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College of Information and Communications

Falling in love with your school library

Posted February 10, 2016
By Megan Coker, master's student in the School of Library and Information Science

While the Dorman High School library in Spartanburg has many attractive features, one of the most popular ones is the heart-bedecked pillar and book display belonging to Blind Date with a Book, a seasonal program run by librarian Cathy Jo Nelson (’90, ’97 MLIS).

The initial idea was simple enough – a book display where books are wrapped in brown paper, adorned with hearts in various shades of pink or red bearing key words or phrases. Students would select a book without knowing the title. But the response by the student body has been impressive enough that Nelson has had to keep an extra bin of books and wrapping supplies in her office to constantly restock.

Blind Date with a Book has grown from a seasonal display to an engagement program for students, with a new initiative for students to contribute book reviews of their selections to share with their classmates. It’s all part of Nelson's plan to make the library and its resources an essential part of the educational experience at Dorman.

When Nelson was asked to describe her work as a school librarian in a few words, she chose “Never the same.” Every day brings new challenges and tasks; whether she is helping a new teacher learn how to use the school’s learning management system, preparing for an after-school training session, leading book clubs, or trouble-shooting printer problems, there’s never a dull moment in her library.

Nelson spent 11 years as a classroom teacher. But during a library-centered math methods course she took while earning a master's in education at USC, she began to realize her true interest was in working as a school librarian. So she enrolled in the Master's of Library and Information Science program in the School Library Certification track, graduating with her MLIS in 1997. Nelson credits the school library program with not only preparing her for her career, but also with exposing her to the power of networking.

Make yourself available — make it so that you can't be absent.
Cathy Jo Nelson

In fact, networking is a key component of Nelson’s work; she considers spurring conversations and providing a friendly environment for students and teachers to learn from one another both a challenge and an essential goal of the school librarian. “It really is driven by the needs of the users, and what I like is that a lot of kids (and a lot of the teachers too) know that they can come in here and ask anything, and we’ll try to help them; because we are those information people, and they know that if we don’t know the answer, we’ll help them find it.”

For this school librarian, this means not only keeping up with the various materials and tasks within the library, but also teaching classes on Google Apps for Education, helping students and teachers brainstorm assignments and projects, creating activities and prizes for lunch-time book clubs, and seasonal programs like the ever-popular Blind Date with a Book or the school-wide March Madness competition (with the student population voting for their favorite books).

The response has been encouraging; more teachers have begun to try out and train with new skill sets, or bring the library and its resources deeper into their curriculum. And Nelson anticipates branching out to two separate March Madness brackets this year, for traditional format books and graphic novels respectively.

So what advice would Cathy give to incoming school librarians? “Get in there; get to know the curriculum, know the needs in the classroom, know what the students need, know what the teachers need, and make yourself available — make it so that you can’t be absent.”

As the only absence in sight is the occasional gap in the frequently-refilled Blind Date with a Book Display, it’s easy to see there’s plenty of love for all of the time and effort that goes into the collections and programs of the Dorman High School library.

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Megan Coker

Megan Coker is a master's student in the USC School of Library and Information Science specializing in cultural heritage institutions. She earned her bachelor's in information science from USC in 2012 and a master's in history from UNC-Greensboro in 2014.


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