Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Librarian Lowdown: Cathy Potter

Today I'm excited to have Cathy Potter as my guest on the fourth edition of The Librarian Lowdown. Cathy is a teacher-librarian in Falmouth, Maine.  I know that you'll be excited to read about all the awesome things that she has going on in her library...Enjoy!

Hi Cathy!  Welcome to The Librarian Lowdown.   Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions...

How long have been a school librarian?  Tell us a little about your school.

I have been an educator for 20 years- eight years as a school librarian and twelve years as a classroom teacher. It sounds like a long time, but it’s gone by quickly.

Falmouth Elementary School is a K-5 school in Falmouth, Maine (near Portland). Our school is fairly new; we opened in 2011. When we opened the school we purchased around 600 iPads for students to use in classrooms and in the library. We have 925 students and 45 classrooms, which is large for a Maine school. Students in grades K-3 come to the library for weekly lessons and book checkout, and the 4th and 5th grade classes are on a flexible schedule. This allows me to collaborate with teachers and work with classes on large projects and units of study.

Our school takes part in many fun literacy activities throughout the year including Dot Day, Picture Book Month, Read Across America Day, World Read Aloud Day, and a Mock Caldecott program. We also have a popular Mock Newbery book club for 4th and 5th grade readers that started as a collaboration between the public library and school library in 2010.

What is the best part about being a school librarian?

I enjoy my work in the library because each day is different and involves working with children who are excited to read and learn.  If you visited the library you might see me teaching students how to access online resources and evaluate websites, another day we might be reading biographies or exploring the poetry section. Students make book trailers, write book reviews, and do research in the library. I also like planning collaborative units with teachers, and I find it rewarding when I find just the right app, book or resource for a teacher or student.

What is something new that is happening in your library this year?

This year I have several 5th grade students who are serving as library book reviewers. They read new books and write reviews. I’m going to use the student reviews to promote new books and to get a sense of what kids think of the books. It started when I talked with a mom of a voracious reader. She asked me for some book suggestions for her daughter, so I gave the student some new books that hadn’t been processed yet. The student read the books over the weekend and came back the next week looking for more books. Since then I’ve recruited more readers and created a book review form. The student book reviewers came to the library to select books a few days ago, and they couldn’t contain their excitement as they perused the cart of new books. I wish I could bottle their enthusiasm for reading! I hope to expand this to include more students next year, and I’d like the group to help me promote the books by giving book talks and making book displays.

I know that you have a blog, "The Nonfiction Detectives".  Could you tell us about it and how it came to be?

My friend Louise Capizzo and I have enjoyed working together for many years. Louise was the children’s librarian at the public librarian in Falmouth, and we often collaborated on joint school and public library projects. When Louise left Falmouth to take a job in a neighboring town we wanted to continue to work together. In 2011 we drove together to a state library conference where Louise attended a session on blogging. She heard there weren’t many bloggers writing about nonfiction. On the drive home from the conference we decided that blogging about nonfiction would be a great way to continue to work together, and it would help fill the need for nonfiction reviews. Over the past few years we’ve received a lot of positive feedback from our readers which validates what we do and keeps us on the lookout for the best nonfiction books for kids.

What are your future goals for your library program?

I’d like to tap into student interests and expertise to help select books for the library collection.

I was inspired by Andy Plemmons’ presentation at the School Library Journal Summit in October. Andy’s students at the Barrow Media Center to help make purchasing decisions for the library. The research what students want to read, meet with vendors and manage a budget.  

Recently I received help from a 4th grade student who is an expert on small pets (guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, etc…). She helped me weed the the pet section, and she’s going to recommend new titles I can purchase for next year. I’d like to bring in other students who have knowledge or a passion about different topics and have them help me update other sections like sports and crafts.

Another goal I have is to revise research projects at FES to make them inquiry-based. Over the past several years, time constraints and the amount of content that needs to be covered has caused research projects to become prescriptive. I’d like to collaborate with teachers to redesign research units and put students in the driver’s seat. That would mean students would have choice of research topics, students would learn to write thick research questions, and they would have opportunities to locate and evaluate resources on their own. Some fifth grade teachers and I have created some short, inquiry-based projects this year, and we’ve found students are really engaged and take ownership of the research process.

...and now the question I ask each guest...

If you could have dinner with a book character (or a couple), who would you choose and why?

This is a tough one. There are so many interesting book characters!

I would choose Brian from Hatchet because he would have some great stories to tell about surviving in the wilderness.

I’d also invite Kyle from Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library because he would organize some board games we could play after dinner and Catherine from Catherine, Called Birdy because every good dinner party needs some witty banter.

Thank you, Cathy, for joining me today. You are doing amazing things!!!

You can follow Cathy on Twitter: @cppotter

Nonfiction Detectives Website:

The FES Library Lens: