Friday, November 21, 2014

Member Spotlight: Christina Kover, The Chapin School

Christina Kover and the Misnomer of "Classroom Libraries”

Recently, on our own HVLA listserv, I caught a post that mentioned Chapin’s beloved Lower School Librarian, Christina Kover.

Michael T. Clark, the library director of The Stanwich School recalled an “amazing” comment Christina made over lunch during BookFest about  “[moving] away from the misnomer of “classroom libraries” & start[ing] a clearer conversation about the expectations of what would be in the collection… and who put it together. “

Since it’s a topic that concerns so many of us, I thought I’d use this member spotlight entry to have Christina elaborate even more.

Christina, although you’ve been at Chapin for 12 years, you began your professional career as a children’s specialist at the New York Public Library.  How has that influenced your understanding of what a library should be?

At the time I started, when things were becoming more privatized and less accessible,  I was struck by what a genuinely altruistic institution it was.  There was a sense that this was an institution that was really there for everyone. I loved that.  It felt really good to be part of that.  There was a genuine and sincere desire to think about how to best service New York City. 

Could you clarify the unique position of librarians, who we are, what we do, and how it’s different from teachers?

Librarians are not only teaching their own curriculum but there is also the potential to be the supporting cast members of a production.   The production values are not necessarily as good without our presence, support, and influence.   A lot of us are generalists – we know a lot about a lot or at least know where to find it.

The classroom collections are usually developed with specific curriculuar areas and skills in mind.  That’s fine, but if a child is interested in deep sea creatures and they just want to pore over the images, or if they want to get mulitple books on the topic that then branches out into biographies, or learn more about a specific animal, or if they want to read outside of their reading level, a classroom collection just doesn’t have that volume or breadth necessary to explore different avenues.

When it comes time to defend your library’s value over classroom collections, what arguments come to mind?

Libraries lend themselves to allowing the student to discover who they are thanks to their sheer variety.  Some students feel restricted because a classroom teacher’s main concern is their reading level.  A librarian’s concern is their interest level.

Many thanks, Christina!  
--- Natasha Goldberg, Middle School Librarian, Chapin School

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Three November Events of Note

#1 Books of Wonder 

Monday, November 17th, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM

Books of Wonder, 18 West 18th St., NYC
Join us on November 17th as we present the 2014 National Book Award Finalists! 
JOHN COREY WHALEY explains how losing your head isn't the worst thing that can happen; 
DEBORAH WILES regales with tales of the Sixties; 
ELIOT SCHREFER introduces readers to the elusive chimpanzees and those who live around them; and 
STEVE SHEINKIN educates readers with an astonishing civil rights story.

DEBORAH WILES for The Revolution: The Sixties Trilogy #2
ELIOT SCHREFER for Threatened
STEVE SHEINKIN for The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights
#2 WORD Bookstore (Jersey City)
Little Failure with Gary Shteyngart
Word Bookstore - Jersey City --  11/12/2014 - 7:30pm
This event will take place at our Jersey City location. (GMaps)
Gary Shteyngart joins us for a reading and signing in honor of the paperback release of his New York Times bestselling memoir, Little Failure, which has been hailed by NPR as "dazzling . . . a rich, nuanced memoir.”
Facebook RSVP encouraged, but not required.
#3  92nd St Y (92Y)

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Mock Newbery Newbie Shares Her Tales from the Frontlines

There’s an epidemic – no, not ebola – spreading through our fair city and it’s the Mock Newbery Club movement.   As Malcolm Gladwell might point out, I was not one of its “early adopters.”   I only began this past September, following an invitation from fellow HVLA-ers to stop by Packer for a Mock Newbery party held to celebrate (or was it to rue?) the announcement of Flora & Ulysses.

I had such fun being a fly on the wall of this party.  I took in the kids’ impassioned defenses of Counting by 7s and Better Nate Than Ever, watched some boy’s book trailer for Doll Bones, all the while thinking – I have to bring this magic to Chapin.  

Fast forward to a feverish volley of emails between me, Kristyn Dorfman (Packer) & Hannah Mermelstein (Saint Ann’s), guiding me through the Mock Newbery basics (of which, Hannah rightly pointed out, many online guides already exist).   

Unfortunately for Kristyn and Hannah, I’m a sucker for getting my story firsthand (especially from talented librarians I’ve determined, at some HVLA meeting or other, are exciting role models!)

So here’s what I learned.   The first step is coming up with a list of 2014 titles you think stand a shot at the Newbery.  I did this over the summer, adding my personal touch – a brochure to distribute to the kids.  The SLJ blog, Heavy Medal, can be useful for compiling the initial list of candidates but also give you some bum steers depending on your students’ tastes.   My advice?  Choose what you think your community will gravitate to first.

Next, order the books.  I ordered 2-3 copies of each title in the  brochure, plus digital copies to read on my iPhone en route to work.  (Thank you, oh gracious Head Librarian, Barbara Lutz!) Then, I designated a cart in the library where the books could be easily found.   In September, I made a goofy (but well-received) i-movie Trailer announcement that I played to the entire Middle School community (classes 4-7) and created an online voting form in Google docs that put the Newbery criteria into kidspeak. 

Inspired by the HVLA partnerships I saw happening in Brooklyn, I also reached out to Chapin’s traditional rival across the street, Brearley.   The fabulous Head Librarian there, Amy Chow, was eager to partner and begin planning afterschool Mock-Newbery events that I pray will not result in an East Side Story rumble.

I’ll be updating you about what books are trending best in my upcoming blog post, but feel free to reach me at with any questions in the meantime.  As I’ve learned through my ten years as a member, sometimes an email from an HVLA pal makes all the difference.

- Natasha Goldberg, Middle School Librarian, Chapin School