Heart of the school: Blue Valley libraries vital to student success, well-being and collaboration
Walking into Blue Valley North’s library, you might notice something not found in every library: noise.
Blue Valley North’s library isn’t quiet and calm like some libraries people experience. But the school’s librarians, Abby Cornelius and Terri Snethen, and students like it that way. The energy and camaraderie can be felt when you step through the doors.
The library feels bright and lively. The open space features a variety of seating areas, from high-top to genius bar-style tables where students can collaborate while standing.
Many of Blue Valley’s libraries serve as the heart of the school, not just in location but in the services they provide to students. The days of only books being housed in a library are long gone. There are musical instruments, craft kits, 3D printers, chess sets and a board game collection.
But it is Blue Valley librarians who make the students feel welcome and safe, and there’s so much more to being a librarian than processing and checking out books and keeping shelves organized.
Being a librarian means teaching classes in collaboration with teachers, grading papers, ensuring the library is a safe and inclusive space, making food for students and helping with homework.
“The purpose and goal is to meet as many needs as we can as frequently as we can and keep kids happy,” said Cornelius.
Collaboration, literacy and flexible schedule
Each school in the district has a library, with 40 librarians working across each school building.
The Blue Valley School District’s libraries focus on collaboration, literacy and a flexible schedule, making Blue Valley’s library program unique.
“Our push is to be instructional leaders in our buildings,” said Cristy Bolton, Blue Valley’s library district coordinator. “We want to be partnering and co-teaching and collaborating with classroom teachers and content-level teachers.”
When district initiatives, such as project-based learning, make their way to the school level, librarians work to gain as much knowledge about these initiatives so they can implement the strategies in their collaborations with teachers.
A flexible schedule allows students to learn to use the library independently and for librarians to focus on teaching classes.
Anyone walking into an elementary school library might notice a class checking out books with the help of their teacher. In another part of the library, a librarian might be conducting a lesson or helping with research.
“What makes it a flexible schedule is library time is not plan time for teachers,” Bolton said. “We are one of the few that started about four decades ago and we led a lot of the national initiative around that because we wanted our librarians to be more involved in the instruction and collaboration.”
At Timber Creek Elementary, a flexible schedule looks slightly different compared to a middle school or high school's flexible schedule.
Paula Naden, librarian at Timber Creek, said the library’s flexible schedule incorporates some elements of structure so students experience consistency.
Each class has a consistent day in which they go to the library, but still have flexibility in the activity they are participating in or content area they are learning during a visit.
Librarians, who are required to be certified teachers, are also responsible for teaching library curricula to every student. To accomplish this, Cornelius and Snethen, heavily rely on collaboration with teachers.
When a teacher brings their class into the library, the librarians assist with more than just classroom content.
“It’s also our content of organization of information, producing information products,” Cornelius said. “All of those things people just think kids know how to do, that’s library curriculum. Library curriculum is learning. We are teaching how to learn, whereas content areas will be teaching what to learn.”
Library curriculum isn’t taught separately but in collaboration with teachers’ content. Librarians work to make sure they weave library standards into lessons.
“We feel strongly that the things we are teaching are the real soft skills, life skills, employable skills — all the things everyone wants kids to come out with,” Cornelius said. “Those are the things that are library curricula.”
Day in the life of a librarian
It can be difficult for a librarian to explain what a typical workday looks like as each day is uniquely different, filled with various tasks of meeting students’ needs, organizing the library, lesson planning, grading papers and co-teaching.
“It always starts with the kids streaming in as we are unlocking the doors, turning on lights, library chores,” Cornelius said. “Ideally, the day is getting those little tasks done really fast, then teaching classes. In the meantime, we have kids who need help or are coming in and relaxing.”
While one day may be heavier on organizing and lesson planning, the next could be filled with teaching classes and assisting with research papers.
Naden’s day typically starts with clerical work, sorting and shelving returned books. Throughout the day, Naden sees multiple classes who come in to check out books or to work on a project or lesson.
Libraries vital to student success
Rarely a day goes by when Sumner Dowdy, Blue Valley North student, isn’t in her school’s library.
During her time at North, Dowdy has benefited in multiple ways from the library, whether it's a quiet place to work on a research paper or needing advice from Cornelius or Snethen.
“The library is more beneficial than I could ever explain," Dowdy said. “Our librarians are so amazing, and I think they are the best ones in the district or even the state of Kansas. I know their job is hard helping so many kids.”
Dowdy said she has seen many of her classmates use the library to work on projects and papers or just to talk with a librarian.
“Our librarians are always there for us, and they give the best advice about school, relationships, things at home and everything in between,” Dowdy said. “I never knew I could relate to a teacher or open up to someone at school like I can to them.”
Librarians play a special role in schools and the lives of students, as they serve as one of the only teachers who have the opportunity to impact every student.
“We feel we are unique in that capacity to get to work with every teacher and every student and get to know them personally,” Bolton said.
“We want to connect with them not only as readers but as people,” Bolton said. “We want them to feel comfortable asking questions, and if they need something, there’s a person in the building who can help them with that. We want all kids to feel seen and heard, and honestly, I think our librarians are at the forefront of some of those social-emotional learning pieces for kids.”
One of Naden’s favorite aspects of being a librarian is helping students develop a love and appreciation for reading.
Naden understands how important it is to ensure each student feels seen and heard, whether that is accomplished by finding a book that matches a student’s personality or helping a child who may be struggling at school find a story they can relate to.
Snethen said being a librarian is a big job and one Blue Valley librarians take seriously.
“The thing I want the community to know about libraries is that libraries are the great equalizer,” Cornelius said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, what you have, what you don’t have, what you know, what you don’t know — the library is going to provide you with whatever it is that you need. We don’t judge, we don’t control, we just provide.”