Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Librarian Lowdown: Laura Given

Today's guest on The Librarian Lowdown is Laura Given. Laura is the library media specialist at Parkview Center School. I had the privilege of chatting with her at ALA Midwinter in January.  I was so inspired by all that she has done for her school and for her state.  I know that you, too, will be inspired after reading this interview...Enjoy!

Hi Laura!  Thank you so much for your willingness to participate in The Librarian Lowdown blog series!

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

This is my 18th year teaching and my 12th year as a school librarian. My school is a K-8 public school with about 750 students just north of St Paul, MN. We are a public school, but not a neighborhood school, which means students from anywhere in our district can choose to attend. There are a lot of interesting and wonderful things that happen at my school, but the one that often catches folks by surprise is that students call teachers by their first names. So all of my students call me Laura. Since there are now multiple teachers named Laura in my school, I am sometimes Library Laura, which is where my twitter handle LibLaura5 came from - the 5 is another story.

What is the best part about being a school librarian?

Being a school librarian is all the things I love about teaching rolled into one job: working with kids around their passions and projects, sharing excitement about great books, and incorporating technology into the learning students are doing. I absolutely love the variety of working with students of different ages and getting to know them and see them grow over 9 years from Kindergarten to 8th grade.

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

Since I mostly share and connect online around my passion for books and reading, it may surprise folks that the biggest thing that changed in my library this year was a 1:1 iPad initiative that started this past fall with my 7th and 8th graders. I am a lead person in my district for this initiative, so this has meant more of my time devoted to all things iPad. It has been a fabulous change, and I love having this as part of my role with students and teachers. I want to give a huge shout out to all of my colleagues online who have gone before me on this one, I am incredibly thankful for all of the ed tech sharing that happens on online and on twitter.

I was so excited to hear about how you were so instrumental in the establishment of your state picture book award.  Could you please tell us about that?

For over 30 years Minnesota has had a student choice book award, the Maud Hart Lovelace Award, but until recently we had no student choice picture book award. The idea of a picture book award has been floating around the state for a long time, and back in 2010 I was really excited about the idea of getting one started. I originally thought I would offer to help and follow someone else’s lead. But after investigating a bit, I realized if I wanted to get something started, I was going to have to be the person taking the lead myself. In those early days I did an interview on author Kirby Larson’s blog about getting things rolling and starting a pilot student choice book award:

I am beyond thrilled that Star of the North is now an official student choice picture book award for the state of Minnesota. We are currently in our second year of reading and voting. Last April over 30,000 students from across Minnesota voted to decide our first winner: The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man.

I’m looking forward to this April when we will hear what our voters chose as the second Star of the North Award winner.

One thing I am extremely proud of with the Star of the North Award is the fact that older students as well as primary age students are welcome and encouraged to vote for their favorite picture book, because picture books are for everyone!

You are a member of the 2016 Caldecott Committee.  How does that impact/reflect upon the instruction in your library?

Holy cow! I need people to keep pinching me because I still can’t quite believe it.

In my library we have always learned about and explored the winners of many different awards, but this definitely makes things much more personal for my students with the Caldecott award.

This January I ran my first Mock-Caldecott with students. Jennifer Reed (@libraryreeder) and I have been connecting our current 3rd graders since they were in 1st grade, so we collaborated and ran a mock together. My 3rd graders were so invested in the result of the mock, and were thrilled that their winner, Beekle, won the actual award!

After our mock, I started telling students about my role for this next year on the Caldecott committee. They had a lot of questions for me. One thing that surprised me was how shocked they were that even though I am supposed to follow strict rules about confidentiality, that it would include keeping things confidential from them too!

It was interesting how quickly our Caldecott conversations turned into conversations about integrity and what it really means to honor something larger than yourself. If those conversations about integrity are the only thing my students remember about the award, I think that right there would be enough.

It feels like such a gift to be working with students during my Caldecott journey. Of course I hope they feel connected to the award and picture books in a more meaningful way because of my work on the committee, but I also feel so lucky to have their faces and voices in my head during this process… because, really, they are the reason for all of it.

The tagline for the Caldecott Award is usually something like “awarded annually to the most distinguished American picture book for children.” While the criteria of the award do state that the intended audience of the picture book must be children, I like to think you can also interpret that line as “awarded annually to the most distinguished American picture book on behalf of children,” ...because, really, they are the reason for all of it.

What are your future goals for your library program?

My continued goal for my library program is to be relevant and meaningful in the lives of my students.

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

Taking a book character out of their world and into mine for dinner does not seem as much fun as going into a book character’s world for dinner, so I would want to go to Bybanks, Kentucky into the world of Sharon Creech’s Chasing Redbird to have dinner with Zinny Taylor somewhere out on her trail.

Chasing Redbird was a book I read shortly after starting teaching which seemed to clear a path to all sorts of great new children’s literature, and it may have even put me on the path to becoming a school librarian.

I also think that Zinny and my childhood self would have been kindred spirits.
Um, I can be any age at this dinner, right?

You absolutely can!!!

Thank you, so much, for being on the blog today!  You are such an inspiration!

You can follow Laura:

Twitter:  @LibLaura5