top of page
  • GLMA

Beyond the Books: Building a Relevant High School Library Program

by Susan Buckert, Library Media Specialist

@mceachernllc on Instagram and X


A few years back, when I was purchasing lunch for a library media committee meeting at Publix, the cashier smiled and said to me, “Thanks to technology, nobody really needs to go to the library anymore, do they?” I smiled back and responded, “Oh, you might be surprised at all the cool things we do in the school library these days!”


And it’s true. The library program we run at McEachern High School is certainly different from the one I encountered in high school. We are more than just a collection of books. We are a sometimes loud and sometimes messy, vibrant learning space where collaboration, inquiry, and innovation flourish. What we do in the day-to-day might surprise people, especially those who haven’t visited a school library in a while.


Read on to see how our program has evolved into a dynamic space that enhances student learning and engagement.


Reintroducing a Love of Reading: Building High School Reading Culture


Teenagers are busy. They are overwhelmed by school, activities, responsibilities, and distractions. Unlike when they were younger, few make time to read for fun. Yet, we know reading is good for them: It reduces stress, builds empathy, improves achievement, and provides respite from a hectic world.


I am passionate about reintroducing a love of reading in my high school students—about helping them remember what it’s like to curl up with a good book. Since taking over my school’s library program, our circulation has increased by over 150%. What are we doing to promote reading in our library? 


First, we show students we care about reading by offering them a well-cared for collection. When I came to McEachern, the books were in major need of TLC. With the help of our Library Ambassadors, we weeded, repaired, and reorganized every stack, removing empty shelves, and designing dynamic and colorful displays. Involving students in this process taught them the value of our mission to promote independent reading in the library. The project cost us nothing, and its impact was widespread. Rather than feeling dusty and cluttered, our collection felt refreshed and new, making it much more appealing to patrons. 


Next, we created a book club. Establishing a safe space for students who share a love of reading has been a great success; our group continues to grow. Monthly meetings begin with an icebreaker and discussion and end with an activity. Sometimes it's a collaborative game or challenge, like an escape room or karaoke contest, and other days we craft. Sponsoring this group has allowed me to develop a stronger rapport with my students and to build a connected community of readers in our school. 


Our third order of business was to genrefy our collection. This change has had the greatest impact on our library’s circulation rate, since it is so much easier now for students to find books they love. Library Ambassadors continue to help with this process of selecting, classifying, labeling, and rearranging books. We finished genrefying our fiction collection in September of 2022; work continues now in the nonfiction stacks.  


Updating our library collection to include more diverse and inclusive selections has also positively impacted our school’s reading culture. In the past two years we have added hundreds of student-requested titles, thanks to the development of a digital student request form. Giving students voice and choice in the books we purchase has built a strong sense of patron pride and belonging. 


Embracing Failure: Teaching Research as a Recursive Process


Research can be a frustrating process. The level of synthesis and analysis high school standards require is challenging. I often begin by explaining this to students. But I also explain why it’s important to build responsible research habits—especially in a world where knowing what’s true can be tricky.


I continue to hone my practice of teaching good research skills to students but have generally found that the following practices work best:


1.      Explain the why: Students need to know why we expect them to do research a certain way. Briefly sharing the results of a 2017 Stanford study—the one which determined that even PhD historians have trouble evaluating the reliability of sources—lends credibility to the process we teach. 

2.      Show, don’t tell: Guiding students through the process of conducting advanced database searches—allowing them to search while I demonstrate the process—keeps them engaged. 

3.      Provide examples: I ask teachers to share student topics ahead of time and tweak lessons accordingly. Before classes arrive, I have attempted multiple database searches with various terms to anticipate student questions. I demonstrate how accessing information on a single topic isn’t an exact science, and I demonstrate how I refine my own searches to get better results. 

4.      Demonstrate how to read articles: Showing students how to navigate articles is important. I demonstrate how to use digital tools to skim and highlight. We also discuss the parts of an article and explore what strong supporting details look like. 

5.      Teach organization: In general, I teach students to keep up with their sources by keeping a working bibliography. They can do this in a Word document or in an app like NoodleTools. Either way, I teach students how and why it’s important to capture and save citations for sources while working through the research process. 

6.      Offer feedback: Reinforcing lessons through verbal and written feedback is key. I am always sure to let teachers know that I am happy to offer formative feedback.  

7.      Offer one-on-one support: Research is a recursive skill that students can only learn by doing. They must practice, and fail, to succeed. Providing individual, on-demand instruction is typically the best way to help students navigate the databases, so I plan for that individual attention when designing instruction.


Leveraging Technology: Tech Skills for Digital Natives 


Because they seem attached to their phones, we often assume students know how to utilize the technologies available to them, but this simply isn’t true. I thus work with teachers and students to provide instruction in applications that will help students grow in their understanding of how to use technology to their benefit—whether to design and deliver effective presentations or to access the best information quickly. 


Some of my favorite technology lessons this year were with Canva: I helped cosmetology students design labels in Canva for real lip balm and lipstick products they made, I taught world lit students how to leverage Canva’s video design feature for 2-minute informational ads on African countries, and I taught book club and maker club students how to design SVG files in Canva for cutting and engraving wooden bookmarks and acrylic keychains on our Glowforge. I loved how each of these projects encouraged student creativity.


To be a better teacher, I must always be learning. During COVID my amazing library colleagues taught me how to use TinkerCad to design and print 3D models. This enabled me to teach our STEM classes how to design and produce models of their own. This was an awesome, semester-long project that required innovation and outside-the-box thinking. More recently, I taught a small group of CTAE students how to 3D print miniature salon tools, sinks, and furniture for their SkillsUSA salon design competition. They earned a silver medal for their display!


Moving forward, I hope to engage more students in creative, hands-on tech experiences through self-guided tutorials and a badging system. That way students can learn more about technologies that interest them and work independently on the Glowforge, 3D printer, and Cricut Maker in our library during their lunch periods.


Final Thoughts


Now, more than ever, school libraries have an important role to play in preparing students for the 21st century. Yes, they have a world of information at their fingertips, but students need skills to navigate that world.


My job as a school librarian is to empower students to become lifelong readers and learners. Of their world, I want them to ask why and to seek out truths. I want them to think critically, to challenge the status quo, and to know they have the power to steer their own trajectory and to make a real difference.



4 views0 comments


bottom of page