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  • Writer's pictureAmy Tippett

Library Visit #4: School Library

Updated: Apr 17, 2023

Introduction

Windy Hill Middle School (WHMS) is in Owings, Maryland, and is the largest of the six middle schools in Calvert County. There are 750 students in WHMS, and three elementary schools feed into WHMS. The mission of the school is, “to provide each adolescent learner the needed support and guidance to grow their skills, understanding, and knowledge in order to be successfully prepared for high school, college, and career readiness, and the 21st Century world (Windy Hill Middle School, 2019). The tangible representative of this mission is the library at WHMS. The WHMS library is also called the WHMS media center, and it also has a mission statement. Its mission statement is, “To provide opportunities for students and staff to become effective users of ideas and information. Learning and teaching, information access, and program administration are the essential elements of our school library media program” (Windy Hill Middle School, n.d.).


Digital Access

The WHMS library website (https://calvertnet.libguides.com/whmslibrary) is very comprehensive. It includes many tools and resources for teachers, students, and their parents. In the “Books” section, there are directions on how to access Sora (an audiobook and e-book application), curated book collections by the school librarian, book reviews, and access to the Calvert County public library databases and catalogs. The “Databases and Online Resources” offers password-protected access to Britannica School for middle schoolers, Gale databases, PBS Learning Media, Teaching Books, Pebble Go, Adobe Spark, video editing services, newspapers, and more. There is another section to help students participating in history fairs. There are also specific pages for each grade, 6th grade – 7th grade. There are tools for teachers to assist with lesson planning. There are also general pages to help students and their families with nutrition, stress management, relaxation, and art projects. Most of the resources are password protected with student or teacher identifications.

There is one staff member at WHMS Media Center, the amazing Ms. Anne Jones. If you could paint a picture of what you would want a middle school librarian to be, you would be painting a picture of Ms. Anne Jones. Her footprint is on every aspect of the library and every aspect of the website. The wide variety of resources and tools available on the website indicates her view of the potential of middle school libraries in forming critical thinkers and knowledge seekers.

The website does not offer any accommodations for people who are visually impaired or people with different reading or language abilities.


Tippett, A. (2023, April 10). Screenshot of Windy Hill Middle School Library website. [Photo].


Physical Space and Accessibility

The WHMS Media Center is one of the first rooms you encounter when you walk into WHMS. There are floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights, which allow for a lot of natural light. The media center is much larger than I would have imagined, and it seems almost as large as one of the county branch libraries in my area. The room was arranged for the book fair that night, so the tables were covered in books, and popular book-themed posters were streaming from columns. In addition to the tables, there are seating areas, a small conference room, shelves for activities and games, and high-top tables and chairs.

Although the media center space is large, it is very welcoming. Students can use four or five separate reading areas independently or with a group. There are displays of books with different themes. The graphic novels are featured prominently in one section since they are the most popular books in the collection right now.

The school parking lot does have accessible parking. The doorways and the space between bookcases are ADA-compliant (Jones, A., personal communication, March 28, 2023).


Tippett, A. (2023, March 23). Windy Hill Middle School Library set up for a book fair. [Photo].


Services and Intellectual Access

Students who may not thrive in a noisy cafeteria can request that their lunchtime be divided into time in the cafeteria and time in the library. I visited WHMS during a lunch period, and several students came into the library to either read or use some of the materials on the activity shelf. Ms. Jones has two rules: students who come to the library during their lunchtime cannot be on their electronics, and they must be quiet. The students who came to the library during my visit were very respectful of both rules.

Students can access the library catalog virtually, but there is no physical catalog for them to use. The library is organized by the Dewey Decimal system, although Jones noted that she had made some changes to the official Dewey Decimal system. For example, in her graphic novels section, she includes fiction and nonfiction books in hopes that her students will select more nonfiction books (Jones, A., personal communication, March 28, 2023). Jones also has organized the fiction section by genre/topic and has noticed an increase in the circulation of books that previously were not popular.

There have been parental concerns about 6th graders selecting books that some may feel are more appropriate for 8th graders. As a sign of a willingness to cooperate with the parental concerns, she has placed a “Young Adult” sticker on some of the books rather than eliminating some of the books. Only 8th graders are allowed to borrow the books marked “Young Adult.”

Three posters on the wall encourage critical thinkers about fake news, accessibility, and leadership. Jones has control over the 8,000-book collection and strives to reflect diversity and inclusion in the books she selects (Jones, A., personal communication, March 23, 2023).


Tippett, A. (2023, March 23). Close-up of three posters in Windy Hill Middle School Library. [Photo].


Tippett, A. (2023, March 23). Young adult selection of Windy Hill Middle School Library. [Photo].

People (Patrons and Staff Members)

Of the 750 students at WHMS, about 10% are people of color, and very few are non-English speakers (Jones, A., personal communication, March 23, 2023). I did not notice any signage in other languages or a non-English language book section. The website offered several resources to learn foreign languages, but I didn’t see any resources for learning English as a second language.

While I was meeting with Jones for about an hour, several students asked her questions. One memorable interaction was a student who came to return a book, and when he pulled the book from his bookcase, it looked like starved wolves had eaten the book. She asked him what had happened, and he sheepishly said he didn’t know. She asked him again, and he told her the truth, which was that he had left it outside and tried to clean it and made it much worse. She explained to him that the book didn’t belong to him or her, that the book belonged to the school, and that it was the policy that he needed to pay for it. He looked so scared. She told him that she would make an exception this time, but next time he would have to pay for it. He thanked her and walked away. She told me that she knew he wouldn’t be able to afford to pay for the book, so that she would replace the book with her discretionary budget.

Jones used to have an assistant, but the position was eliminated. In addition to being the librarian, she is responsible for the 750 laptops the students have. Jones knows her students, and she knows what they are capable of reading. She knows how to give them what they need for a media center. She cares very much for her students.

Students do not have a set schedule for visiting the library. Elementary schools in Calvert County have a once-a-week schedule for visiting the library. But, middle school library visits are dependent on the individual teacher. Jones said it usually works out for each class to visit the library once every three weeks. For example, a history teacher may have the students come to the library to learn how to use some of the virtual databases, or an English teacher may have the students select a biography to do a speech on. Jones likes this aspect of her job because she can plan activities to supplement the course curriculum.


Collections

The 8,000-book collection is geared toward 6th-8th graders, although there are books in the collection for readers who may be below-average or above-average readers (Jones, A., personal communication, March 23, 2023). The library has shelves of activity items like games, art supplies, building blocks, etc., which Jones said are very popular. WHMS doesn’t currently have a library of things, but it is something that Jones hopes to budget for in the future.

Jones recently did an audit of the collection, specifically looking at the representation of underserved communities within the school. She weeded some books and found that diversity in middle school books seemed to pivot about 6-7 years ago. Prior to that, she didn’t see much diversity in the books in the library’s collection.

Some English classes have book clubs, so she is responsible for stocking specific titles for the book clubs. She works with teachers to select the books, but the teachers have the final authority on the books in the book clubs.


Tippett, A. (2023, March 23). Book club selections at Windy Hill Middle School Library. [Photo].


Other Characteristics

Jones is the heart and soul of the media center. She has been there 19 years and is thinking of retiring for two main reasons, which are impacting school libraries nationwide. The first reason is related to safety. I visited WHMS the day after the tragic shooting in a Nashville school. Jones noted that she feels very vulnerable in the library because of the library’s location as the first room accessible from the front door of the school. It has floor-to-ceiling windows, and the doors are glass. Jones even has a county sheriff in an adjoining office, but she doesn’t feel safe in the media center. The second reason she is considering retiring is because of a book-banning campaign from a student’s stepmother who has verbally attacked Jones at school council meetings. The book banner has a website and a podcast devoted to banning books with LGBTQ characters or themes. Jones is adamant that her students be allowed access to all types of diverse books and has been dutiful in selecting books that have been critically praised or award-winning. But the attacks keep coming, and after three years of it, Jones is rightfully exhausted from dealing with book banners.

The WHMS media center is providing an education to the students about so much more than just borrowing books. Jones teaches modules on recognizing fake news, how to check resources, how to debate respectfully, and First Amendment rights. She visits with 9th graders who were her students and asks them what she could have done better to prepare them for high school. She works with other middle school librarians to share resources and ideas. She is the epitome of what you would want from a middle school librarian.

I left my visit so thankful for people like Anne Jones. It would be a massive loss to the school and my community if she retired due to safety concerns and book banners.


References

Windy Hill Middle School. (2019). School Improvement Quick Facts. Windy Hill Middle

Windy Hill Middle School. (n.d.). Mission of the WHMS Media Center. Windy Hill Middle

School. https://calvertnet.libguides.com/c.php?g=1037749&p=7524292.











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