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the community service hat

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Articles and professional papers about the role of the library  often suggest it should be the hub of school life.  It should be the centre cog on which all other aspects of the school turn. 

But, apart from supporting the teaching and learning happening in the school through the provision of resources, services and support, what else can the library do to be that community hub? Do we have a responsibility to do more?

The American Library Association (ALA) identifies service, social responsibility and the public good as three of its core library values.

ALA recognizes its broad social responsibilities. The broad social responsibilities of the American Library Association are defined in terms of the contribution that librarianship can make in ameliorating or solving the critical problems of society; support for efforts to help inform and educate the people of the United States on these problems and to encourage them to examine the many views on and the facts regarding each problem; and the willingness of ALA to take a position on current critical issues with the relationship to libraries and library service set forth in the position statement.

Consider this article published in the New Zealand Herald  on August 18, 2012 where a principal quotes a letter by Judge Phillip B. Gilliam of Denver, Colorado, published on December 17, 1959, and addressing those now called the Baby Boomers…

community_service_article

 

Or this more succinct meme that is currently popular on Facebook…

world_living_meme

 

Or this quote from a post to LM_NET discussing the practice of students paying their overdue fines with canned food that is the passed on to those with few reseources…

Today, a student who owed .20 cents brought in a can and expected my aide to forgive his fine AND give him 20 cents in change! [The library assistant]  said she couldn’t give him change because is was for a charity. He took his can back.

Regardless of the older generation’s propensity to generalise and label its upcoming generations as lazy layabouts, wiser heads know that, on the whole, our kids just want to belong and to contribute to their community.  For some this is easy, but for others not so and school is their safe harbour in life, the only place where they feel they are cared for and cared about.

School days can be very fragmented, particularly for those in secondary school where each period brings a change of teacher, subject and often, classmates.  How can there be a cohesive whole when the parts keep changing?  The library is often the most stable constant in student life and as such, has a vital role to play in the development of the student not only as an informed citizen but also a contributing one. For many students, the library is the safest of safe harbours and so often that is cited as one of its key roles within school life. 

Apart from providing shelter from the outside storms, physical and metaphorical, how can the library reach out to students and empower them to fulfil those innate human needs of contribution and acknowledgement? How can we enable them to give their “time, talent and energy” that Judge Phillip B. Gilliam and society generally demand so they can experience the joy of giving, the satisfaction of recognition and the power of acknowledgement?

It can start within its own walls by enabling students to contribute to its daily running.  Even the very youngest students returning their books on time and putting them in the Returns Box are contributing to the well-being of others and if we change our language from the punitive one that focuses on fines for overdues to the positive one of how being responsible helps others, they learn that even though they may only be five years old, they are part of this bigger community called school and they have an important role within that.

A Returns Box made from cardboard cartons was a prominent sentinel at the library door. It could not be missed.

A Returns Box made from cardboard cartons was a prominent sentinel at the library door. It could not be missed.

 

Many schools have library monitors – a coveted, traditional role that dates back to the earliest days of school libraries.   While many libraries reserve it for their senior students – those who are often exploring lots of other options to fill their lunchtime hours and who can be unreliable- my experience is that it is younger students who take the tasks on board with relish and who not only do an excellent job but respond very positively to the responsibility they are given.  In fact, I had so many candidates for the positions that I formalised a program called  S.T.A.R.S.  (Student Teaching and Research Services) that took them from Year 3 (about 8 years old) through to Year 6 (their final year of primary school). Library Ninjas is a similar program adapted for secondary school). 

Each year students submitted their applications -no one was ever rejected although there were the inevitable dropouts – and formal training sessions were held, usually as part of a lunchtime duty.  Their first task each year was to design that year’s badges so they could be easily identified by teachers and others students and after a secret ballot, a design for each level was chosen.  All students regardless of their year level started as Protostars and as they progressed through the levels they were formally acknowledged at a school assembly with a certificate (also designed by their peers) and their new badge.

It was highly successful and has been adopted and adapted in schools around the world wishing to have a more formal community service program. Apart from the community service component, such programs also develop leadership skills and a solid work ethic which can then be transferred to  broader community situations.

We also worked closely with the Special Ed teachers as well as those who had children with challenging behaviours or significant issues to look at regular tasks that needed to be done that these children could do such as the daily feeding of the fish or turning on the computers or making sure all the teddies were sitting neatly on the couches and it was amazing to watch how this shifting of responsibility to those deemed unable to accept it changed the children involved because the perceptions of their peers towards them changed.  Classes were reminded that “We could not have our beautiful , soothing aquarium if Lochie doesn’t feed the fish each day,” or “Make sure you thank Aleisha for having all the computers ready for you” ensured the other students saw these individuals in a different light and gradually school became a great place to be.

Other in-house community services can include such things as 

  • being the meeting place for in-school clubs and groups who share a common interest such as mysteries or Minecraft and who need a supervised venue so they can pursue their goals safely
  • inviting experts in to introduce students to real-world skills such as applying for a job, preparing a meal, creating a budget, asking someone for a date, or even a Gentleman’s Club 
  • being the centre for in-school fundraising efforts for individuals or teams needing support
  • being the centre for raising awareness and support for those in acute need

In times of disaster the library can be a critical element for community support, not just as a meeting and information centre but also for leading recovery as even children who are not directly affected by the tragedy can be left bewildered and afraid, fearing that it will happen to them.  There is much research to show that getting children involved in the recovery process not only helps to alleviate their fears but also allows them to feel empowered and that they can do something and are doing it.

In 2003 our city was ravaged by bushfires with many children in nearby suburbs left homeless and traumatised. While their parents were necessarily focused on doing parent things, many children were adrift particularly as the fires happened during the long summer vacation so their school (if it were still standing) did not become the stabilising influence it could have been at other times.To help these children we organised a teddy drive with the aim being to not only give these children something of their own to cuddle when all had been lost, but also to show that amongst the devastation they had not been forgotten.  Over 5000 teddies from around the world found new homes in this region within six months of the fires. (As well as our own community, teddy bear drives were organised for the children of regional Victoria after the deadly Black Saturday fires in 2009 and also for the children of the Townsville region after Cyclone Yasi struck in 2011.  Even though these were some hundreds of kilometres from us local trucking firms were very generous with free transport of the boxes.  Just ask!)

Some of the 5000 teddies given to children affected by the bushfires of 2003

Some of the 5000 teddies given to children affected by the bushfires of 2003

Similarly, our focus for Christmas 2002 was the children of Charleville, a town in remote Queensland that was enduring one of its worst droughts ever.  So the library became the centre of the Gifts for Charleville campaign, suggested by those in the STARS program and managed and maintained by two Year 5 lads who were not known within the school for their community spirit. At the time they were obliged to spend their lunchtimes in the library rather than the playground and when I handed them the responsibility of the safety of the gifts, their lives were literally changed.  Here was a task that they could achieve, wanted to do because it appealed to that innate need to contribute and which showed them in a new light to their peers.  They relished the fact they were being seen as responsible, reliable and trustworthy and the following year they were valued members of the school community, in the library because they wanted to be not because they had to be.

Christmas for the children of Charleville

Christmas for the children of Charleville

Following the Magnitude 9 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand in February 2011, many Kiwi students in Australian schools were left bereft and wanting to help so a group of teacher librarians throughout Australia organised All Black Day sharing it through their teacher librarian networks to encourage schools to encourage their Kiwi students to run it.  Apart from the significant amount of funds raised, there were many anecdotes shared of how students in individual schools embraced the concept and felt they were indeed doing something positive. Even the very youngest students got involved with those from Penrith Public School, NSW led by TL Ian McLean, creating this presentation.  Scrolling through the comments, you can see the impact this had.

 


All Black Day: Christchurch earthquake appeal, 2011

 

 

Reaching beyond the school walls, the library can provide a range of services that can support the needs of its community including becoming a pseudo-public library in towns where there is no other facility or opening during long vacations so students have the opportunity to renew their loans and keep reading. Primary schools can offer borrowing facilities to siblings  who are not yet school age and I know parents really appreciated our Grab Bags initiative where seven books suitable for the bedtime read-aloud were put into a bag so they could ‘grab’ a week’s worth of stories in one visit.  

As a school in a brand-new suburb with few facilities, parents also appreciated having easy access to the literature and brochures from local government and community services which was supplemented by a page on the school’s website with the names of local dentists, doctors and so forth. Students were also able to find out about local groups like Scouts and sporting teams as well as advertising their own groups and clubs so even if they weren’t in the STARS program they were nevertheless involved in the community in some way. Most popular of all were the connections made with local groups that supported the units of work that were being studied in class at the time so that when students were asked to reflect on their learning and answer the question, “Where to from here?” those whose interests had been sparked could find the information quickly and easily.  

Every school is in a community with a unique demographic and unique needs that can shape the community service hat so that it is a snug fit.  Experience has shown that it is very much a case of “Offer it and they will come.”  Think about the design of your hat and how you will wear it.

 

 

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the santa’s hat

hat_santaThis hat is perhaps one of the best hats to wear.

At a time when those of us in the southern hemisphere are coming to the end of the academic year with access to the library being restricted as resources are returned for all the end-of-year stuff we have to do, it’s nice to be able to put on a fun hat that reaches out to the students and helps maintain the magic of the season.

So this post is focused on the things we do to celebrate the season and everyone is invited to contribute.  Our gift to each other may be a new idea that we can use or adapt.

 

Christmas Countdown

Create a literary countdown for the Christmas season.  Wrap a season-centred book for each school day, create a display that entices anticipation and invite teachers and parents to be guest readers during a lunchtime session. You need to start collecting titles early so there is diversity from those shared in the classroom.  To help you I’ve added the tag Christmas Countdown to appropriate reviews on The Bottom Shelf and with new reviews in the pipeline, there is a range of titles from Australia and beyond. I’ve also collected them on a Pinterest board with links to the reviews on The Bottom Shelf.

The Christmas Countdown has been very popular.

The Christmas Countdown has been very popular.

The principal finishes the Christmas Countdown by sharing "Twas the Night Before Christmas".

The principal finishes the Christmas Countdown by sharing “Twas the Night Before Christmas”.

 

Santa’s Bookshop

If you have a book fair at this time of the year, dress it up like Santa’s Bookshop.  Apart from the thrill it gives the students, parents are encouraged to bring their preschoolers in to share the magic.

Create an enticing invitation.

Create an enticing invitation.

An inviting entry heightens the wonder.

An inviting entry heightens the wonder.

Walls and bulletin boards can be used for festive backdrops.

Walls and bulletin boards can be used for festive backdrops.

Vignettes add interest and opportunities to promote titles.

Vignettes add interest and opportunities to promote titles.

 

Involve others

Classes were given cheap umbrellas to convert into Christmas trees.

Christmas trees made from umbrellas.

Christmas trees made from umbrellas.

 

The TL at this school invited all the faculties to create a Christmas display to emphasise who they are and what they do.  Read more.

Faculties contribute their own displays

Faculties contribute their own displays

Put up a small bare Christmas tree and as part of the lead-up, have students add a decoration a day.

 

Create a display

There are lots of ideas on this Pinterest board from Jackie AlSaffar

 

The Giving Tree

Be the focus of your school and community’s Giving Tree.

A Giving Tree for children in drought-stricken remote Australia

A Giving Tree for children in drought-stricken remote Australia

 

Your ideas

I try very hard to give the kids a new, or new to you book. At the end of the year I hold a Book Swap. Kids bring in their books from home, receive a ticket they can redeem for another book.

I also over Christmas, give the kids a new book to have for their own library.

Colette D. Eason

Just thinking that if I was makerspacing then this would be an ideal time to have craft decoration sessions at lunchtime. If you focus on making recycled decorations then costs will be low too. For instance paper chains made out of advertising catalogues, plastic ornaments made out of colourful plastic containers, ornaments made from foil wrappers.

Vivian Harris

. I started my Share a Holiday Memory Contest 2 years ago – I have attached 2 photos to kind of give you an idea of what it looks like – basically I ask students to write down a memory (good or bad some have made me laugh out loud and some brought me to tears) of any winter holiday – Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, New Year’s etc. on some  pretty holiday paper I get at the Dollar Store – once they’ve written it down they post it on one of 2 bulletin boards  then they put their names on an old catalog card and are put in a drawing for a plate of homemade holiday cookies – yes, I’m the baker. Students seem to enjoy it and I make a big deal of having their picture taken and posting it in the school paper.

Joanne Ligamari

I encourage students to check out books over the summer break.  I have a permission form the parent signs saying how many books the student can check out for the summer.  We are a small system (4 schools) and all of our students go from one school to the next through high school.  The librarians cooperate so that even students changing schools can participate.

Cathy Lawrence

I wrote about five different crafts you can do with books that I actually have done 🙂  Sometimes the best gifts are handmade 🙂 

Naomi Bates

Umina Campus Library has been the venue for an overnight sleepover for past few years.

Student Council, teachers, & self, volunteer to “give up their beds” to raise funds for homeless – who sleep out EVERY night. They are given cereal and toast in the staff common room by the morning shift of volunteer teachers. Yes; there is also an afternoon shift (outside games) and evening shift (trivia etc) of teachers. Also the local police are notified and do extra drive-bys.

Oh yes, spooky stories were read to all once the lights were dimmed. Torches are essential.

The students get sentimental when they reminisce.

Dianne Gill

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the special needs hat

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The mission statement for my library included this statement

We are dedicated to providing and promoting

intellectual and physical access for all

to an extensive range of print and electronic resources,

tools and technologies


It sounded very grand in theory but what did it look like in practice?  Was it even put into practice? Or was it one of those statements that had no substance behind it?

Achieving this part of the mission statement became a very real necessity as the school grew and more and more students enrolled. While every child has their own specific special needs, some experience more challenges than others and as the student population grew so did the number of students with particular needs, both mainstream and in the Learning Support Unit which specialised in working with children of the autism spectrum.

One of these special children was Molly who was a delightful child, but who suffered from severe and very frequent epileptic episodes which intruded on her everyday functioning as well as her ability to learn. She was also the daughter of a close friend so when she entered Kindergarten at age 5, I vowed that she would be able to operate in the library as independently as she could and the spinoff would be that if she could so could all the other students.  

It meant closely examining a number of things

  • how the regular students used the library
    • why they were there
    • what they did when they were there
    • how they used the space
    • what they borrowed
    • what they asked for or expected
    • how they operated within it independently
  •  how Molly and the other special needs students used the library
    • did their use of the library differ from that of mainstream students
    • what were their expectations
    • what were their frustrations
    • how their expectations could be met and their frustrations overcome
  • what their teachers expected of and needed from the library to support the students
  • what we were already doing that was working 
  • what we needed to change to make it better

a familiar place

Above all there has to be an atmosphere that tells the special needs child they are welcome in the library and that they are children first and while their disability is addressed, their needs as a child are what drives what we do.  Invite the children in with their aides (and parents if possible) when there are no other students in there so you can introduce yourself and any other adults who will assist them and show them around explaining how their needs can be met and seek suggestions for improvements.  Talk to the adults about any particular needs a child has and not just how these can be met but how the child might contribute.  For example, Lochie loved routine so he took on the responsibility of feeding the goldfish every morning.  In consultation with his parents, his reward was to take them home at the end of each year (so they wouldn’t starve over vacation) and they bought him an aquarium so he could continue his job.  Goldfish are cheap in comparison to the joy and sense of responsibility it gave him as well as acknowledging his need for rhythm and routine.

Two senior boys with anger management issues who spent more time off the playground than on relished the opportunity to be in charge of a canned food collection while a couple of artistic girls wanted to wrap all the presents that we collected for the children of Charleville when a crippling drought meant Santa probably wouldn’t get there that year.

charleville

Provide teddies or other soft toys which the children can cuddle during storytime, read to or tell their secrets to. If a child got restless and started to throw the teddy or whatever, I’d just ask “Can teddy enjoy the story?’ and it brought about calm again. I ended up having a collection of about 50 teddies sitting on the couches so any child could come in at any time and share a story with a teddy.  Angry kids, sad kids, kids having playground issues – there was never a teddy (or child) left unloved.

Teddies provide comfort

Teddies provide comfort

physical access

The first thing that usually comes to mind when we think of children with special needs is how a child in a wheelchair is going to access the shelves and while we think of allowing sufficient width between the aisles (and some jurisdictions have compulsory regulations to ensure this) it also means leaving room to manoeuvre the wheelchair at the ends of the rows. Because ours was a large library much of the collection had been arranged in ‘rooms’ rather than rows so this wasn’t a huge problem. Wherever possible and practical and particularly for fiction, I placed books in wall-shelves, dumpbins and displays at eye level for little ones so location and selection was easier. Face-out displays allowed for familiar titles, characters and authors to be easily recognised.

Dumpbins, wall shelves and tubs put the collection at the child's height.

Dumpbins, wall shelves and tubs put the collection at the child’s height.

However, there does need to be careful consideration given to the floor-covering particularly if it is carpet. When it was refurbished, a local shopping centre laid acres of new carpet  that was almost impossible to push either a wheelchair or a wheelie-walker on thus denying access to many shops and services for those not physically independent.

Shelf height is also an issue particularly for those school libraries serving older students who are taller so some compromises may have to be made.  In the primary school library things have to be at a lower level so little five-year-olds can access them but nevertheless there has to be a system in place to enable those who struggle and an environment created where they feel comfortable in asking for assistance. Also think about the height of your Returns box, the circ desk and any computers that a child with a disability might access.  Talk to their primary carers about their needs and how these might be addressed.  While the provision of step-stools may appeal, these themselves can provide even more problems. 

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve asked children to tuck their chairs in as they rush off in their eagerness to be wherever they need to be and another dollar for every time the plea fell on deaf ears and I’ve had to go round and tuck them in myself.  But chairs and bags and so forth can be significant hazards for those with mobility issues so the nagging has to continue.  However, when you relate to it a particular student’s movement – “Tuck your chair in so —- can get through” – it is surprising how quickly the children see the purpose of your request and it becomes automatic.  Often they will remind their friends or just move something anyway! 

resources

Under the Collection Policy the collection should offer resources in a diversity of formats to meet the learning styles of its users generally but it is essential that you look beyond the general population and examine the needs of specific groups within it.  Consider the needs of

  • indigenous students
  • English language learners
  • those with learning disabilities
  • those with physical disabilities, particular illnesses or allergies
  • those from other cultures and countries
  • the religious philosophy of the school, if any
  • the LGBTI community

Strive to have resources that will allow the children to read about themselves so they feel they are included and acknowledged. Seek out services that supply or adapt resources to meet the needs of these students such as Vision Australia Information and Library Service  or the Geoff Gallop Braille and Talking Book Library  Ensure your signage is large, visible and readable and include a  picture or other non-text cue where appropriate.

Signage needs to be bold and clear

Signage needs to be bold and clear

As well as signage, write clear step-by-step instructions for using the OPAC or borrowing procedures or logging into the computers, including non-texts cues where necessary. These can become a teaching exercise for the students, peer-tested and then published. Make them available as bookmarks too.

social

As well as catering for the physical and learning needs, be aware of each child’s social and emotional needs so these can be addressed during teaching times.  Some like to work alone, others with a partner or group members; some can cope with being touched or close to other children while this can be an anathema to others; some like public praise, others shy from it. Consider concentration spans (often quotes as the child’s age plus three minutes for regular children) and structure the time so there is a time to listen and a time to respond.

Talk to the teachers and aides about particular behaviour management routines that the child knows and responds to so that there is consistency between classroom and library including any strategies to be used in an emergency.

online

If your school has an online presence strive to make is as user-friendly as possible by making the information easily accessible  even to those without a lot of language skills.  This is the Resource Centre’s entry page of a particular school’s website that was based on that philosophy. Embedded in the graphic were links to various parts of the Centre’s website and there were small graphic-based buttons that led to pages as well.

cprc_entry

 

Working with children with special needs is as rewarding as it is challenging.  But if we have their needs as a child at the forefront of our practice, anything we do to make the library a better place for them makes it a better place for the other children as well.

 

 

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the landscaper’s hat

hat_landscaper

 

 

 

 

The landscaper’s hat is a much more important hat than many realise.   The environment we provide is a critical element in a student’s perception about whether the library is for them and their choice to use it.

In 1999, eminent management researcher, Peter Drucker predicted that in the Information Age workforce of the 21st century the most successful person will be a knowledge worker – one who

    • has had a strong formal education
    • is able to apply theory to a practical world
    • can continually update their knowledge and upgrade their skills.  
    • is able to access, evaluate, interpret and use information
    • is committed to lifelong learning.

Their greatest assets will be what is between their ears and their ability to continually learn.

The library is the information center of the school and its staff are the information specialists.  We know how to provide “[the] services that make specific suggestions about how to use the information, [how to] ask specific questions regarding the user’s business and practices, and perhaps provide interactive consultation” that Drucker (2001) says are necessary for the knowledge worker to be able to make meaning from the information.

It is in the library, and through the programs and products that we offer, that the knowledge workers of the future will be nurtured.

But to be nurtured, they need to be in the library and so it needs to be a place that invites them in.

Does your library look like the one ruled over by Madam Pince at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, in J. K. Rowling’s series about Harry Potter –  “tens of thousands of books, thousands of shelves, hundreds of narrow rows”?

Is this your library?

Is this your library?

Are those books standing shoulder-to-shoulder like soldiers in mufti, in strict alphabetical or numerical order, ranks only broken when some clever student breaks the code and finds what she is looking for?  Is it quieter than troops being inspected by the general, a place only for reference and research, serious study, and no nonsense?

Or is it a place that invites and excites?

Or does it invite and excite?

Or does it invite and excite?

As well as Drucker’s research, research into learning tells us

  • the brain functions at many levels simultaneously as thoughts, emotions, imagination,  predispositions and physiology  interact and exchange information with the environment
  • the brain absorbs information both directly and indirectly,  continually aware of  what is beyond the immediate focus of attention, to the extent that 70% of what is learned is not directly taught.
  • learning involves conscious and unconscious processes, including experience, emotion and sensory input, and that much of our learning  occurs and is processed below the level of immediate awareness so that understanding may not happen until much later after there has been time for reflection and assimilation
  • the brain is “plastic” because its structure is changed (or ‘rewired’) by exposure to new experiences so the more we use it, the better it gets.
  • the brain is stimulated by challenge and inhibited by threat, so students in safe, secure environments, both mental and physical, can allow their cognitive brains to dominate their emotional brains and will explore, investigate, take risks and learn.
  • that 30%-60% of the brain’s wiring comes from our genetic makeup (nature) and 40%-70% comes from environmental influences and impact (nurture)
  • the two critical factors in learning are novelty and interactive specific feedback

In addition, in What Do I Do on Monday? eminent educator John Holt talks to us about the four worlds of learning.

 

The Four Worlds of Learning

The Four Worlds of Learning

The first world is that intense, personal world of our thoughts, emotions, attitudes, values, and preferences based on our experiences and how they have all merged to give us our perception of the world.  It is a changing world, but the common core of beliefs strengthens as we age as we tend to take from experiences that which confirms those beliefs.

The second world is that of the memory of what we have actually seen and done.  It is the world of direct experience, the things we have seen, felt, smelt, touched, heard, tasted by ourselves and with others.  These interactions with the world around us shape our World 1.

The third world is the world we know because we have learned that it exists.  It is the world of books, television, movies, plays, pictures, the internet – it is the world of words and pictures that others create for us to learn about.

The fourth world is the world we don’t know about yet.  It has no boundaries.  It is a world of possibilities because we don’t know what is in it simply because we don’t know what we don’t know.

As we learn each world influences the other. Learning is how we integrate our experiences into our knowing.

 

gateway

The library is the gateway to World 3.  Through the world of words and pictures we can introduce our students to worlds that they don’t yet know, or explore the worlds they have visited via television, the movies or the internet.  

peek_inside

 

The library allows them to revisit their experiences in World 2, to shape their World 1 and have a peek into World 4.

The astute teacher-librarian will understand the impact these research findings can have on the services we offer and how we offer them.

With a little imagination, it is easy to compromise between the austerity of Hogwarts and the flamboyance of the bookstore that thinks it is a coffee shop. Your library can be a place where the students choose to be even when they don’t have to, as well as a must-see on the principal’s itinerary when prospective parents are shown through the school. And you can have confidence that the environment is built around sound pedagogical principles which provide sound evidence for the time you spend creating it. 

Giving your library the WOW factor does not mean having to change any of your core business practices.  It just means examining what you do and considering how you could do it with a bit more flair.

peek_inside2

 

Place your Space 

Whether you are planning a brand new library or renovating an established one it is important to go back to basics and identify

  • what is the purpose of your school library now and envisaged
  • who are its target users
  • what are their interests, needs, abilities, demands and priorities
  • what essential services must be provided to meet those needs and priorities
  • what resources will meet those needs and in what formats and how these will impact on layout
  • which parts of the library are best suited to providing those services
  • what is the library’s role in helping students develop an awareness for and appreciation of aesthetics
  • how the users tend/want to use the library’s spaces
  • how the library can be future-proofed by being able to respond to significant changes without significant investment 

Answering those questions means you can develop a plan that organizes your space and provides you with a priority list of projects. 

  • Create a scale floorplan of your space and mark in the fixed furniture and fittings, windows and power points.
Floorplans help place the space

Floorplans help place the space

 

  • Check your building or district fire safety regulations so you can comply with their entry/exit requirements, what can be put on walls, hung from ceilings and any other constraints. Make sure that nothing interferes with the line-of-sight of your security cameras, scanners and sensors
  • Using your priority list place spaces that are dependent on those non-negotiables, such as the quiet reading corner near natural light and computers near power sources.
  • Top priority must go to being able to see as much of the space as possible from the place you spend the majority of your time. Under duty-of-care legislation we are required to do “everything reasonably practical” to ensure the safety and well-being of those in our care. We are also charged with being in loco parentis (in place of the parent) so there is an extra layer of supervision imposed on us.
  • Consider the needs of the disabled so they are able to operate as independently as possible – some authorities impose regulations about minimum width access aisles and so forth.
  • Apart from those considerations, design the space for flexibility so it can be reconfigured to meet various and changing needs. Support motivation, collaboration and personalisation. Diana Rendina identifies six active spaces that all libraries should have.
  • Plan for learning that is both mobile and connected; interactive and supported; large group, small group and individual; as well as remote and face-to-face. Think about these verbs… choose, read, listen, connect, think, reflect, write, collaborate, co-operate, discuss, debate, share, plan, prepare, present, design, deliver, inform, entertain, inspire, delight, integrate, display, store, perform, circulate, meet, organise, select, play, challenge, manipulate, demonstrate, change, access, involve, engage, inquire, investigate, dream … 

Above all the space should be a place where staff and students want to be, where there is mental and physical comfort, safety and security. 

Consider the unique aspects of being a child, especially if you are working with younger students.  You need to bring the kids into the world of words before you can put the world of words into the world of kids.

What to us seems to be a regular space and regular proportions, especially if we are familiar with it because it is our daily environment, can be very overwhelming for a small child.  So we need to consider bringing the space down to their size and make it as friendly as possible so they feel that this is a place for them and they are welcome in it. High ceilings that seem to soar almost to heaven, can be “brought down” by hanging things like kites, or signs or swathes of fabric.  Connect the floor and the ceiling with Jack and the Beanstalk or other displays, or build semi-permanent displays on top of shelves.  All fool the eye into thinking that this is a manageable, comfortable space to operate in.

Use displays to bring the space to the scale of the child

Use displays to bring the space to the scale of the child

Rooms or Rows?

After making the space student-friendly, the most important consideration is access to the resources by the students. They need to be able to find either what they specifically want, or something that appeals to them, very quickly – that is the instant-gratification nature of the 21st century child.  The days of taking time and pleasure in reading reviews, browsing titles, reading blurbs, flicking through pages and looking at pictures have slipped away, particularly as a library visit is likely to be squeezed in between changes in classes or shared with 30 other class members.  Even using the OPAC for leisure reading selections comes second-place to an eye-catching display, a quirky title or a colourful cover.

Even though the need for orderly, organized access is imperative for staff and important for students, rows and rows of shelves can be daunting.

rows

So think about how you can create or rearrange sections that make the popular titles easy to find by even the youngest patron or the most reluctant reader.  Put yourself in the shoes of the new entrant who can confidently and independently find the books about dinosaurs.  How do you feel? Put yourself in the shoes of the 6th grade student who would love to learn more about Tyrannosaurus Rex but does not want to publicise his ignorance about numbers by having to ask for help.  How do you feel? If our students are to be regular users of the school library, or any other, then they must be able to access what they want easily and efficiently without any stigma or feeling of being marginalised. It is our job to make this place one where everyone can operate at their own level regardless of ability, gender, race, ethnicity, religious and cultural beliefs or sexual orientation.

Many school libraries are reinventing themselves into a learning commons.

The learning commons, sometimes called an “information commons,” has evolved from a combination library and computer lab into a full-service learning, research, and project space.

 

rooms

 

School libraries shelve tradition to create new learning spaces provides lots of examples, ideas and photographs of how to look at the space with new eyes. Many school libraries are including a makerspace and there is a gallery of these on Pinterest. If you don’t have space for a full makerspace consider devoting a table to a community jigsaw puzzle.  Attaching thin dowel around the edges prevents the pieces falling off and it’s amazing how many stop to place a piece.

Come in!

Making your library say welcome is essential. 

First impressions are critical so what happens at the front door is really important.

Have the children create a Welcome sign and surround it with the word in all the languages spoken in your school.  This display is a constant talking point even though it has been up for several years.  Children traveling overseas often bring us a doll to add to the collection!

On either side of the front door there is a water feature offering some movement and sound (the library is a talking place) that was our contribution to the ISLD Growing the Future project that was initiated after September 11, 2001.  The poem above is the students’ version of John Marsden’s  Prayer for the 21st Century.

There is also an imposing RETURNS box.  As well as making for easier administration, it serves as a constant reminder for those who are forgetful.  This one is made from cardboard boxes and accessories from El Cheapos and it works for our little people but a more sophisticated one could easily be an opportunity for collaboration between you and the staff and students of the technology department.

First impressions are critical...

First impressions are critical…

If you can, create a large eye-catching display to catch the eye as people enter the library. This can be seasonal, topical, whimsical or fanciful.  The best 

  • are big, bright, bold and beautiful
  • incorporate the students’ world
  • offer them something to interact with
  • include books, both fiction and non-fiction, displayed with the topic and these are able to be borrowed while the interest is piqued.
  • involve the children’s work.

It all helps to create the perception that the library is an exciting and interesting place to be, somewhere where it is worthwhile to spend their time because there are always new things to discover. 

Students are engaged in this display based on a popular TV series and 'The Eleventh Hour" by Graeme Base

Students are engaged in this display based on a popular TV series and ‘The Eleventh Hour” by Graeme Base

Santa's Book Shop heralded our Christmas book fair
Santa’s Book Shop heralded our Christmas book fair

If you’re stuck for an idea here are 30 Quirky QuickiesIf you want inspiration for your displays then there are ideas aplenty at Library Displays and School Library Displays or you can search Pinterest or even Google images for either general designs or your particular theme.

Being comfortable is part of being welcome. Create special spaces in your library.  If you regularly read aloud to your students have a special story-tellers space with a unique chair, a rug for students to sit on and a space to put all your props. Ideas for establishing a read-aloud space are included in The Art of Reading Aloud and the importance of this activity in the read-aloud hat

Tusitala's Chair - named after Robert Louis Stevenson who took the native Samoan name meaning "teller of tales".

Tusitala’s Chair – named after Robert Louis Stevenson who took the native Samoan name meaning “teller of tales”.

Strive to provide areas where clients can just curl up and read – either to themselves, to others or even a friendly teddy.

Comfortable seating encourages lingering

Comfortable seating encourages lingering

 

Create child-friendly spaces with permanent displays that encourage and enable independent choice and selection.

Investigate the sorts of books that your students, especially the reluctant readers, consistently borrow and then group these books together.  Consider grouping favourite fiction titles, series, characters and authors together so

  • the students can find all the works by their favourite authors quickly because they are all in one place
  • all the books in a series are collected together
  • shelves are not so tightly packed or left scattered and shattered after a class has been in
  • shelving is easy and quick

 

An array of authors...plastic tubs are cheap.

An array of authors…plastic tubs are cheap.

Booksellers' dumpbins create interest and a natural display space

Booksellers’ dumpbins create interest and a natural display space

 

Consider putting

  • all the fairy tales (usually at 398.2) under the banner of Timeless Tales – experience shows that these are the first choice of the new students making the transition from pre-school and being able to find such familiar favourites gives them a feeling of confidence and independence
  • all the perennial favourite characters such as Winnie-the-Pooh, Franklin, Spot, Arthur, and Elmer under the banner of Family Favourites – again, the children feel very grown up being able to find these for themselves and show their parents who often come in after to school to borrow together. 
  • all the series in their own tubs under the banner Select-a-Series –ice cream containers, lunch boxes and planter boxes are sturdy, cheap and easy to obtain
  • all the works by popular and prolific authors together. 

If you see a display stand in a shop, don’t be shy about asking if you can have it when their display is over for your library.  Often they will be grateful that they don’t have to worry about disposing of it.  Cover any unwanted advertising with colorful, self-adhesive paper, turn the header board inside out and create your own, and for the time it took you to collect it, you have a personalized yet professional stand. Ask for the posters and any other paraphernalia that accompanies the display and then re-create the display in your library. 

fiction3

Even though it make take some time to arrange your collection like this, the increase in circulation and students’ discussions and recommendations  will make it more than worthwhile.

Uncover the Covers

Let’s return to one of those principles of learning that underpin the need to landscape the library

  • the brain functions at many levels simultaneously as thoughts, emotions, imagination,  predispositions and physiology  interact and exchange information with the environment

Many researchers have proven that the key factor in book selection is the book’s cover, so it makes sense to display as many books with their covers showing as you can. Think of some of the more successful bookstores that you have visited.  Do you spend ages getting a crick in your neck because it is turned sideways to read titles on spines? Or are you attracted to those books whose covers you can see? Did you know that, just as in supermarkets, publishers pay bookstores for a book to be displayed with the cover facing out, because they know that the cover sells the product?

Like us, children don’t choose books that look like they have “don’t touch me” signs on them, that are lined up with just a sliver of spine bravely trying to sell themselves and packed so tightly that little fingers cannot prize them apart, creating a barrier rather than a gateway.

Make mini-displays wherever you can that allow covers to be displayed and to give the students greater access to new authors, genres and topics.  These can be about anything that takes your or the students’ fancy, be as large or as small as space allows, and be as temporary or permanent as you want, but the aim is to get the covers of the books to catch the eye.

Mini-displays can fit into small spaces and invite exploration

Mini-displays can fit into small spaces and invite exploration

Encourage the students to have input to and ownership of the space by inviting them to create displays; asking class teachers to contribute the students’ work to accompany collaborative research projects and inviting them to read, reflect and review their reading and share it with others.

Encourage students to have ownership of the space by seeking their input.

Encourage students to have ownership of the space by seeking their input.

 

Facing Facts

In the 1870s, Melville Dewey spent a lot of time organizing subject areas to create a classification system that is now used in more than 200,000 libraries in 135 countries in more than 30 languages.  According to the Online Library Computer Center (OCLC), the official owners of the Dewey system, 95 percent of all public and K-12 school libraries use the system.

While it is very important that our students know how to use this system to be able to find specific titles, and there is a strong argument that understanding how to locate a resource is a transferable lifelong skill, it is not much use to them if the students cannot and do not want to read.  So, in the elementary system at least, there is an equally strong argument for manipulating the arrangement so that students are encouraged to choose to read. Time enough for them to learn the difference between 994.04 and 994.4.

The nature of non-fiction means that more-or-less adhering to the Dewey Decimal Classification system in the non fiction sector of the library makes sense. Even if you use a simpler adaptation to meet the needs of your students, staying within the basic concept encourages independence and helps them build lifelong skills. Nevertheless, it is still possible to make certain subjects easier to access and circulate.  Again, do some in-house investigations to identify the subjects most often borrowed by the students, particularly for leisure reading.  Books about topics such as space, pets, dinosaurs and cars are usually borrowed before they are shelved, so consider giving these a space of their own in your non-fiction section.

Consider putting

  • all the picture puzzle books (usually at 793.73) under the banner Pick-a-Puzzle
  • all the joke and riddle books (usually at 808.88) under the banner of Side-Splitters
  • all the Horrible Histories, Horrible Science and their cousins on a stand
  • all those skinny beginner information series in baskets or a stand so that even the kindergarten children can find something of interest
  • all the books about your country together

non_fiction

Despite their not being in strict Dewey order, students very quickly learn to locate their favourite sections so they can make their selections independently.

Circulation data shows that non-fiction displayed in a similar way to fiction is much more likely to be borrowed, and that even if the reader is just looking at the pictures, there is a lot of information being absorbed, including the format and structure of this type of text. 

Be very aware of what is being studied in classrooms, is on the news, or is topical with students and be pro-active by displaying resources about those subjects while they are of such interest.  

Sign on

Whether you landscape your library strictly according to the principles of the Dewey system, or whether you are more flexible, the key to unlocking the space for the user is signage.  Everything must be clearly labeled so that even the very youngest student, or one with specific special needs, can find what they are looking for with a minimum of help.  Being able to find what you want for yourself is very empowering and being able to show someone else, particularly a parent, is the icing on the cake.

Signage is critical.

Signage is critical.

The best signage

  • uses large letters
  • backs up words with pictures
  • has  dark lettering on light backgrounds and the opposite for special effects
  • uses plain sans serif fonts
  • uses capitals and fancy fonts for short captions only
  • has a consistent colour schemes for similar signs
  • includes hanging signs using lightweight objects from El Cheapos strung together with fishing line hung over the appropriate section
  • has correct spelling
  • uses child friendly language

Near the non-fiction section display posters that summarize the DDC system and also a ready reference so that the student wanting a book about the moon can see at a glance that there will be something at 523.3.  

In your non-fiction section label the shelves so the student can see just which numbers are housed there, but make sure they know that 500-510 also includes the numbers in between. If you have space, list the main topic areas covered.  Sub-divide the books into practical breaks using index blocks available from your library-supply store, or recycle plastic video boxes.  Assign numbers that make sense rather than just an arbitrary number of digits.  The more divisions, the easier it is to find (and shelve) what you are looking for and reinforces the belief that this is a space where the child can operate independently.

In your fiction section, label every ”room”, shelf, container and display, particularly if you have diverged from the standard DDC layout.  Such clear signage means that students soon learn where to look for those out-of-order books and shelving them after they have been returned also becomes much easier, especially for student and parent volunteers.

signage2

 

The world of words

Returning to yet another principle of learning …

  • learning involves conscious and unconscious processes, including experience, emotion and sensory input, and that much of our learning  occurs and is processed below the level of immediate awareness so that understanding may not happen until much later after there has been time for reflection and assimilation

we can do much to support our students’ reading by ensuring displays have captions or even provocative questions that lead to further investigations.  Bare walls can be covered with children’s work samples or charts that support their learning. It will all be absorbed at an unconscious level.

Wherever you can have the students contribute to the wording, design and construction of the charts. Ownership is a powerful motivator. Charts can include behaviour guidelines, borrowing instructions, instructions for using the OPAC or caring for books.  It gives them ownership of the space and is one more way to put the world of words into their world. 

Captions and instructions encourage students to read.

Captions and instructions encourage students to read.

Retailers spend millions of dollars on market research to identify what entices customers to buy and what turns them off

Reuse, recycle, rethink

So you don’t have to be an interior designer (frustrated or otherwise) to landscape your library.  Every time you go shopping, look at displays and how they are constructed and then take the ideas and elements and reproduce them.

Think of it as recycling – their research and its output into your environment – two displays for the cost of one!

There are many subtle ways that they get us to part with our money.  Consider how you might employ some of these tempters in your library.

 

With just a little knowledge and lots of imagination you can make your library a model of the very best in student learning environments and know that you are putting the world of words into the world of kids.

 

And, if you want to read further try

Divine Design: How to create the 21st-century school library of your dreams

Learning Commons Transformation – Ten Steps

Ideas for Inspiring Contemporary School Library Design

Power Up! / The New School Library

School Library Journal’s Buildings/Design page

Can the physical environment have an impact on the learning environment?

Designing Spaces for Learning 

Designing Spaces for Effective Learning

Spaces for Knowledge Generation – Seven Principles

Learning Spaces

Contemporary Library Checklist

50 of the Most Majestic Libraries in the World

Designed for Learning: School Libraries

 

References

Caine R. and Caine, G. 1994 Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain, Menlo Park, Calif.: Addison-Wesley

Drucker, P. F. 1999 Management Challenges for the 21st Century New York: Harper Business

Drucker, P. F. 2001 The Essential Drucker  New York: HarperCollins

Industry Commission, Work, Health and Safety, Report No. 47, Sept 1995, National Occupational Health and Safety Commission, Australia

Jensen, E. 1998 Teaching with the brain in mind Alexandra, VA: ASCD

Oliver, M. & Christenson, J. 2001 The Rain Gutter Literacy Revolution

Rippel, C. 2003 What libraries can learn from bookstores : applying the bookstore model to public libraries

 

 

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the game-player’s hat

hat_gameplayer

 

 

 

As the cooler days of Australia’s winter encroach, more and more students make their way to the library as a warm haven during recess and lunch breaks. But to expect them all to want to curl up and read for that time may be a bit ambitious so this is a perfect opportunity to introduce them to some of the “old-fashioned” board and card games of yesteryear.

Those of us of a certain vintage may well remember the family nights where televisionwas turned off (if there were a television) and games like Monopoly, Scrabble and Squatter would be set up or a lively game of cards would ensue.  As well as being entertained, we absorbed the social niceties of taking turns, sharing, patience and how to lose gracefully while learning to think strategically, plan ahead, and know enough maths to keep the scorer/banker honest. Like traditional fairytales, the best games always had something to teach us.

While today’s students seem to be entranced with screen-based games, the library can become the place where more traditional formats are introduced and so much learning can take place. Games enable students to

  • collaborate with their peers to set goals, rules, deadlines and make collegial decisions through negotiation
  • develop an understanding of “fair play” and the need for rules to ensure this happens
  • reinforce the concepts of taking turns, sharing and being gracious in success or defeat
  • develop resilience and perseverance as there is an expectation they will play through to the end rather than giving up because they are not winning
  • have a common topic of conversation in which all can be included
  • assume roles that place them in unfamiliar situations and having to make decisions based on different perspectives which may challenge their existing ideas
  • think strategically and plan ahead, posing and answering questions, considering cause and effect both immediate and longer-term
  • think creatively to reach a solution or conclusion
  • deal with a variety of information, often in a diverse range of formats and from a diverse range of sources, and synthesise this to solve problems, make informed decisions and consider how their actions will impinge on another’s as well as how another player’s actions determines theirs  

Many games feed directly into specific curriculum outcomes and priorities justifying their existence in both the library and the classroom as yet another way of meeting the diverse learning styles of our students. Libraries Got Game: Aligned Learning Through Modern Board Games by Brian Mayer and Christopher Harris explores the role of games in education in depth offering sound pedagogical evidence for their inclusion in the classroom and library programs.  Even though the curriculum links are US-based, it’s a small jump to the Australian Curriculum.

Games were a popular part of my library’s resources and one of the most popular pastimes that continually drew participants was the jigsaw table. Edged with strips of dowel glued down to minimise the chance of pieces landing on the floor, there was always a jigsaw waiting for a passer-by to stop and add a piece or two. Even the principal couldn’t resist.  The difficulty of the puzzles varied, but given their importance in the development of visual acuity and spatial awareness, eventually I had two tables – one for the K-2 brigade and the other for those older (including adults.) Initially I bought the puzzles new to ensure they were complete, but I also got donations from puzzlers who had completed a puzzle and didn’t want the challenge of doing it again.

Board games were also popular, especially those that could be completed in a short session like Chinese Checkers, Trouble, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders and Junior Scrabble but there was also the opportunity for students to continue a longer game like Monopoly over a couple of days because I had the luxury of space to keep it set up near the circulation desk. It amazed me how well students respected their friends’ games and did not touch them during the day. To ensure fairness, students could sign on to play the next round which would include the winner of the previous game.  Chess was also popular and we had many chess sets donated after a local club introduced the students to the game at the instigation of a teacher with a passion for it. Two students who had often been seen as trouble-makers in the playground organised a Round Robin competition and one lunchtime a week, all the library tables were set up for this. Suddenly the boys had a purpose and a responsibility and not only did their attitudes changes, but the attitudes of students and teacherstowards them also shifted. They were popular rather than pariahs.  Students were encouraged to bring in their own games too and often the popularity of one of these determined the library’s next purchase. However, parents were also very generous and donated games too, often instead of a book for the Birthday Book Club.

Some of our Asian students also introduced their friends to the mysteries of Mah Jong which soon became as popular as chess and brought community members in as teachers and mentors, strengthening the ties between home and school and amongst the community, which had a broad ethnic base.

Card games also proved popular with Uno an enduring favourite while many learned to play gin rummy, euchre, whist, 500 and Hearts from their peers and teachers who also dropped in to be challenged.  (I have always taught Vingt-et-Un as a way to get students proficient in rapidly counting to 21.) 

As well as the actual games there was a significant collection of books in the Pick-a-Puzzle section that was always popular as students pored over pages to find Wally or travel through mazes or solve clues to progress through an adventure. This lead to the creation of  our own version of Where’s Wally as students created clues about where in Australia he might be for their friends to unravel, as well as The Quizzard of Oz, still going strong as Backpack Bear.

The Pick-a-Puzzle collection was always popular.

The Pick-a-Puzzle collection was always popular.

Some of the enduring memories for me of these games sessions are the camaraderie between the players, the gentleness and patience that experienced students showed as they taught younger or inexperienced children how to play, the willingness to abide by the rules and the acceptance that it is OK to lose, because, after all, it is only a game, even though it might be instilling life lessons.

Computer games were beginning to make an appearance although hand-held devices like Donkey Kong were discouraged at school and mobile phones were not what they are today.  However, there is a growing body of literature that is exploring how popular games can have significant value in the learning process both in the library and in the classroom.  MindShift examines Beyond Grades: Do Games Have a Future As Assessment Tools? and How game-based learning teaches problem solving in context while Russ Pitts examines how video games can change the world, one child at a time.  and Dean Groom asks What’s holding schools back from using games in class? In the Winter 2013 edition of YALSA (Young Adult LibraryServices)– Vol. 11, Number 2, entitled Minecraft Programs in the Library: If you build it they will come by Erica Gauquier and Jessica Schneider, and there have been a number of discussions in the Scootle Community about its use in the school context.  Judy O’Connell has also blogged about it in her Hey Jude blog post Building the (Minecraft) lost city of Babylon In fact there is new literature being published almost daily demonstrating that this is a hot topic that the teacher librarian not only needs to know about but also should be taking the lead in sharing the literature and starting the conversations.

If, like me, you feel you don’t know enough about the online gaming learning environment, then Games MOOC offers an open course designed for educators who want to learn more about games, simulations and game-like environments for education. It is designed for all levels of participation and a new course will start in July 2014.  You can look at what has been offered previously to determine whether this would be of benefit.

In the meantime, Blake J Harris has traced the development of the videogame and he has identified 10 Video Games that Book Lovers will enjoy Some of them go way back to console systems like Atari so might not be easy to access, but if you read the comments at the bottome there are other suggestions to explore too. There is also the NMC On the Horison video to view, while the School Library Association New South Wales is holding a gamification conference in August 2014 but if you can’t get to , the page offers some names of people to follow in this field.

Putting on the game-player’s hat offers the TL a number of opportunities…

  • It enables students to see that the library is about more than the circulation of books and it might offer something of interest for them
  • Creating a display of resources that include instructions for playing popular games, the history of games and even unusual, historic or rare games may encourage a shift from player to reader
  • Students may well take their knowledge and enthusiasm for a particular game home to their families, opening up new conversations and entertainment options
  • Providing students with opportunities to play games not only gives them social and gaming skills they can take beyond the school walls, but also provides experience to create their own game, a common end-product of a classroom-based study
  • Providing teachers with professional articles about the relevance of games within the curriculum not only expands their professional knowledge, but also offers them another tool with which to connect to students, as well as demonstrating the TL’s leadership and being at the cutting edge of new initiatives
  • Providing the powers-that-be with professional articles may influence their thinking about the use of mobile devices within the school and loosen some of the tight restrictions that have been imposed
  • Drawing families into the library for a Family Games Night like the more traditional Family Reading Night offers another avenue to promote the library and its services to parents, including those who share their child’s perspective that a library has nothing to offer them.

Because Games and Gamification has been identified as one of the 18 top trends in the 2014 NMC Horizon Report K-12 edition,  the game-player’s hat might become a game-changing one!

 

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