8 May 2023
Round table with books

Pandemic-related delays are being felt throughout schools, but Heyworth’s Junior-Senior High
School library was hit hard. Between closures, no in-person group visits, falling literacy levels,
and a budget cut, the library was seeing a drastic loss of circulation as students struggled not only
to get access to library materials, but to find materials that met their new needs.

A “My Library Is…” grant provided a much-needed book-buying boost at exactly the right time. “I
knew I didn’t have much to offer at the lower reading level that was now needed,” said Librarian
Michelle Harris, “and ILL is helpful, but having items ready to go on the shelves is even better. I
knew we needed to move quickly to embrace these students’ needs and focus on them as they
transitioned into junior high. I knew if we lost them as patrons just as they entered our building,
we would struggle to get them back in high school.” An infusion of up-to-date, exciting books
aimed squarely at the junior high reader was just what was needed. The “My Library Is…” grant
helped Heyworth purchase 295 new library books.

A Whole New World
Harris also used the grant funds as an opportunity not only to fill the middle-school gap but also
to address diversity in the collection. “Our population is 91% white, so I knew this grant could
be an opportunity to provide additional “mirrors” and “windows” because the only diversity that
some of my rural, small-school students will experience will be through the pages of a book.”
The grant allowed Heyworth to add titles in a variety of genres while also introducing junior-high
titles featuring LGBTQIA characters, Native perspectives, people of color, and people with
disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.

Targeted Programming & Marketing
By focusing on, providing for, and encouraging middle schoolers’ unique reading needs, the library is
developing excitement for reading. “We cannot expect them to “grow into” YA books. We need to
start providing the benefits of reading as soon as they walk through our doors,” said Harris. “These
new books give us a solid base from which to build future JH purchases and programming.” The
the library started by offering a positive coffee-house orientation experience featuring hot drinks, free
bookmarks, interactive displays, and personalized tours to attract new students by giving them
an opportunity to engage with library staff and see that services were personalized for them and
that the library caters to their reading needs with new “just right” books chosen specifically for
middle schoolers.

Normally, a wide-ranging, diverse book collection takes a few years to accumulate. But the grant
jump-started the collection and provided enough new materials to successfully launch targeted
programming immediately. The library started by partnering with the English teachers to provide
Book Tastings then followed up with TV-screen “commercials” for new titles. A junior-high
a version of a Teen Advisory Board was also launched. The TAB members enjoyed a buying trip
to Barnes & Noble and also have early access to new titles that they helped choose and
prepare for check-out. Harris is enthusiastic about the collection upgrade: “We’re offering titles
that give JH students feeling bewildered by the “grown up” YA library a great variety aimed squarely
at their interests and age range. We want ALL our students to find what they need in our library
because…YA? Y Not?!”

Today's blog post is from Michelle Harris, Heyworth Junior-Senior High School., Heyworth, IL