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Library Grows Despite Logistical Challenges

Students peruse the WISH middle and high school library wall during a class visit on March 18th, 2024

The Library—On the morning of Monday, March 18th, the seniors of Ms. Phillips’s AP English Literature class returned to the WISH Academy library. A quiet murmur filled the space as students spent the last half-hour of a shortened class conversing, studying, and perusing the expanding collection of about 2,500 titles laid out on WISH’s solitary, room-spanning book wall. It was this class’s second visit to the library in the school year, and perhaps the seniors’ third class visit at WISH Academy overall, despite hopes at the beginning of this year for English classes to access the library at least once a month. WISH staff librarian Allison Grover-Khoury was there to welcome the students and reflect on the library’s challenges and successes as it has striven to better serve high-schoolers in recent months. After speaking with The Aviary alongside her colleague Jen Scott for the paper’s previous issue, she agreed to participate in a second interview to share updates on the library’s progress.

The WISH library operates two branches: one for WISH Elementary at the Wright Middle School campus, and one for WISH Middle and WISH Academy, which shares space with the WESM library. Beyond the challenge of stocking books for elementary, middle, and high school students, sharing the library spaces brings special complications. On the Middle and Academy campus, in addition to the WISH and WESM libraries splitting the bookshelves (with WISH’s wall comprising about one-third of the total shelves in use), the libraries are also open to students on different days of the week, granting each school full use of the library’s furniture and reading areas on their respective days. This year, WISH gained a second day in the campus library for the first time, allowing it to serve more classes—particularly, high school classes, whose students previously had to access the library during lunch and nutrition as the middle school took the scheduled class slots. The library is now open for WISH middle and high school students on both Mondays and Thursdays. The high school’s class visits to the library take place mostly on Mondays, but students can also visit the library during free time (such as Lunch and Nutrition) on either day. WESM and co-located District school Katherine Johnson STEM Academy, jointly, have use of the library on the remaining three days.

Thanks to this expanded access for high-schoolers, Scott and Grover-Khoury have been working throughout this year to tailor more of the library’s offerings to high school students. The middle and high school branch of the WISH library now features many more advanced novels and books suited to older audiences. Grover-Khoury explained, “We have a small older classics section which would include books that people would recognize published from, maybe, the 1700s to the mid-1900s. Most of the authors would be white, and they’re things that people have studied in English class for years. But what WISH has done is really try to find the contemporary classic writers, many of whom will be from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. … I’m excited about the fact that there are so many excellent writers writing today of every racial and ethnic background, so we have a beautifully diverse [contemporary] classics section that is growing by the year, because there are so many good writers writing now.” These books are fully integrated into the library’s collection, and students who ask for recommendations will hear about many of the books which Ms. Grover-Khoury and Ms. Scott think should be studied and enjoyed today.

A variety of non-fiction books are displayed at the WISH library; many of the library’s newer additions are more tailored to high school students.

Proudly showing off the library’s display table of new volumes, Ms. Grover-Khoury highlighted two of her favorite additions: “This book is called All the Fighting Parts, by Hannah Sawyer; she’s a professor at LMU. This is just an astonishing book—it is a novel in verse, but she writes in a variety of voices. She won two awards, this is her first book that’s being published—this is a [Young Adult], high school-ish [book] that’s really amazing.” She added, “I’m hoping to get her [Sawyer] here next year to speak to our students.” Moving to a different book on the table, Grover-Khoury said, “Another book that we just got in is the young people’s edition of Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson, which I feel is a vital text that I hope is read in some class in high school. I think some high-schoolers could read the original… but it’s pretty dense, and I feel like the young people’s edition might be more accessible, even to our high schoolers.”

Beyond providing a wide and diverse collection of fiction titles, the librarians also envision the library serving as a hub for non-fiction resources and research opportunities for high-schoolers. The library already includes informational books covering a variety of interests. With titles such as What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing and Chess Strategy Open Games: How to Beat Intermediate Chess Players occupying the same shelves as countless history books and research essentials—such as encyclopedias and a sturdy, aged volume of the Webster’s NewWorld Dictionary—recent additions have only expanded the breadth of the collection. “For example,” Grover-Khoury recalled, “somebody just gave us ten cookbooks, and everybody’s enjoying the cookbooks. Several of them are checked out right now. A bunch of students just came in and said, ‘Can we get some books on antique cars?,’ so we bought a couple of books on antique cars.” The librarians always welcome new donations, and they are also continuing to explore routes such as seeking grants to speed the growth of their non-fiction section.

Expanding the library’s non-fiction collection is only part of the librarians’ vision of improving student research opportunities, however. This year, the WISH library has partnered with the Los Angeles Public Library’s Student Success Card program to automatically provide free digital library cards to all WISH Academy students. In addition to allowing students to easily check out books from the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL), the cards provide free access to the many resources of one of the largest public library systems in the country. Beyond the LAPL’s enormous collection of print books from all over the world, they also offer many ebooks and audiobooks, free streaming of many movies and TV shows, and other services, accessible both online and in person at dozens of LAPL branches. While anyone in California can obtain a free LAPL library card, the Student Success Card program seeks to make it easier for students in particular to access the public library. While the K-12 library cards provided through the program only allow students to check out 5 books at a time, they differ from regular library cards in that they do not incur fees for lost or damaged materials. According to the WISH librarians, student library card numbers were sent to all advisory teachers to share in class, but any student who doesn’t know their number or PIN is welcome to ask Ms. Scott or Ms. Grover-Khoury during library hours or by email to receive the information and start using their library card. The LAPL website also offers a retrieval form for student library card information.

In another example of their efforts to encourage students to use libraries in their daily lives, the WISH librarians also helped to organize a walking field trip to the LMU campus library for seniors on Thursday, March 21st. There, overlooking the city at the William H. Hannon Library atop the Westchester Bluffs, the seniors learned about the ways college students and members of the public can seek print and digital resources from campus libraries and explored part of their extensive art collection.

Crowds overflow after a Middle School event was moved from the Auditorium to the Library in January, 2024

Despite this work, the WISH library has struggled to become a consistent part of student life at WISH Academy this year. By March, few English classes had visited the library more than twice throughout the school year, despite initial plans for each class to access the space about once every month. Much of the issue is campus space—although WISH usually has access to the library room during the day on Mondays and Thursdays, the librarians are sometimes preempted by other WISH meetings or events. Earlier in March, the library space had been used over a Monday and a Thursday for sex-ed presentations; while students visited the library for the presentations, the librarians were not there to allow students to check out or return books. Ms. Grover-Khoury estimated that the librarians had full access to the space, without preemption by other meetings, on only about 60% of the Mondays between Winter Break and Spring Break, presenting a significant impediment to classes accessing the library on a regular basis. While using the library space in this way isn’t ideal, it is sometimes the only option when a meeting or event (such as a morning info-tour for prospective students and parents interested in coming to WISH) needs to be held during the week while classrooms are occupied.

That issue has been compounded this year, as WISH Academy’s campus co-location (or space-sharing) agreement with the school district has further limited the amount of time WISH can reserve in other shared spaces like the Auditorium and the Social Hall during school hours. WISH Middle School faces similar problems: in one notable incident in January, middle school administrators, having been delayed in accessing the Auditorium in the morning, had to make a quick decision to hold their first-semester Honor Roll Assembly in the library instead. The event was attended by a large portion of the middle school, plus many more parents, family members, and teachers, resulting in crowding within the library and dozens of would-be attendees waiting outside to enter the space throughout the period.

Making matters more complicated, while all of the middle school’s class periods meet on Thursdays, allowing all middle school English classes to access the library in one day, only odd-period high school classes meet on Mondays, when high school visits to the library have so far been scheduled. While the librarians and English teachers have been working on the logistics of allowing even-numbered high school classes to go to the library when they meet on Thursdays (of which one day each month is unused by the middle school classes), these conversations remain in early stages. The librarians hope to meet with WISH Academy administration soon to discuss these issues and work towards prioritizing student access.

Even when WISH Academy classes have accessed the library, few students have yet taken the opportunity to check out books from its expansive collection. Ms. Grover-Khoury regretted that there hadn’t been time for more teachers to come into the library and help present to their students about how to use it. As well, students seeking to check out books are required to have a permission slip on file, a step which may prove a barrier when students see the librarians less than every three weeks. Nevertheless, Grover-Khoury expressed hope that the situation would improve in the future as students got used to going to the library and became familiar with the process for checking out books. Students interested in checking out a book can find the permission form in the weekly Advisory Slides or ask the librarians for help. Books are lent out for a period of a month, but checked-out books can be renewed for longer.

Despite the WISH library’s challenges, the librarians and WISH teachers remain committed to increasing student access to an improved campus library. This Monday, April 22nd, Ms. Avalos organized a poetry event in the space, bringing in students from multiple English classes. Students there also saw the first of the new ADA-compliant tables being installed in the library to replace its existing ones, which can be at the wrong height for some students.

Over this year and the next, students can expect to see further changes to the library space and its offerings. For one thing, the empty stacks (standing bookshelves between the walls) in the back of the room, not up to current earthquake code, are set to be removed by WESM, and more new furniture should be coming to the library to fill the space and replace aging tables and chairs. Also planned are more books, as well as potential guest speakers and other events to educate the community about the importance of reading and the important role of libraries in 21st-century life.

Since The Aviary’s previous report, the WISH librarians have continued to share a strong working relationship with Mr. Howard, the WESM librarian. As WESM’s first full-time librarian since before the pandemic, Mr. Howard has faced similar challenges to the WISH librarians this year, from expanding an outdated collection of books to securing consistent times for students to access the library within his school’s block schedule. Summing up the situation at WESM and echoing the sentiment of the WISH librarians, he said that the library had been “out of sight, out of mind” for too long and hoped that his current freshman class would get to know him through their senior year, enough time to build habits and create a new library-going culture.

~ Nicholas Steinman

ForThe Aviary‘s previous reporting on the WISH library, see this article from our December 2023 issue.