Friday, September 27, 2013

Strength in Numbers: When One Book Club is Not Enough

This week's post is a guest blog by one of our favorite HVLA members, Angie Ungaro. 

It’s no secret that most librarians love a book club. It’s probably true that the majority of HVLA member schools have at least one book club operating to satisfy their dedicated readers and sometimes it may feel like you’re on an island--albeit a cozy one--with your small group. If you’re like me, you may wonder what other book clubs and readers are doing and if there’s something more that you as a librarian could be offering. I’d been having these thoughts for a while when fellow HVLA librarian and Brooklynite, Rebecca Duvall, approached me and asked if I’d be interested in getting our middle school book clubs together. Rebecca was dealing with some of the same questions and thoughts I had and decided to turn an idea for collaboration into action. This created the perfect opportunity to connect our students with other students who shared the same passion for reading.

With Brooklyn Friends School and Brooklyn Heights Montessori committed to getting our readers together, we decided to reach out to two more HVLA schools in the area: Packer Collegiate Institute and Saint Ann’s School. We soon had their MS librarians--Hannah Mermelstein and Kristyn Dorfman--on board. While we acted as the point people for organizing our joint group, we certainly would not have thrived and flourished as we did without the support of our fellow librarians at our respective schools.

How We Did It
Start small - All participating schools maintained their regular book groups throughout the collaboration.
Get bigger - We introduced the idea of connecting to other readers in the area using Edmodo as a safe social network for our students and teachers. Edmodo allowed us to create conversation threads, take surveys and polls, award students badges for the books they read, and share media specific to the books we were reading.
Find a common read - Most of the participating schools already had a Mock Newbery component in place so we used that as our starting point. Together we decided on a selection of 12 books that students read on their own time, at their own pace, and discussed online before voting for their favorites at their own schools. The Newbery also offers a culminating event that generates a lot of excitement. Keep it real - While the majority of our multi-school collaboration took place online, it was important to us to give the students an opportunity to meet in person and make connections with other students who love reading like they do! Also, it gave us a chance to celebrate all our reading accomplishments and play some Mock Newbery Jeopardy.

Benefits of a Book Club Collaboration Students get to socialize with and feel more connected to other students their age with similar interests in neighboring schools. We, their librarians, get to work with each other and feel more connected, too! Our in person meet-ups allow students to meet new people and see different schools and libraries. Readers advisory by students for students! Book and author recommendations are a natural part of the conversations that take place online among students. Even if you have just two students from one school, together they get to feel like a part of something larger and that’s pretty great.

Looking Ahead
More Meet-ups - Our in person meet-up was such a success that we added an extra meeting to kick off our Fall book club collaboration. One of our participating librarians even managed to get a former Newbery Committee member attend as our special guest! Spring component - Last year, we attempted to keep our group going in the Spring by using Brooklyn-themed books as our common read. While we still had participation, we all felt like it was possible to make our Spring semester collaboration as strong as the one in the Fall. We’re working on it and ideas are always welcome. More HVLA schools - We love what we have going with our book club collaboration in downtown Brooklyn and think other HVLA schools might love it, too. Can you imagine the cross-CROSS collaboration we would have if we got other HVLA book groups involved?

Are you interested in collaborating with other book clubs at HVLA schools in your area? If so, stay tuned for a survey coming soon. 

Angie Ungaro is the middle school librarian at BFS. She had help writing this blog post using the meeting notes and emails shared with her by fellow collaborators and library friends Rebecca Duvall at BHM, Hannah Mermelstein at Saint Ann’s and Kristyn Dorfman at Packer.

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