School Librarians of Aotearoa: Michelle Simms
Michelle Simms is the Library Manager and ICT Coordinator at Te Totara Primary School in the north of Hamilton. She also writes the blog Good Keen Librarian, where she talks about her experiences as a school librarian.
The Reading Wonderland at Te Totara Primary School
I am the Library Manager and ICT Coordinator at Te Totara Primary School, a Year 1-6 school with 745 students in the north of Hamilton. The school opened in 2008, and that is when I started my library career. I had been looking for a new job that I could be passionate about and really sink my teeth into. I have always loved to read and I also enjoy being around young children, so it seemed like a good time to explore school librarianship. I really appreciate being able to manage my own day and build relationships with students and staff throughout the school. I am fortunate that I have always had my ideas supported by management and I’ve been encouraged to grow in my position.
Building communities of readers
I think we need to focus on building communities of readers at our schools. I have been impressed by the work Teresa Cremin has done around reading for pleasure, in particular her emphasis on the social aspect of reading. If we can encourage students to share their enjoyment of books with each other, and encourage teachers to share their reading interests and habits with students, we can begin to build an environment where reading is a shared and valued experience. I also think it’s important to involve parents as much as possible and get across to them the importance of reading for pleasure.
As a librarian, I feel that a big part of my job is helping facilitate all these book discussions, and providing students with access to literature that captivates them and makes them want to talk about what they are reading. They’re not always going to be attracted to high quality literature, and I’m fine with that. If I can send a child through to high school with a love of reading then I think I’m giving their new librarian a gift. Once you have a love of reading you are much more willing to try new genres and explore “better” books.
They’re not always going to be attracted to high quality literature, and I’m fine with that. If I can send a child through to high school with a love of reading then I think I’m giving their new librarian a gift.
My job & my library
On a typical day I juggle my library work with the ICT part of my job. I’m really lucky that we have a part-time library and resource assistant, Esther, who I work closely with. Esther processes all our books and sends them home with parents to be covered.
We also have library volunteers who issue and return books for our 33 classes. This allows our teachers, who used to do the issuing, circulate and help their students choose books to read. My office is right behind the issues desk so I help out with any problems that arise. When I’m doing library work, I might also be ordering books, running book clubs, promoting books to staff and students, running library skills/book selection sessions, gathering books and electronic resources to support the the curriculum, making displays, running a teachers’ reading group, updating our library Facebook page...I never run out of things to do! On a typical Friday, we open the library early and lend to parents before and after school. Currently I’m busy organising our Book Week for early next term and liaising with our new Patron of Reading, Dawn McMillan.
The book fridge!
Outside our library is the Book Fridge. The school was throwing away an old fridge so I snaffled it up and an artistic teacher aide made it look great for us. It is the same concept as a free library, where students bring in a book they’ve already read from home, and swap it with a different book from the Book Fridge.
Our senior fiction has been organised by genre so that students can quickly find the books they like to read. We also encourage them to be brave and try different genres.
We bought some plastic bins for our non-fiction area, so that we can have some books face out. The drawing on the wall is from Angela Keoghan, an illustrator who visited last year.
Non-fiction with face-outs
A Wonderland with Library Llamas!
Our Reading Wonderland is an outdoor courtyard that we carpeted and made weatherproof. We paid our artistic teacher aide to turn the area into a beautiful space for us - there are hidden fox tails, fairy doors, praying mantis, caterpillars etc all through the murals, and you can also imagine pictures in the clouds on the ceiling. It is used as our quiet-ish reading area.
I’m really excited by the possibilities of a new Yr 6 book club I’ve started this year. They’ve called themselves the Library Llamas, and are posting book-related videos to their own Library Llamas YouTube channel. We only started last month but I am now inundated with kids, especially boys, waiting for me before school, or coming by at morning tea or lunch or after school, in order to talk about their plans for their next videos!
They’ve called themselves the Library Llamas, and are posting book-related videos to their own Library Llamas YouTube channel.
We did a lovely interview with Dawn McMillan, and so far have a mix of reviews, drama and a bit of silliness too. I’m blown away by the energy and enthusiasm of the students. I think this comes through in their videos and I’m hoping other children will be inspired by their love of books. Our first video had Jake reviewing the Hilo series by Judd Winick. We have multiple copies of these books and they have been out ever since. Peer promotion can be a powerful thing!
Our Year 5 book club will start next term, after Book Week, and will run on the model described by Desna Wallace in the first profile on School Librarians of Aotearoa. Her idea of using a key ring with laminated tags to collect is genius and the kids who did this last year loved it.
Fiction Quick Picks at Te Totara Primary School
What I want to see
I’d really like to see some more sporty fiction published in New Zealand. It astounds me that we don’t have more stories about children playing rugby or netball in NZ. I’d also like to see more powerful covers on some of the chapter books published here. In my opinion, there are some that have overly fussy covers, or covers that are just not eye-catching enough. Most of our students find their next book by browsing and they are definitely judging a book by its cover. The last book I really thrust upon teachers and made them read to their classes was After the fall: How Humpty Dumpty got back up again by Dan Santat. It’s a gorgeously illustrated picture book with a lovely theme about facing your fears. And there’s a spread showing a cereal box aisle that is just brilliant.
Michelle is a school librarian at Te Totara Primary School in Hamilton. She writes a blog about what she gets up to in her library, called Good Keen Librarian. She has a husband who puts up with her permanent pile of books and papers on the floor by the bed, two tall teenage sons who love to sleep, and a cuddly cat.