I’ve had two days of what I like to call “work vacations.” They’re still work, but off campus. Friday, our middle school students competed in our district’s annual reading competition. We have a list of selected middle grade books the students read through the year. We take a team, or two, or three, depending on how many are interested and the sizes of our campuses. In a double elimination tournament style of questions about books, these kids take the competition seriously. Students have a great time meeting peers from other schools and we enjoy watching them show their stuff. And they know those books inside and out.
Today, we had an off-site team meeting. We caught up with colleagues, discussed end of the year procedures, participated in team-building activities, and had time to work on those odds and ends that tend to get left for the last minute. Instead of a rushed thirty minute lunch, we were able to go to a sit-down restaurant to enjoy a meal. Unfortunately, the day ended with a retirement announcement. On the other hand, I’m happy when people step into their next chapters, or even stories, in life. Such is the stuff of an approaching end of the school year.
At the end of April, I’m attending our annual library conference. The last two have been virtual and almost as exhausting. I like to think I have a plan set up for all of the sessions I want to attend and schedule back-up sessions for those that get full. This year, I may just schedule some re-charge time in my hotel room. It’s usually go, go, and go hard for about three days. It’s hard to skip the author lines and rush from one session to another. This is my kind of theme park.
I’m fortunate to have these types of days. A break from work, but still work. Something different that helps me re-charge and continue learning. Having time to eat lunch is also a bonus.
“I won’t be able to read this summer. I’m going to India.”
“My dad wants to take me to California. Why California?”
“I’ll read and work on next year’s books. I want to win the competition.”
“I won’t be able to do anything. I’ll be helping with a crying baby all summer.”
“Can you just let us hang out in the library and we can skip the rest of our classes? Please?”
“I didn’t bring my instrument today so I won’t be able to practice, it’s just the last part of 7th period and 8th period, please?”
“Sorry, you got a rule-following librarian. When we come back from a field trip, you have to go back to class. The one time I break a rule, I get in trouble. I have to return the Suburban anyway, so we won’t be able to hang out.”
“Can I call my mom to see if she’ll have time to pick me up in time for her ultrasound?”
“Sure, use my office.”
Sighs all the way around. There’s a class reading in the library with one of my favorite teachers when we enter, ambient music playing in the background. I missed out on a lesson with them today. The girls reluctantly gather their backpacks. I take my time writing their passes.
“Thanks for participating. I’m glad you had fun. See you next Thursday for book club and have a great weekend.”
The others leave and S comes to the circulation desk. “I think they’re already at the ultrasound, no one is picking up. It’s okay though, I didn’t think I’d be able to make it anyway.” Her eyes say otherwise. “Can I get my pass, please?”
As I worked with a small group of students using the button maker, another student came in, hunting me down. What’s so urgent?
“Mrs. Garza! I have to show you this!”
She holds a folded red bandana. Usually students either show me their own copies of a book I recently added to our collection. A published piece of writing from language arts class. A LEGO mini-figure. A new mani. A second ear piercing.
Walking toward the desk, she slowly unwrapped the bandana. “Look what I have. I need to be careful or it’ll break. It’s over a hundred years old.” Leaving the bandana on the table, she cradled it. A book, but not one I recently added to the collection. It was old. Over a hundred years old. A yellow envelope peeked out from underneath the front cover. I almost didn’t want to touch it, but I couldn’t wait to hold it.
Leather. Old leather, with pieces so worn they had fallen off. I needed gloves to handle it and here she was, brining it to school wrapped in a bandana and plopped into a backpack. Our new library bound books can barely take the brunt of a middle schooler’s backpack. “Where…”
“I got it at a garage sale! The lady gave it to me. I didn’t even have to pay for it. She said it belonged to her grandfather.” Another story about an hour after the previous grandfather story. Must’ve been National Grandfathers Leave Something Special to a Loved One Day and I didn’t get the memo. “Look at the letter!” she exclaims excitedly. “It has actual writing from the 1800’s.” Definitely an artifact because it’s actual writing. Opening the cover, she explains how the page had fallen out, or rather, broken out. There it was, a note with actual writing on it.
I tried not to gasp. I’m not sure if the book is worth anything, but the page was glued onto a sheet of paper which was glued onto an envelope. Yikes! I’m not an archivist, but this one may or may not be worth taking to an archivist. Wanting to check the publication date, I tried to open the next page to find information. It was too brittle. Not wanting to damage it, I opened pages that wanted to be opened. The print is still in decent condition.
I imagine I would’ve fallen in love with this book had I been able to see it back in the 1800s. Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. I saved the title for last. A book of poems by John Milton. I spoke a little of what I remember about John Milton, which isn’t much, and his famous Paradise Lost. I asked for permission to take pictures. I suggested she check into having an expert take a look at it. What thrilled her most was the note written inside and the fact she got it free. At a garage sale.
This was a second story to add to my collection in the same day. My campus was without a librarian last year and library activities halted. It’s taken me a while to get the flow of it, get to know the teachers, and get to know the students. They are coming in more frequently now, teachers and students. And they’re sharing their stories with me. Even if they were free from a garage sale. I call that a win.
“Everyone has a story to tell. All you have to do is write it. But it’s not that easy.”
We received two shipments of delayed book orders I placed last semester. Supply chain issues. I’m new at my campus after spending my first five years as a librarian at an elementary school. I went back to the middle. What people don’t know is there are more steps to getting books onto the shelves than what meets they eye. “They already come with the barcodes, why can’t you just scan the book and check it out to me?” Not that easy. Not that quick.
First, I have to make sure I received everything. Publishers make mistakes, so I have to check that all of the pages-of the correct book-are in order, match the cover, match the correct series, match the genre. I load the records. Not only that, I have to go through each record to check for errors. This is the ELA teacher equivalent of grading papers. It’s time consuming. Sometimes I edit records and change genres to match what we have at our library. Example: mystery books are labeled suspense books on my campus. When everything is ready, I send the records to our district systems librarian so they are added to our catalog.
I lay my hands on each book, label them with corresponding genre stickers, print new call numbers if needed, stamp the inside with the date received and label them with our school’s address. Then I pay for them. Well, the district does, but I have to enter financial information on a program that never has liked me. Each book is inventoried and the final touch is a bright yellow NEW sticker above the call number.
They’re enticing. So much so that I want to check all of them out and keep them to myself.
These aren’t the only stories I get.
Yesterday, I chatted with a student while she worked on a 1,000 piece Harry Potter puzzle I set up in our maker space. “I love puzzles. I have so many at my house. And I love books. My mom does too. That’s why I love coming here.”
“What do you do with your puzzles when you finish them? Do you pull them apart and swap them out or do you display them?”
“Modge Podge. I pour Mod Podge on them and attach them to canvas so I can hang them in my room.”
“Cool,” I say, pointing to my Wonder Woman puzzle displayed above the graphic novels. “I do the same, but I use foam core on the back. Heat the blade of a box cutter and it slices right through to trim it.”
We continued with the conversation of books. She described a tattoo her mom wants to get: a girl holding a stack of books ascending a staircase with one side of her parted hair turning into a bookcase. I oohed and ahhed, imagining something similar to what I’ve pinned to my Pinterest boards. “My mom also has tattoos her grandfather drew. He would be my great grandfather. He escaped Germany during World War II and he drew a lot during that time. He came to the United States. I’m half Jewish.”
“Your great grandfather fled Germany during World War II?” I had collaborated with this student’s teacher to prepare them for a unit on the Holocaust. “Does your teacher know this?”
“Have you written this story? Have you told it?”
“You have an important story to tell.”
“Yeah, my mom says her tattoos tell stories. One arm is for the tattoos her grandfather drew. Her left arm is for her vacations. She loves fish and the beach. She has a mahi-mahi, a catfish, and a turtle. One time, we went to visit my grandfather in Oregon. We went in a red van so she has a red van on her arm too. I’m not sure where we’re going this summer, but I think she’ll add another fish.”
She continued adding pieces to the puzzle.
“Thanks for sharing. I think you have a good story you need to write.”
I went back to the third cart of books awaiting processing. Of all the new stories that made their way into the library this past week, this has been my favorite.
I’m so nerdy, subscribe to a sticker club. It’s like an ’80s sticker store, but in the mail. I purchased a year’s subscription for my mini-me two years ago as a birthday gift. I didn’t cancel the subscription, but decided to gift it to myself. Plus they offer a teacher discount, so how can I cancel? I’ve been hoarding stickers ever since. I don’t want to use them, but I totally need to use them. I have no business buying a sticker album either. Yes, they sell those too.
Every month, I receive a shiny holographic envelope with another sparkly zippered pouch packed with stickers. Oh happy day, snail mail, my favorite! I’m sure I can repurpose the envelopes, so I hoard them along with my stickers.
Last week, I received a badge machine I ordered for our library’s maker space. Bingo! I packed up my sticker stash and envelopes. I’ve never used one, so it was time to play. I cut out circles from the envelopes and the front page of the ‘zine that comes with each pack. The covers have fun prints, so I read them, rip the cover, and save them along with everything else.
After several failed attempts at making a badge and before deciding to send it back, reading the directions might help. I left out the important metal base. Went back to try again and alas, awesome, shiny, 80s style buttons. I decided to make a few for students to see if they’d like them. I wasn’t sure if they’d go over well. My idea of cool stuff is not their idea of cool stuff. Once spotted though, our regulars all wanted one.
Taking it a step further, I decided to make some donning the covers of popular books. The backgrounds aren’t shiny because we print them out, but sure enough, students are looking for their favorite titles. My library assistant made a template so all we have to do is place the image of the book cover on the circle templates, print, and cut them out. We have books on the 2022 Texas Lone Star Reading List ready to print. One of our student aides has learned how to make them and the task is now hers to supervise others.
I’m hoping these will motivate students to read. Even if they don’t, it will bring them through our doors so we can have a little bonding time, chatting. About books. Or stickers. Or about what it was like growing up in the 80s. (Hello, primary source, here.) And they’ll leave with a mark of library coolness.
When I was a kid, the jail sat next to the library. I’d go in to exchange my books, the cool air conditioning, evaporating sweat dripping from my neck resulting from the bike ride there in the hot Texas sun. I wondered if I’d ever be able to take a peek behind the door separating the library and jail. The neighboring door just behind the librarian’s circulation desk remained locked. I imagined a Mayberry jail, one of the criminals trying to figure out a way to retrieve the keys from Barney Fife or rig up some contraption to yank them off an unattended nail next to the cell.
Was Ms. Roper afraid? Did anyone ever open that door? Was there even anyone in jail? Ever? Maybe it was just there to make us think it was the jail. I lived in a tiny blink and you’ll miss it town. I never heard of anyone being arrested. That happened in cities like New York, not our town. Why was it next to the library?
One place, shuts down and isolates a person. The other frees them up. What strange neighbors, the jail and the library.
Walking out, I’d take a look at the neighbor’s front door. The window with the blinds drawn shut. My bike still waiting for me. Hugging my book stack in one arm, I’d steady myself in the seat and pedal off, until next time.