Pam is the mom of two children. Her son, Ethan, was in fourth grade at East Gloucester Elementary School in Gloucester, Massachusetts, when she got involved with the library. Pam is active in the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) at the elementary school and formerly worked as an executive administrator for the CEO of a software company.
Four years ago East Gloucester Elementary School had a well-used library with a full-time library aide. The Gloucester School District,
however, faced severe budget cuts over the past several years, and had to make many cuts to programs and staff. The school lost its library aide and the library began a downhill slide. East Gloucester was lucky to have a retired man who volunteered in the library and kept it functioning so students could check out books, but many things didn’t get done. Keeping everything in order was too much for a part-time volunteer. The library got very dirty and became a dumping ground for things teachers no longer needed in their classrooms. The book collection was outdated, and the card system was old and hard to manage.
Making a Change:
The East Gloucester PTO held its meetings in the library, which was in the center of the small school, and members often commented on how run-down and dirty it was getting. When the PTO raised several thousand dollars from a successful holiday fair fundraiser, Pam, who was co-president of the PTO, suggested that they spend the money on library improvements. The PTO agreed that the library was a priority and they got started. Pam’s co-president, Juliana Hood, took over most of the PTO duties so Pam could focus on the library.
Pam and the other parents who helped took on two main projects: a physical rehab of the library and installing a bar-code system for keeping track of books. The physical rehab took the whole summer. Pam wanted to make the library look inviting and fun, but they did not have a huge budget. Pam herself painted the library, ordered carpeting for a rug area, moved the picture books to lower shelves so they would be accessible to kids, and ordered a new, space-saving table for the computer. She spray-painted the desk and file cabinet bright blue to liven up the room.
Teachers voted on their favorite quotes about reading and the winning quote was painted on the wall. It said, “Books are like a garden carried in your pocket.” Two students from the National Honor Society painted a garden on the wall.
Four or five other parents and a local retired librarian spent the summer going through the book collection. They weeded out very outdated books and then donated them to Hands Across the Water to be sent to villages in Africa. They ordered new copies of worn-out favorites and ordered some new books. Old books were cleaned, mended and covered.
Pam also researched bar-code systems to automate the library. Many cost $20,000 or more, which was far beyond the PTO budget. Eventually they found the CASPR library system, which was far less expensive and had a modest yearly fee for storing files. Getting all the books bar coded was a big project, but with help from several parents, it is finally now complete. All of the physical upgrades, the new books and the bar-code system were completed for between $7,000 and $8,000 total.
Getting Other Parents Involved:
Pam began recruiting parents through the PTO newsletter and at PTO meetings. Pam formed a library committee and began organizing her volunteers by asking what they were comfortable doing. There were also sign-up sheets at the fall teacher night. Although not too many parents were interested in the summer rehab project, once fall came, the volunteer ranks grew. Parents helped enter the book records into the CASPR system and one parent re-covered and mended almost half of the books in the library. Parents who wanted to help but didn’t have a lot of time popped in to help kids in the library and shelve books.
Working With the School:
When the library project started, East Gloucester had a new principal, who, due to the budget cuts, was also the district information technology director. That proved to be a blessing in disguise because he was able to help with the new library technology and help the parents find the right people to call when they needed more tech help. Pam reported that the principal was thrilled with what the parents accomplished and was very supportive along the way. The teachers were also genuinely happy about the new user-friendly library.
One challenge was training parents to do the technical part of the new bar-code library system. Pam said they held several training sessions and that ultimately people who were both interested and competent ended up doing that work. Pam said the next challenge going forward is to train the teachers to use the system so their students can check out books when the volunteers aren’t present.
Another challenge was the small number of maintenance workers in the district. They were very busy with other projects so the parents had to do some construction on the library shelves themselves. Pam said, “We brought our own saws and wood – it was a big challenge. It was something we thought we’d get help with, but we did it ourselves.
How the School Has Benefited:
Pam said when the students saw the library in the fall, “It was amazing! They couldn’t believe they were in the same place. It was bright, clean and not dusty. There was a couch and a chair. If I could have taken a picture of the kids when they saw it! Now the kids like to be there.”
The library is now open every day for students to browse, and all day Wednesday and Friday to check out books. Each class has a time to come check out books and students can come at other times, too. Teachers are helping their classes use the library a lot more for research as well.
Tips for Other Parents:
Pam encourages other parents to not be afraid to take something on, even if they don’t have unlimited time and energy to volunteer. “Even small things can make a difference… Say ‘Here’s what I can do, what kind of support is there for this?'” She notes that a lot of people think they can’t make a change, but many things can be done in small amounts of time and with a limited budget.