Think back to a time when you visited a library. Was it quiet and calm, the perfect study spot? Or were the sounds of conversations echoing around you as you browsed the endless shelves for the perfect book? Everyone’s memory of their library will be different in its looks, feels, and offerings, but it seems safe to say that no one forgets their library experience. There are many amazing libraries throughout the Greater Boston area that you have probably visited, but have you ever stepped foot inside a Boston school library?
Meet Deborah (Debbie) Froggatt, the Director of Library Services for Boston Public Schools. Boston Cares has partnered with Debbie since 2017 to bring amazing opportunities for our volunteers to get involved. Our volunteers have worked across 14 schools so far including the Martin Luther King Jr. K-8 School, the Oliver Wendall Holmes School, Charlestown High School, and more. Volunteers have played an important role helping to reorganize the libraries and scan books into their online library systems. Debbie works hard to connect us to more libraries and the number of new schools our volunteers visit continues to grow!
Debbie’s role as a Director is to support Boston Public School communities and their library team members in any way they need. This support includes communicating with school officials to determine their needs, assisting in the development of new libraries and programs, and providing resources to existing libraries. She evaluates library performance in collaboration with either her library team colleagues or BPS administration. As she stresses, support is her priority.
With the ever-increasing capabilities of our technology and its integration into children’s lives, you might be wondering is there even a need for libraries anymore? If you haven’t already guessed, there very much is! Libraries are no longer just a place for books to live. Debbie explains how strong school library programs are critical for student development and success. She brings up the School Libraries Impact Studies, a compilation of studies that positively correlates the existence of an effective school library program to a student’s academic success. There was too much for her to cover it all, but she managed to highlight the ones she found most true in her experience.
The first thing she addresses is that libraries can support the curriculum and work in collaboration with teachers. Strong library programs can teach students how to do strong research—propose questions and answer them independently—as well as how to navigate these extensive library databases, all necessary for college and career preparedness. “Libraries are the leaders in teaching information literacy, such as effectively evaluating information and discerning what is and isn’t factual.” Another big point is not everyone can afford to buy books or technology, and not all students have access to public libraries. Teachers might have classroom libraries, but the selection of books is often limited and there’s little flexibility in utilizing it outside of school hours. As Debbie states, “…a school library is a better representation of the its diverse student body that provides students tangible opportunities to look at great literature as well as non-fiction.”
There’s so much that goes into running a strong school library program and Debbie works hard to identify these key factors. One study that she refers to is the Massachusetts School Library Study: Equity and Access for Students in the Commonwealth. Of the six elements that they list, she mentions creating equitable access to the resources and technology as well as having a team of certified or knowledgeable staff. She is constantly figuring out ways to bring support in creating these strong programs, and when asked if she had plans to grow them in the future, she laughingly answered “Always!”
There is so much that Debbie and her team already does to support Boston Public School libraries, but there are also many opportunities for you to help! “There’s no best way to support us, but as we know, time is valuable, so it means a great deal when volunteers give their time to help at our libraries.”
Here’s what you can do. Sign up today to help organize Boston Public School Libraries through the Boston Cares Calendar! By volunteering, you’re letting the students know that there is a community of individuals who want to help. “It is meaningful for kids to see that people actually care about them and their education.” By helping out, it allows librarians to focus their attention on working directly with the students instead of being preoccupied with the maintenance of the libraries.
At the end of the interview, I was curious as to what her favorite childhood book was. Lucky for us, she provided me with two. She said Dr. Seuss’ Happy Birthday to You! was her favorite picture book, but her favorite chapter book was E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. Both are classic reads that she recommends everyone pick up some day.