Kendra Fortmeyer is an award-winning author, a teacher at Skybridge Academy, and a graduate student in the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin. She blogs about her adventures in school librarianship at The Skybrary and graciously shared with Alt Ed Austin this fascinating post about how she handles one of the stickiest aspects of her job.
In the summer of 2015, I developed a school library for Skybridge Academy, the small, progressive private school where I’d been teaching English for the last two years. I was (and am) enrolled in a graduate program in library science, the school administration was passionate and supportive, and I used to reorganize my books for fun when I was eight—a perfect fit, right? Though I knew, intellectually, that it would be a mighty endeavor, some part of me was dimly certain that it would be a summer of dancing through the school Maria Von Trapp style and depositing books into the hands of shining-faced students.
Well, let me tell you.
What followed was a summer of less (though certainly a bit of) singing and dancing, and more buckling down and facing question after question I never could have anticipated. I walked away three months and one library later with an immensely deepened respect for librarians. The business of getting books into people’s hands—especially young people’s hands—is one riddled with challenges. Perhaps the most basic of these is: What do we give them to read?
In the alternative education field, all of us understand the tightrope walk that is navigating the dual identity of responsible educator and champion of intellectual freedom. When do you give your students hard-hitting material? How do you decide they’re ready? This was a unique challenge for me at Skybridge Academy, a combined junior high and high school that serves students in grades 6–12. This population runs the gamut from smart but very (emotionally) young ten-year-olds to 18-year-olds with part-time jobs and coffee addictions. Obviously, books for one age group might not be of interest, or appropriate, for the other. This is what we call having a dual-audience library.