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How One Mom Helped a Struggling Library

Getting Involved: Carolyn Gencarella rejuvenated her school's library and found volunteers to assist teachers with their classes in the library.

Carolyn Gencarella
Carolyn Gencarella

By GreatSchools Staff

Carolyn Gencarella is the mom of two boys. Her older son, Julian, was a kindergartner at Grattan Elementary in San Francisco when she got involved with the school library. She is a former teacher, who loves children's books, and she worked in the library at the college she attended.

The Problem:

The library at Grattan Elementary needed help. The school no longer had a paid librarian and could not afford to hire one. Teachers were taking their students to the library to check out books, but there was no one to help students choose appropriate books, to read the class a story, or to reshelve books when they were returned. The school had a new automated system for checking out books, but the teachers did not know how to use it. Returned books were stacked up on a cart in the library and books on the shelves were often in the wrong order, which made them hard for kids to find.

Making a Change:

Carolyn wanted to help, but being a new parent at the school, she wasn't sure where to start or what to do.

The PTA knew teachers were frustrated with the library and decided to offer a modest stipend to a parent or community member who would be willing to spend a few hours a week getting the library in order and coordinating other volunteers. The PTA sent out a flyer looking for someone.

This was the opportunity Carolyn had been waiting for. She offered to take on the role of library coordinator, but declined the stipend. Carolyn learned how to use the electronic book check-out system, reshelved the books and thought carefully about what other volunteers could do. Then she called other parents who had responded to the PTA's plea for help and found ways for them to help.

Carolyn's goal was to have a volunteer at the library during all of the times classes were coming to visit. She was successful. She found volunteers to cover class time, and she organized them to help with the library's day-to-day maintenance. She put in plenty of her own hours, too, getting the books in order, rearranging the physical space, training the volunteers and covering some of the class times herself. She taught the other volunteers to use the electronic check-out system and made sure they understood how the books are organized. To make the library even more welcoming, she put student work up on the library's walls.

Getting Other Parents Involved:

The PTA helped Carolyn find other parents who could help in the library by sending a flyer home in the weekly folder. She also recruited more parents to help by sharing her excitement for the project with parents she saw around the school.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

08/11/2009:
"Our school is not allowed to accept volunteers in place of our librarian - Union Rules. How can we get around this, at least until the Economy imprioves (especially here in CA)? We do not want anyone to lose out on their jobs, but why should our children suffer by losing their library because of a Union Rule that does not consider a state near bankruptcy that has stopped funding such critical things in our schools?"
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