School libraries bustling with activity

Tuesday, December 3, 2002

By Laura Johnston ~ Southeast Missourian

School librarians are more than just keepers of books. With today's technology, libraries hold the key to a world of information ranging from the ancient civilizations of Egypt to the latest sports scores.

Area students use their school libraries to find just about everything they need to know.

"It's really exhilarating to see the students come in and do research and get excited about what they see in the books," said Betty Riser, librarian at Jackson Middle School.

Librarians are more than just the keepers of books, said Julia Jorgensen, librarian at Central High School. When her children first heard that she was thinking of leaving the classroom for the librarian position, they told her nobody would like her.

But with the look and comfort the library offers, Jorgensen sees most of the school's 1,300 students. The library is open before and after school and during lunch so students can come to check out a book, find information on a Web site or read the newspaper.

Instead of just teaching students to use the card catalog and find a book on a shelf, school librarians also must help them weed through the pages of Web sites available when it's time for research projects.

"We usually see some panicked students in the rush of term papers," Jorgensen said.

That's exactly what Riser has seen in the last week as Jackson sixth graders came to the library to do research on ancient Egypt. On Friday, the students will transform the library into an Egyptian museum using artifacts they made during their study.

The project is just one of many that go on display in the library for the school to see. "We research all the ancient civilizations and do research papers so we use the library often," said Carla Moore, a sixth-grade teacher.

Students have flexibility when visiting the libraries at both Jackson and Cape Central. They can come in before school or during a class period to check out a book or finish up a project. That activity is exactly what Riser envisioned when she planned the library eight years ago when the middle school was built.

"I just envisioned a beehive of activity and that's what this is," Riser said in between checking out books for students.

Paige Clark, a seventh-grade student, came in just before her second hour class ended to find a book for pleasure reading. She headed straight for the card catalog computer terminals and then to the shelf. Before Riser could even ask if she needed help, Clark carried the book to the counter for check-out.

"It was recommended by a friend," she said. "I just got it because of that."

Jorgensen also had a vision for her school's library but it was based on the calm atmosphere and open environment that one finds inside bookstores.

People who visit the library are surprised that it really looks like a bookstore and not a school library, Jorgensen said. "That warms my heart."

And while school libraries aren't filled with ever-changing titles, there are some popular books that circulate often. Fantasy, science fiction, adventure and some World War II books are popular. At both Jackson and Central, the libraries also support the curriculum with titles to supplement what teachers use in their classrooms.

"It really runs the gamut," Jorgensen said. She has titles on German culture, careers and guidance along with some from the best-sellers lists. "We have to be so encompassing."

Riser also gets suggestions from students about what titles to carry and teachers make requests for new books they can use in their lessons. "We always have more suggestions than we have funds," she said. "I feel so blessed for that reason. It's not a struggle to fulfill an order but we have to cut out some or see what we can do without until next year."

But both librarians say the try to find special requests from other libraries. Riser said she's trying to stock shelves for a range of readers -- from gifted students to those at lower levels.

"The library is a leveling place," Jorgensen said. It offers the same services to every patron. "My job it to create lifelong learners."

335-6611, extension 126

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