When Kate Mester dropped off graduation signs last spring, students asked her, “Are you enjoying your break?” assuming that this year would be a breeze for her since the building is closed. Mester laughed, knowing that the busiest year for the Riverside library lied ahead.
Mester is the Library Media Specialist and has become a familiar face in the halls after four years at Riverside. This year, she welcomes the newest librarian, Alyssa Putt, who previously worked as an English teacher at Neal Middle School.
Since the summer, Mester and Putt have been providing technology support such as setting up every student’s laptop and creating how-to tutorial videos.
“During the first few weeks of school, we were answering 60ish phone calls a day and having so many voicemails that we couldn’t even get through all of them before it was dark outside,” said Mester.
Additionally, they have also been visiting English Zoom classes to give book talks and share with students how they can check out books this year.
There is a new virtual library that allows students to place books on hold and then either pick them up from school or have them delivered to their home.
“I know without the digital library I wouldn’t be reading much because I only really used to access books in school,” said freshmen Zariea Bowens.
Despite barriers, Riverside students have checked out 713 paper books so far this school year. Students that prefer ebooks instead can use Sora, a platform that is new to Riverside. Even though this is our first year using Sora, Riverside students have checked out 1,186 ebooks so far- the second highest number in the district, including middle and elementary schools.
¨Getting access to Sora has made it so I can read a lot more,” said freshmen Eva Monson.
“It really speaks a lot to how much we’re progressing in developing reading culture,” said Putt.
Another one of the Riverside library’s highlights this year has been the pop-up libraries they have done, alongside Forest View Elementary School and Brogden Middle School. They packed up books and tables in their cars and drove to an apartment complex.
“It has this friendly market vibe,” said Putt. “You walk around and look at the books on the table and pick the ones you want to check out. It was a really cool way to see kids and have some resemblance of the library experience.”
Since the pop-up libraries were such a success, Mester and Putt can not help but imagine how helpful it would be if they could create a mobile library- a van that drives around neighborhoods checking out books to students. The librarian at Carrington Middle School, Vanessa Calhoun, already does this.
“A Riverside bookmobile has always been in my wildest dreams!¨ said Mester.
When the students who signed up for hybrid learning return to the building in April, the same systems will remain in place regarding checking out books. This means that students will still not be able to browse the library in-person, but will have to continue placing holds online and only coming in to pick them up quickly.
“And that’s true for the public library too,” said Putt. “It’s just a really high traffic zone with kids walking through touching things.”
Like many educators across the country, the Riverside librarians are trying every avenue to connect with students during remote learning.
“It’s definitely been a challenge to connect. Since we’re not in the same physical space, it’s been really critical that teachers have invited us into classrooms,” said Putt.
“For some kids I already know and have relationships with, I have been sending them Google voice messages checking in to make sure everything’s okay,¨ said Mester.
Another way the library has attempted to connect with students is through being active on Instagram by posting book recommendations and school updates, along with always trying to translate posts into Spanish too. While Mester and Putt have seen some engagement, they are struggling to reach a wider audience.
Most importantly though, they use Instagram as a source of communication with students, who often send in messages asking questions. Some students even ask questions in Spanish, which they use Google Translate to answer.
“I love that it shows that you were trying in every possible way that you know how to get your question answered and you feel comfortable doing that,” said Mester. “We’ll take smoke signals, carrier pigeons, calls, DMs! Anything that will help you get your questions answered.”
Battle of the Books
For the second year in a row, the Riverside Battle of the Books team took a close second to DSA with only a margin of three questions. Battle of the Books is a competition where high school students are given a list of 15 books to read and answer trivia questions on. Mester is on the state committee that helps pick out the books each year.
Leading up to the district-wide competition, the team met on Zoom for an hour every week, often taking turns giving presentations on the books they knew well to help each other prepare. There were about 20 students that attended regularly but only 11 of them participated in the competition.
“Battle of the Books was the highlight of my Wednesdays. Ms. Mester and Ms. Putt are super engaging and fun,” said freshmen Claire Heffeman.
The Importance of Reading
The Riverside librarians put a heavy emphasis on reading because they are passionate about the benefits it brings.
“There’s a stat that reading just six minutes a day lowers your stress levels and increases empathy,” Mester said, ”And I think we can all use a little less stress and a little more empathy! Whether you listen to a book or read with your eyes, it just makes you a better human.”
“One thing I always tell my students is to think in history about how literacy has been used as a way to hold power over people,¨ said Putt. ¨It’s so important that people get to choose what they read and to build their own relationship between themselves and literacy,”