Briarwood Elementary School Librarian Roars!
Welcome to Library Lions Roar celebrating libraries and the outstanding librarians serving youth in schools and public libraries across the U.S. since 2010. Please Roar today’s guest Sarah Threlkeld.
I’m Sarah Threlkeld, the head teacher-librarian at Briarwood Elementary in the Issaquah School District. We are such a large school that we also have an overload librarian, Angela Erlitz, who teaches the 2nd graders and most of the fourth graders. This is my fourth year as a school librarian; prior to being a professional book nerd, I taught 6th grade Reading at McKnight Middle School for nine years.
This is my first year overseeing Briarwood’s library program and I am so excited about how the collection has grown since school started, as well as the lessons and activities that have taken place. Over the summer I decided to genrefy the chapter book collection and students have responded really well to having books organized by genre.
I have also incorporated new technology into a number of lessons, supervised a 5th-grade book club, organized a March Book Madness tournament of picture book biographies, grown the graphic novel and beginning chapter book collections, weeded tons of outdated and damaged book, and co-planned two author visits. I was honored to be recognized by my colleagues as the PTA Educator of the Year.
I also host the Happy Reading podcast, which spotlights wonderful middle-grade books that center around a specific theme, and I am an active member of Puget Sound Council, a Seattle-area book review group. When I’m not busy with book-related activities, I spend time with my 2-year old daughter and husband, bake cookies, run, sing, and travel.
The Skinny: What do you love most about your work?
Both of my parents are avid readers and I can’t remember a time when I was not surrounded by books and had access to a personal library as well as the incredible King County Library branches. Because of this, I truly believe that literacy is the foundation of learning and is the key to academic, professional and personal success. I became a school librarian so I could share my passion for books and reading with scores of young people and hopefully inspire them to become lifelong readers too.
I love talking to kids about the books they are reading and seeing their faces light up when I recommend a title that seems like a perfect fit. Collaborating with the teachers in my building and other librarians in my district is also extremely fulfilling; it never gets old to hear one of them tell me a certain resource I emailed out or a class read aloud that I recommended made their jobs easier. Being an elementary school librarian is also really fun! Every day is different and anything can happen, which keeps me on my toes. I will never stop learning how to be better at my job and I really like that.
As a total book nerd, I own a fairly large collection of book-themed shirts. One of them has a picture of a book in 1st place, an old-fashioned movie reel in 2nd place and a video game controller in 3rd place. The top of the shirt boldly reads “The book was better!” I made the mistake of wearing the shirt on a day when I teach 3rd and 1st-grade students, most of whom have no idea what a film canister looks like. Being naturally curious, two different students asked me what the object was in 2nd place and then proceeded to firmly touch the picture…right where my chest was. The kids were clueless as to what they had done, but I’m sure my face was crimson. Needless to say, I haven’t worn that t-shirt to school since then.
A Lion’s Pride of Programs
The Briarwood Library isn’t just about books (although that is my favorite part!). It is also a place where students display artwork, like the recent clay butterflies created by kindergarteners that hung from all the windows. It’s the home of a small but passionate book club that talks about recently published middle-grade novels and then generate their own questions to ask the authors during Skype sessions. It is a place where kids can communicate with favorite authors via Twitter and meet other students around the country via Mystery Skype. In the spring the students respond to art from the Bellevue Arts Museum and hear all about the KCLS summer reading program. Over time, I am hoping the library will also become a place where students have access to maker activities that allows their creativity to shine. Sure, we’ve got books, but we are so much more.
A Mighty Roar!
The other day a 5th grader popped by the library during her recess wondering if she could read quietly for ten minutes or so. Normally the library isn’t open to students during lunch and recess because the class schedule is so packed, but I happily told the girl she could read in one of the aisles. Her face lit up and it was obvious that I had just given her something she badly needed – a break from her normal routine and some problems she was dealing with in the classroom. She ended up swinging by for 5-10 minutes on a few different days over the course of the next two weeks and always seemed more at peace when she left.
Libraries are vital to school communities because they may be one of the only safe places where students feel welcome. At their core, school libraries serve students and programs should be centered around their wants and needs. Although literacy is a major component of every library program, resources go far beyond shelves of books. Patrons may have access to technology, community services, art and more; things that they may not have access to outside of school. The American Library Association scoured tons of research on the impact of school libraries and librarians on students and the school community and found that an increase in library spending is directly connected to an increase in reading scores and that test scores tend to be significantly higher in buildings that employ full-time certified librarians. Considering libraries have such a positive impact on students and the school community, funding them seems like a no-brainer.
Readers Roar: Let’s hear from the kids!
In February I invited students to write a Valentine to the library on a pink heart that read “One thing I LOVE about our library is…” I was overwhelmed by the number of responses I got! All of the hearts filled up an entire wall in the hallway outside the library.
Here are a few of the Valentine’s that students wrote:
• “I love the library because it gives me valuable resources that I can use to help me at certain times. I also love the library because of who works there. They always help me when I need it and I would like to thank them for what they have done for me.”
• “All the books are in the right genre/shelf. It makes it easier to find books that I want to check out. It is very spacious and I love being in this environment.”
• “There is an incredible selection of books. There are so many good books I just can’t choose what to check out sometime.”
• “It’s a quiet and peaceful place to study and enjoy the books that fill the huge space!”
• “Ms. Threlkeld gets to be there with us every Friday. She is always smiling every time we walk in and her smile just makes my day and I become happier.”
• Everyone is kind! There are books I enjoy! It’s so quiet and peaceful! I love library!”
• “Every time I go there I feel at home and happy and I love how we learn things that I have interest in.”
In a perfect world, every author would be available to speak to students about their craft, inspiration, process, etc. for a reasonable fee on a day that works perfectly with the school’s schedule. Presentations would be tailored to the ages of the students and be interactive (talking at kids for more than five minutes is an excellent way to get them to tune out). The author would genuinely be interested in what students think about reading and writing and would foster an engaging and thought-provoking conversation with them. Visual aids are a plus.
Example: Author, Laurie Anne Thompson, visited Briarwood on Monday, January 22. She conducted writing workshops with every 4th-grade class and gave two presentations – one to K-2 and the other to 3-5. Students were especially fascinated by her newest book Two Truths and a Lie.
In all honesty, it is just super cool that authors are willing to visit schools! I’m pretty sure I never met or talked to authors in a school setting when I was a kid; if I had, it would have blown my mind.
One Last Roar
In the words of J.K. Rowling, “When in doubt, go to the library.” You will be amazed by what you find there!
Blog We Love Our Library
Twitter: WordNerd153 (personal, but almost all book-related content) and bw_reads (Briarwood library)
Thanks again for the interview, Sarah! It’s great to get a peek into all the ongoing programs in the Briarwood School Library!
Note to Librarians: If you’re a Youth Librarian working in a school or public library we’d love to hear about you and your library. Email Janet via the Contact page on this website for an interview slot.
Note to Authors: If you’re interested in Roaring for Libraries on this blog, contact Janet.