our May 2022 Book Fair – the first our community has held in person since May 2019.
The Nightingale Book Fair is a collaboration between our Parents Association and Library department, led by our Upper School Librarian and department head Elizabeth Fernandez. Parents provided invaluable support for Fair set up, maintenance, check out, and take down. We were lucky to be flush with volunteers at all times over the three days of Fair prep and activities: set up + preview night and two full days of shopping.
We’ve worked with McNally Jackson Books as our vendor since the 2018-2019 school year and have been really happy with their partnership while navigating all of the transitions of the last few years. We were proud to be McNally Jackson’s first virtual fair during the pandemic! Emily Woods, our McNally Jackson rep, is knowledgeable, communicative, and very open to feedback. Emily also helped us find two amazing authors – E.L. Shen of The Comeback and Wendy Xu of Tidesong – to speak at our Authors Night. Authors Night provided a chance for students to hear from these amazing authors, get their books signed, and shop the fair ahead of the official opening the next day.
Our first in-person Fair since 2019 brought with it so many incredibly joyful moments: our Middle School emcees at Authors Night gushing about the presenters, our Class I Mock Caldecott winner – Mel Fell – selling out within hours, the awed looks on our Kindergarteners’ faces as they made their way into the transformed auditorium, and the many moments of connection with parents who we haven’t seen in the building in years – just to name a few! There was a lot to love in the room that helped to balance the stress of the weeks leading up to the Fair and the exhaustion of two days of hand-selling books
A big part of this year’s Fair for our community was getting comfortable with a selection that wasn’t directly tied to our Summer Reading lists. Prior to the pandemic, families could show up with a printed list and largely shop the selection based on that list alone. This year’s inventory was curated by McNally Jackson, so it was less aligned with our lists. Families were able to get on board pretty quickly when we reassured them that the librarians trust McNally Jackson and considered anything from the Fair to be great summer reading! Moving away from being so list-aligned also made space for students to really shop for what excited them, rather than feeling beholden to a list from their teachers. I’m really excited about this change and what it means for independent summer reading going forward.
Below you’ll find a handful of thoughts about what went well and what could be better as we look to the future.
Successes of this year’s Nightingale + McNally Jackson Book Fair:
This year’s Fair was held over two days instead of one, as we’d done in the past. The extra breathing room between groups visiting the fair throughout the school day was so, so helpful.
McNally Jackson ran a virtual fair during the Book Fair & for two weeks after. This gave families the flexibility to shop on their own time and buy any books that were out of stock during their time to visit the Fair.
McNally Jackson delivered about half of the stock in boxes and half on pre-organized carts by audience and genre. The rolling carts made moving stock much easier and provided great, engaging displays! Because I’m particular about organization and access (as so many of us in this profession are), we ended up swapping things around on the carts and creating our own system for what would be displayed there, but they were still incredibly helpful nonetheless. And a breeze to pack up for pick up; we simply loaded extra stock onto the carts to be rolled away!
One of the re-organized carts became a “Nightingale Reads!” cart (pictured below), which we filled with picture books that were read in the Lower School this year at assemblies, during author visits, and in the Class I Mock Caldecott. Many of these books (including all of the picture books from our most recent visiting author – Katie Yamasaki) sold out! Students were excited to see these books featured and the cart gave parents a window into Lower School reading life.
Things to consider to improve the Book Fair in the future:
May is SO busy for librarians. We are all up to our necks in research projects and it was incredibly hard to step away from classes & co-teaching research for several days for the Fair. We’re considering moving our Fair earlier in the year to create more balance for the Library department.
We had a few notes on the inventory McNally Jackson sent us. The first was that we’d like popular series stock to focus on the first + last in a series. We didn’t have large numbers of any first-in-series books, which became a problem pretty quickly. Students were disappointed to see that we only had #3 in the Aru Shah series or #2 of Ryan Hart, and we missed out on some great book matches because of lack of availability.
The other big note re: stock is painful to say as a Lower School librarian… We needed fewer picture books! Because we don’t have a Pre-K program at Nightingale, we probably could have had 50-75% of the number of picture books and been totally fine. They take up so much space at the fair, so the number really matters. That said – the books selected were WONDERFUL.
Overall, the Nightingale librarians love working with McNally Jackson and highly recommend partnering with them for Book Fairs, both virtual and in person! Our community was delighted to gather for an in person celebration of books and reading. We made lots of lovely connections with parents and caregivers and brought a lot of joy to our readers, from the Kindergarteners to our adult community.
Special thanks to our whole wonderful librarian team: Elizabeth Fernandez (Upper School Librarian), Tina Chesterman (Middle School Librarian), and Phyllis Heitjan (Library Associate). Feel free to be in touch if you have any questions about working with McNally Jackson. I’m happy to sing their praises.
Every day of the week preceding this year’s NEIT conference (April 4-6), Peter, my colleague in the tech department here at A-S, checked in with me to exchange thoughts about the upcoming experience and just generally share how excited we both were. More than a chance to have our thinking pushed and gather ideas in a gorgeous setting, I realized that our excitement was anchored in our need to connect with others beyond the four walls of our school. More than two years had passed since we had engaged in sustained conversations with our counterparts elsewhere and we had missed it! To further stoke our anticipation, NEIT was postponed this year from the usual January date, but this very much worked in our favor since the weather, for the most part, was just lovely.
As always, the conversation at NEIT, was on exactly the topics that we wanted and needed it to be. Such is the value of the unconference model. This year, the committee member who facilitated the set up of the first unconference session encouraged librarians and technologists to cross over to the other department for at least one of our sessions. I loved this idea and chose to attend a session called ‘Toward a New Tech Integration’. The premise was that with teachers ‘leveling up’ their tech skills during the pandemic, what should the value proposition be for tech integrators? In fact, is ‘technology integrator’ even the correct title for the role anymore? In that session I mostly listened, and what I heard were many parallels with my own situation as a librarian. For example, we both share challenges in creating or sustaining collaborative partnerships, and wanting to be valued for what we can teach as much or more than what we can provide or fix. The technologists in the room were educators, wanting to be seen as instructional partners and planners. It struck me as I listened that here was the reason for librarians and technologists to hold a conference together. We share so many challenges, but our approach to solving them are sometimes different, and we have much to learn from each other.
There was much to learn from the keynote speakers as well. The person who really struck a chord for me was Ken Shelton. Here was a man who broke the rules as a student, broke the rules as a teacher, and now gets paid to encourage others to break the rules; all in the service of making sure that students thrive through being seen, heard and valued. Afterwards, attendees flocked to talk with Shelton over cocktails and dinner, one of the perks of attending such an intimate conference.
It’s always fun to go to a session thinking you know everything and then being enlightened. Such was the case with Sora for me. I have been a Sora subscriber for years. I thought I had it down, but then I gained some wonderful tips about Sora read aloud Zoom projects, how to manage the badge program, and the easiest ways to connect students to various public libraries.
One thing I love about NEIT is that the conference doesn’t end when you leave Mohonk. For one, we have the Padlet full of notes from every single session convened. We also have our action items. Following up on a session called ‘Dear Follett’, HVLA librarians are going to be working on the Follett censorship issue under the leadership of B Mann, Karen Grenke and Rebecca Duvall. As a follow up to our session on anime and manga clubs, I will be starting a spreadsheet of popular age-appropriate manga with the help of my seventh grade students, and I hope others will contribute after I share it.
Of course, it’s cringe (as my students would say) to share this, but the best takeaway of all is the new and strengthened relationships I developed at NEIT! I’m so grateful to my school for the opportunity to attend, and even more so to my librarian colleagues on the organizing committee: Maria Falgoust, Karen Grenke, Stacy Dillon, Gwen Kaplan and Dacel Casey. Thanks so much for the opportunity to come back to my school refreshed and inspired!
Hello all HVLA members. We wanted to say hello and welcome back to the 2021/2022 school year. We are very excited about the new school year and some new items that will be happening at HVLA. More to come on that. So stay safe and connected with us. Happy teaching and continuing to be the best librarians that you all are!!!