Bringing the Magic of Books to Ottauquechee Students
Rebecca ‘Becky’ Whitney is the resident librarian for the wee ones of Quechee. Some might say a children’s librarian is the most important of all types of librarians. After all, who first shows us that libraries are incredibly special and magical places where one can disappear from the busy world into the endless possibilities which bookshelves possess? Libraries can be overwhelming. We all need a guide in the land of enchantment sometimes, especially when we’re still little. While Becky is somewhat new to the position – having been at the Ottauquechee School Library for just under a year – she has enthusiastically taken on the role of being their guide.
Becky feels lucky she and her family moved to the area nine years ago from San Diego, although she is originally from Connecticut. Some might recognize her last name from her husband’s, family’s business The Whitney Pension Associates. While Becky stayed home with her three kids for the last eight years, she also successfully ran a private photography endeavor called Rebecca Whitney Photography during that time. Volunteering at the school with the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) led Becky to become more involved with the school until she eventually took on the librarian position. Now she works at the same school her three kids attend, and despite already having a Masters Degree in secondary education, she is completing a certificate program in library media science.
Enhancing the space and arrangement of reading materials
Becky has been hard at work in her first year. First came a renovation of the library space: the walls were painted, and shelves were rearranged to create large open spaces closer to the walls, and windows, and smaller, cozier spaces for the kids. There is still a lot of work to be done to finish her plan. Becky is hoping for “a few good people” to donate some carpentry skills and assemble some more bookshelves for the space. The school can provide all the materials; they just need a builder! And, any comfy seating is most welcome.
Beyond the environment, Becky has rearranged the books into different categories as well. The side of the library contains tables and chairs, and is considered the academic area and holds the non-fiction books. Wordless books for beginning readers are arranged by topic, just like books with words. Becky tells me this is a new approach in the library world. This way the kids can learn to browse the books independently by subject matter even before obtaining their reading skills. She has also implemented a ‘makerspace.’ Makerspaces are thematically based how-to sections of a library or other community space. Becky has created a S.T.E.M. makerspace full of science, technology, engineering, and math books of the how-to and kid’s level variety, including books on robotics, Legos, puzzles, and drawing. During the last book fair, Becky and the community managed to raise $1300 through Scholastic Books for the library, and she plans on using the money to expand the makerspace book collection.
Some of the current programs include reading and collecting poetry for National Poetry Month. There’s a reading contest going on all year. Whichever class collectively reads the most books – including books read to them by teachers and parents – gets a pizza party.
The younger kids are learning to be comfortable with books. At the beginning of the year, the kids participated in a poll which asked questions like: “Do you have books in your bedroom?” “Do you have a television in your bedroom?” “Do you have a library card?” From there, Becky and the teachers could determine the level of normalization to books and time spent with books the average child and class needs. She relates the success of such books as The Princess in Black, by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale. The boys expressed distress about having to endure a ‘girl’s book,’ but the princess turns out to be a ninja, and a majority of the boys asked to borrow the book.
Becky’s larger vision is to make the library space much like a bookstore in that a child can find a private nook where they can disappear into a book. There is even an idea for a tiny loft corner with some beanbags or glider chairs below the loft. With only the modest needs of a few good carpenters and some chairs, Becky’s ultimate goal cannot be too far away. Beyond that, she would love some volunteers who would want to spend time in the library – with and without the kids around. Becky would love some company and help in making the library a magical space.
If you are interested in getting involved, or to find out more about the library, visit the Ottauquechee Library School Facebook page, or Becky’s blog at oqslibrary.blogspot.com.