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February 1, 2016 BOOKLIST
Find more Notes from the Field
Carolyn LaMontagne’s YA-friendly blog, Librarian in the Middle, is a gold mine for anyone personally or professionally interested in books that work for middle-school readers. LaMontagne uses her experience working with students in grades 5–12 to test publisher predictions of what kids will like and get honest feedback. Her blog is a space for book reviews, links, and random tidbits of interest to students, their parents, and teachers.
Tell us a little about yourself and your library background.
Carolyn: My background is random! Philosophy major; creative writing MFA; teaching composition and creative writing at the college level; editing for a small educational publishing company; and then freelance editing. I loved aspects of all of those things, especially teaching and writing (including writing an unpublished YA novel), and while I was freelance editing and trying to figure out what to do next, a friend suggested school librarianship. About a year later, I went back to school (at University of Illinois) for my MSLIS, and I got my current job about 7 years ago, right out of graduate school. It has been a perfect blend of many things that I loved in previous “lives,” plus a lot of fun that I did not anticipate.
What drew you to working with middle-school students?
Carolyn: This age group is never boring, and for me, their curiosity and energy are contagious in ways I never expected when I was first looking into librarianship. I knew I’d enjoy the job, but, as cheesy as it sounds, I didn’t realize how much of my heart it would capture. I sometimes think it’s crazy that I get paid to do something so fun.
Tell us about your job. What’s a typical day at work?
Carolyn: I am a Librarian at Collegiate School, a private K–12 school in Richmond, Virginia, and my library currently serves grades 5–12 (about 1,000 students). We are in the process now of preparing to split into two libraries next fall, one for middle grades (5–8) and one for upper (9–12), and I will be working exclusively in the middle-school library. There isn’t really a “typical” day for me, thank goodness, but my job includes regular library classes with fifth and sixth graders (I do a lot of booktalks and also teach library and research skills), running a weekly book club with seventh and eighth graders, assignment-specific research classes, readers’ advisory, crowd control (the library is the upper-school hangout space), and just chatting with students of all ages about all sorts of things. I’m also an advisor for 10 sophomore students.
A sample day: this past Friday, I booktalked Rebecca Stead’s Liar & Spy and the author’s other works with sixth graders; worked on a sample research project to use in demonstrating NoodleTools at an upcoming history department meeting; worked on weeding in the science section; met with one of my advisory kids to talk about personal concerns; and started work on a “LibGuide’ for a seventh-grade history teacher who is experimenting with some small-scale “flipping” of her class (having students do a little bit of reading about the topic before discussing it in class). Plus a bunch of one-on-one transactions helping kids find books and information.
Is there much collection development in your job, and if so, can you describe?
Carolyn: All of the librarians in my library (three full time, plus one part-time assistant) make decisions involving collection development. For books, we all read reviews from various sources (like Booklist, SLJ, BCCB), usually in spurts as time permits. I also follow some children’s-lit review blogs and mock Newbery blogs, typically checking my feed for those every day. Each librarian has an area of interest, and I personally focus on middle-school materials, both fiction and nonfiction. The kids also play a big role in collection development. If there is something they want, they will let us know, and we typically order what they request. My most recent order based on requests included middle-school level books about the Dalai Lama for a fifth grader, a title in the My Sister the Vampire series for another fifth grader, Difficult Daughters by Manju Kapur for an upper-school faculty member, and a preorder of Hope Larson’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time. We do a lot of small orders based on requests or blog reviews—typically several each week—and larger, less frequent orders after reading review journals.
Tell us a little bit about your blog, Librarian in the Middle.
Carolyn: I primarily post reviews of high-quality middle-school and YA titles, focusing on books that I don’t think my students are going to find on their own but that I think they will enjoy. I also post the occasional link or tidbit that I think might be of interest to kids or the adults who live and work with them.
As far as blogging in general, following blogs has been a great way for me to stay current with new titles, technology trends, and pedagogical philosophy and innovation. I don’t always have time to read everything that comes up in my feed, of course, but I try to at least scan all my subscriptions.
What made you decide to start your blog?
Who is your audience?
Carolyn: I started Librarian in the Middle about a year ago, with the idea that it would primarily be read by teachers, parents, and students at my school. One of our administrators had just created a website for parents, and I wanted to add a library presence to that site. I didn’t really expect to get any external hits, so that has been interesting and fun! I actually don’t have a clear sense of who is reading; I just know that I have followers and hits! I wish I could post more regularly, but it’s hard to find the time. It’s easiest to post about books that I am talking about in classes because I can just expand on or tailor what I say to the kids.
What do you anticipate for the future of your blog?
Carolyn: I’d like to do more posting about things beyond books, as our library’s mission continues to expand into more areas, including more support of project-based learning and use of creative technology. I’d also love to have more kids write guest posts and use more guest posts from authors. It’s always good to have more voices than just my own!
What are some of your favorite YA-lit trends?
Carolyn: I tend to like contemporary realistic fiction more than anything but have a growing love of historical fiction, fantasy, and science fiction. I also have discovered that nonfiction geared toward middle-schoolers is an easy, enjoyable way to learn about things I wasn’t all that interested in when I was a student! I really enjoy reading a wide variety of things. Sometimes I will read something that doesn’t thrill me but that I know some kids will really go crazy over; so even with those books, there’s some fun in knowing that students will like it.
The trend that is hottest in our library right now is dystopian fiction. We have a display shelf of some titles, and it’s a challenge to keep it stocked. I get asked several times a week about the release date for the sequel to Marie Lu’s Legend. I confess that I will likely grab one of the copies to read quickly myself before putting it into circulation!
What do you like to read outside of work?
Carolyn: Reading outside of work? What’s that? (Ha.) Seriously, although most of my reading these days is middle grade and YA stuff, I do enjoy contemporary literary fiction, memoir, and the occasional thriller when I get the time. (Yeah, I read Gone Girl.) I’m a parent of a 12-year-old girl, and my friends have teased me for years about how much parenting literature I read. Knowledge is power, right?
I am also working (very slowly) on writing a memoir that has me reading a lot about brain development and PTSD. I don’t write or research much during the school year, though; that’s what summer is for!
Thank you so much for sharing your insight, Carolyn!
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