Blog Archives

Celebrating Literacy in the Library and Inviting Participation

How do you invite a participatory culture in your library?  For me, this is a term that is an embedded part of my philosophy.  I strive to find ways for students to have multiple opportunities to connect, participate, collaborate, and create in the media center throughout the year.  All students don’t participate every time, which is fine, but my goal is to offer enough variety of experiences through collaborative lessons, resource promotions, and incentives/contests that every student has a chance to find a place to participate during the year.

After several impromptu conversations with parents and teachers recently, I’ve come to value the power of library sponsored literacy contests and reading promotions.  Teachers have mentioned that they love the “choice” that is a part of these contests and promotions because they see such a variety of students who participate.  Parents have commented to me that their child had no interest in writing poetry or essays until a contest came along.  Multiple parents have mentioned the motivating power of these contests.  My parapro and I have seen how the simple interactive component of stamping a box on a piece of paper can give direction in choosing new books outside of comfort zones and motivation to try something new.

What have I done this year?

  • In September/October, students had sheets where they were asked to read books from different categories of the library such as biographies, informational, graphic novel, fiction, etc.  Each time they read one of these books, they earned a stamp, and they stamped their papers themselves.  When they completed their sheets, they had their name displayed in the media center on our book fair decorations and had their name entered into a drawing for a book fair gift certificate.  Requirements for the sheets were different for each grade level.
  • In October, we partnered with a few other schools in the district and Avid Bookshop, a local independent bookstore, and held a Mysteries of Harris Burdick writing contest.  Students in every grade wrote stories based on the images of the book by Chris Van Allsburg.  We judged the final pieces at the school level to choose the best pieces and sent those on to Avid Bookshop for a local competition.  Avid recruited authors and other community members to select several finalists who were honored at a celebration at the bookshop.  One winner was chosen to enter a national competition.  All students who entered the contest received a certificate of participation.
  • In November, we celebrated National Picture Book Month.  Picture books were promoted all month long on our morning broadcast, and students kept a record of all of the picture books they read for the month, no matter where they came from or whether they were read to them or by themselves.  Depending on how many books students read they earned a bookmark, picture book month certificate, and their name in a drawing for free picture books.  We had about 180 students turn in sheets out of 500 students and over 3,500 picture books were logged during November.

What else is coming this year?

  • In January and February, we will sponsor a persuasive writing contest.  At the moment, we think this will be a spin-off of picture book month.  The picture book month site has several essays by authors about the importance of picture books that could serve as mentor texts for students.  I have already promoted this in collaborative meetings with teachers as a possible project I might work on with whole classes or groups of students.  Students will write pieces about the importance of picture books.
  • In March, we will hold another reading promotion leading up to our spring book fair where students earn stamps.
  • In April, our 2nd annual poetry contest will be held.  This was a huge success last year with over 150 entries from students.  Poems can be written in any form (rhyming, list poetry, free verse, acrostic, etc) and any platform (a napkin, hand written on paper, typed and printed, Animoto, Photo Story, etc).  This year we may partner with Avid Bookshop to extend the contest beyond our school.  The contest will culminate in our annual Poem in Your Pocket Day open mic cafe where all students share poetry into a microphone in the media center.  This event will be broadcast live on the web through Adobe Connect.

These contests and promotions are just one layer of the participatory culture of the Barrow Media Center, but they have come to be a piece that students, teachers, and families appreciate and expect.  These promotions and contests run simultaneously with the multiple collaborative lessons and projects that take place in the library and by no means replace other purposes of the library.  I will continue to evaluate their relevance to our program and always look to give even more students opportunities to connect and create in our library.  How are you celebrating literacy and inviting participation in your library?

Andy Plemmons

School Librarian

David C. Barrow Elementary

Athens, GA

Reading Promotions

We just wrapped up our fall book fair in the Barrow Media Center, so I feel like that’s all that has been on my mind.  The end of the book fair also brings the end of our fall reading promotion.  Our school does not do Accelerated Reader.  Instead, we offer several reading promotions during the year.  I’ve found that tying the reading promotion in with the book fair, GPS curriculum, and media center needs not only builds excitement for the book fair but it also supports the goals and efforts of the whole school community.

Last year, our book fair them was Read Around the World.  For the reading promotion, students had passports with each continent listed on them.  Various sections of the media center were labeled with the continents and students had to read a book from each section and earn a stamp on their passport.  Some sections of the media center were not being used as heavily as I would like to see, so my thought was that the promotion would breathe life into the sections.  Also, as students checked out their books and earned their stamps they had to locate the continent that they had “visited” on a map at the circulation desk.  This supported several grades that study map skills and the continents.

This year, our school is working on individual student portfolios/data notebooks.  To support this, I took our Reading Heroes book fair theme and made the Reading Heroes Challenge.  Students had to set three reading goals for themselves and track their own progress.  When they met or exceeded their goals, they turned in the completed challenge sheet to the media center.

Here’s what the reading heroes sheet looked like:

In all instances, students who completed the reading promotion had their name displayed at the book fair.  For Read Around the World, we created flags that resembled prayer flags and criss-crossed them along the ceiling at the media center entrance.  For Reading Heroes, we made reading hero emblems with student names in the center.  Students also had their name put into a drawing for a book fair gift certificate.

I will say that more students participated and finished the promotions where they earned stamps along the way. As a school we’re trying to get students to set goals and make strides toward achieving them, so I’ll have to look at ways to revamp the goal-setting incentives and see if I can get better student buy-in and completion of the incentive.  In the spirit of participatory culture, maybe eventually I’ll get around to having a student-designed reading incentive.


Andy Plemmons
School Librarian
David C. Barrow Elementary
Athens, GA




Students Marketing to Students: One use of Animoto

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Each year our 4th grade hosts a summer reading fair for our 3rd graders.  The purpose is for 3rd grade students to hear about books by a variety of authors so that they will be inspired to read books by these authors over the summer.  Last year, I was asked by the 4th grade team to work with them on this project.  All they needed me to do was pull books by multiple authors and do book talks.  I made a power point and did a whirlwind intro to about 30 different authors, and that’s about the extent of how I helped.  The reading fair was held in the media center and groups of 3rd graders filed by tri-boards and heard students talk about their books.

This year, I saw a lot of potential in this author fair.  When else do you have a willing group of students eager to promote media center books?  I had never tried book trailers before and wanted to give them a try, so I made my own example in Animoto and shared it with fourth grade as a possibility for enhancing the student book displays.  They were immediately on board.

At this year’s kickoff, the first thing I shared before I did any book talks was the Animoto.  The energy level, attention, and interest of the students immediately shifted, and they were on board to create incredible projects.  My student intern, Frannie Gay, and I tag-teamed back and forth introducing as many authors as we could.  I included the ones that 4th grade had requested, but I threw in some authors who weren’t as well-known to students so that those books would get publicity.  In classrooms, students signed up for their author based on interest-level.  We pulled all of the books onto a self-serve cart in the media center.  Students were responsible for checking in their book, putting it back on the cart, and checking out their next book.  Also in classrooms, students read their books and prepared their traditional component of the author fair:  a tri-board with vocabulary, trivia, summaries, author bio, etc.  Then students came to learn about Animoto.  Five to six author groups came per day.
I once again shared my model author trailer, but pointed out how it was constructed:  a picture related to the book, the title, a blurb about the book, and another picture.  We looked at creative commons and once again talked about copyright and images.  Then, we walked through creating an Animoto together.

Students moved to tables and filled out a graphic organizer that prepared them for going to the computer.  They had to know every key word they were going to type for pictures before going to the computer.  They also had their blurbs for books written out.

For Animoto, I created an educator account using a “dummy” gmail account.  Animoto allows you to create multiple logins using that same email account with this pattern:,, and so on.  Students easily logged in, imported their pictures, arranged them, typed their text, and selected music.  The whole process was done in one day and took about 90 minutes.

At the author fair, I embedded all of the trailers on one webpage to make it easily accessible.  Third graders filed in, and I stood back and watched as about 20 different authors were promoted.  The 4th graders looked like professional presenters with their multi-media presentations.  The 3rd graders were excited about stopping at each center and seeing the Animoto followed by the presentation.  4th grade teachers were excited and kept coming up and telling me how they were thinking of using Animoto next year.  3rd grade teachers started asking questions about Animoto and how it might be used with their students.  My wheels continued to turn as I pondered how I might expand this next year.

You can hear what one group of students thought by clicking here.

Some noticings and wonderings:

  • Students promoting books to students continues to be a powerful tool
  • Finding ways to highlight unknown authors/books to students is critical in supporting circulation, especially ways to highlight using current technology
  • Collaboration can be very small steps.  This started as a “traditional” project last year and got a modern twist with the addition of Animoto
  • Making work public and showcasing projects for other classes to see not only supports student learning, but it also supports future collaboration
  • Why is 4th grade the only grade doing this?  What might I do to encourage more grade levels to promote books to other grade levels?

Andy Plemmons

School Librarian

David C. Barrow Elementary

Athens, GA

Give Me Five #8 – Self Promotion

Give Me Five #8

By Tommy and Linda Johns


This is another article in a series that has a simple premise.  The articles will take you less than five minutes to read (that’s when you give US five!) and will deal with a problem or concept pertaining to our work encouraging kids to read.  Each article will also include a list of five ideas, reasons, tools, steps or other helpful items (that’s when we give YOU five!) related to the topic of the article.  While none of these articles will claim to be the last word on any topic, we promise to make each one fun, well researched and way beyond the obvious. (If you have missed the first articles, you can view them at or e-mail us at and we’ll send you an MS WordTM file of the articles.)  Here is Give Me Five


#8 – “Be a Self Promoter!”

When Tommy worked in a job that had a lot of very significant, but almost always behind the scenes, work, he often groused (mostly to himself) about the fact that nobody knew how valuable he was to the organization.  On one of the rare times he got a chance to voice his frustration about being taken for granted to a colleague in another similar organization, the friend told him something he will always remember.


He said, “Remember the old proverb, ‘He who doth not toot his own horn, the same shall not be tooted.’”  We don’t know where this ancient proverb originated, or even if it is ancient, but there is undeniable truth in these words.  This sage told Tommy that if he wanted people to know how important his contribution was, he had to be the one to tell them.


Media Center work is a lot like that.  It is likely that many people in your school have little idea of the value you and your classroom bring to the school, both students and faculty.  You need to let them know.


Of course you can’t just go around telling everybody how great you are.  Tommy’s grandmother married a guy like that after his grandfather passed away, and the family almost stopped inviting them to Thanksgiving dinner!  At their house! 


And as much as you deserve it, you can’t buy t-shirts that say “Our Media Specialist Rocks!” for the morning news crew to wear.


No, your approach has to be much more subtle; but the challenge of being a ninja self promoter just makes it all the more fun!  Here are some ways to make sure that while nobody talks IN the library, everybody is talking ABOUT it!


Announce New Developments Publicly – When a new shipment of books comes in, make sure that everybody knows.  Send an e-mail to the teachers, make an announcement on the morning news program, ask a volunteer to create a bulletin board or display.  When a reading campaign kicks off, go around the tables during lunch and encourage the kids to take part.  Display prizes (if that’s the direction you are going) near a high traffic area.  If you are announcing the work of the media center, the fact that you are the key worker there will not get lost on those hearing the news.


Be Visible – Go to grade level collaboration meetings and share resources with the teachers.  Stand out in the hall in a costume or holding a sign about some new or exciting thing in the media center.  Ask for a Media Minute at PTA/PTO meetings and share some of the work and offerings of the media center.  Since your classroom serves the entire school, you have the right (one might even say a responsibility) to share with parents, teachers, and of course, administration, the kinds of contributions that your area offers to the school.


Be Sensitive to the Culture of Your School – We were recently involved with an AR reward event that was held during lunch, so the kids would not spend time away from class.  Every morning this school announces their school motto, which includes a phrase about spending “time on task.”  The media specialist held her event when the kids would not miss valuable class time, and she was careful to mention WHY she chose this format in an e-mail to the teachers. 


Stay on Top of What’s Being Taught at Your School – Be aware of the Georgia Performance Standards for each grade level and what is being taught when.  For example, a teacher recently asked a media specialist about ordering biographies of specific people they were studying.  When the MS was able to respond, “Are these the people listed in your grade level GPS?” and then followed up by saying, “I have already included several of those in a couple of different reading levels in my order,” it was obvious by the teacher’s expression that she was impressed and appreciative.  Another way to be a ninja self promoter is to set up displays that highlight resources that would help teachers and students with their work.  Send a monthly newsletter via e-mail that tells teachers what books, magazines, DVD’s, and equipment you have available for them.  Tell them what’s new or what has been around but has not been utilized.  Your new teachers don’t know what you have or are willing to do for them, and the veterans have always done it the way they have always done it.  Just sharing information can make a real difference.


When a Project Ends Well, Celebrate “OUR” Success – One of the best ways to brag on the services provided by the media center is to publicly congratulate all who made an event or emphasis a success.  If your push for reading biographies resulted in a circulation increase in that area, make sure you thank “all those students and teachers who made our emphasis a success.  You checked out 78% MORE biographies in September of this year than last September.”  If you have a great book fair, thank the team of volunteers and media center staff as well as the students and teachers who adjusted their schedules and came to the fair.  Every time you thank them, the message is going out loud and clear that the media center is a significant part of the school and that its leadership contributes to its effectiveness.


Toot your own horn!  You CAN be a self promoter and endear yourself to those around you.  The media center can and should be a significant factor in the success of your school’s mission, but people have to know about it to take advantage of the services you offer.  By following these suggestions, you can help your colleagues and your students while you increase your visibility in the school.  Everybody wins!


Tommy has been self promoting his work encouraging kids to read for almost three decades as a school show presenter and educational entertainment specialist.  Find out more at Linda, a first year library media specialist in Cobb County, has already discovered great value in self promotion and has used many of the ideas above to boost her visibility and value to her school.  We welcome your comments on this column and ideas for future “Give Me Five!” articles.  You can contact us at or 

Promote Reading With the Free ALA READ Mini Poster Generator!

Have you ever wanted to create the ALA style “READ” posters but did not have the money in your budget to purchase the software?  Or perhaps you have the software, but you want to create the posters on the fly without having to take the time to edit the templates in Photoshop Elements?

ALA is now offering a free READ Mini Poster Generator!  This generator, created by the folks of Big Huge Labs Flickr Toys, allows you to easily upload your own photos and choose one of four templates to create your very own READ poster image.  Once the image is created, you can easily upload the photo to your website, blog, or Flickr account.  What a wonderful way to promote reading!

Many thanks to “The Shifted Librarian” for sharing this wonderful gem with the rest of us!  You will also want to check out how she is using this tool for creating graphics to promote alternative forms of reading and digital literacy.

Buffy Hamilton, Media Specialist
Creekview High School