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The school library is iconic to the memory of one’s school days. Many people remember it fondly as the place they could find a book to transport them to another place or time, a place to find a book in whose pages students could get lost for hours…

Today though, the library is a little different. Oh, there are still books. In some cases the same books that were there 20 years ago! But there is also much more.

And that’s the challenge. In an age of ever-decreasing funding, how does a library maintain its place as the hub of the school, meet the demands of a 21st century digitally-minded student population and continue to stock the shelves with not only the classics but the latest releases from today’s most sought-after authors?

“The only way to get everything we need and want, is to find some extra money,” Lamar Middle School (LMS) Librarian Colleen Graves said. “One of the best ways is to apply from a grant from LEF.”

Graves was awarded LEF grants each of the last two years.

The 2013 grant provided peripherals to make the library the center of the school’s technology, and to transform the entire school into her classroom. Her innovation, which she credits LEF funds for enabling, earned recognition from the School Library Journal.

In 2014 she went back to the basics, writing a grant entitled, “We aren’t your grandma’s library (But her books are still here!).”

LMS-Libr-2-e1414699544446“Last year my goal was to make sure we were fully utilizing every aspect of the library,” Graves explained. “This year, I wanted to bring it back to the heart of the library, the books. The students at Lamar love to read because we have great teachers and librarians in the elementary schools who foster that love of reading. It’s my job to keep that alive. Research shows reading drops off as students age, but we can minimize that phenomenon. If we are able to keep supplying them what they love we can keep them engaged in reading.”

The impact could be seen the day the first shipment of books arrived. “To make sure the kids really felt ownership, I set up an ‘I Wanna’ box,” Graves said. “Students used the box to make requests, and then I ordered from those requests. When the books came in, I hand delivered them to the students who had written the requests. The best part of that was seeing their faces light up and their smiles. I decided to post it to the library’s instagram, which caused the kids to get even more excited as they really started to see this as their library!”

Erin Tietje, LMS 8th grade student, wasn’t the first to get the book she requested, but she might have been the most excited. Tietje had already seen several books delivered when she was summoned to the library to be the first to check out “One of the Survivors” by Susan Shaw. “I ran down there,” Tietje said, her enthusiasm evident as she recalled the moment. “I had seen the book online and really wanted to read it. I think I put in at least 5 request slips! I even stopped in the middle of another book to start this one, and I finished it in two days!”

Perhaps one of the student library aids summed it up best when she saw the boxes of books from the schools opening in 1987 Graves pulled from the shelves for removal. “Are these books going away? GOOD! I’m tired of pulling the same books from the shelf everyday! I can’t wait to have new books to read and shelve!”