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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Helping other school libraries

Have you noticed the wide variety of ways to help other school libraries popping up on the internet? Amy Bowllan posted about the Jericho Primary School in Nairobi, Kenya, needing books to build a library. Cynthea Liu hosted a Take the Dare, Show You Care event to help schools in Tulakes, Oklahoma. I want to help my hometown school library in Washta, Iowa.

This summer I returned to my hometown of Washta, Iowa, for my 25th high school reunion. While I was there, I visited the local public library which is housed in the elementary school. I spoke with the principal, Debra Bagenstos, and she graciously allowed me to tour their school library housed in the same room, but divided by shelves. Due to travel schedules, I was not able to meet with the school librarian, but I hope to see her in December. Mrs. Bagenstos shared that their school librarian begins her day at the high school for a couple hours then comes to the Preschool-Grade 4 elementary building daily. I’m happy the students have access to a librarian at the elementary level since Judy Brown who was an elementary teacher also took care of the "library" when I was a student.

I feel great affection for my hometown and I want the students there to have the same opportunities to read new, current titles as I provide my students in Nashville, TN. I was surprised to encounter many of the same books I read when I was an elementary student there in the 70’s. For this library of 260 students, they are relying upon the four internet computers for reference materials. As I spoke with the principal and advocated that she provide more funds for the school librarian to update the collection, I pulled out a couple titles to show her why weeding was essential. We were browsing shelves while I reminisced.

I went to one of my favorite areas – the rocks & minerals section – and showed her the 1954 copyright dates of many titles. I compared it to the few newer titles they had so I could show how the full-color photographs and improved layout of pages actually encouraged today’s students to read. We chatted about how the older titles were actually tricking people into thinking they had an adequate collection when in reality if the shelves were weeded, there would be few titles left. We chatted about Karen Lowe’s collection development process and how it is essential to develop a plan to focus on the main areas of need. I appreciated the principal’s spending Reading First grant money on classroom collections, but my heart ached to see how much was needed in the school library. This principal really cares about building a fine collection and was a delight to chat with. She wasn’t offended by any suggestions I made, but let me share my desire to help.

I’m not trying to take over a collection or tell anyone what they are doing wrong. I simply ache to provide new titles to these students. So, this is what I have decided. When I am reviewing elementary titles that are too young to put in my middle school collection, I am going to ship them back to the River Valley Elementary School library. Principal Debra Bagenstos actually offered to reimburse me for my postage in appreciation. I know this would come out of her own pocket and this made me teary to see how much she cares for providing access to new books for her students. 

River Valley Elementary School Reference collection
Newest Encyclopedia in the school section was the 2002 World Book Encyclopedia.
Reference materials
Reference Materials

This elementary school serves four communities – Cushing, Correctionville, Quimby, and Washta in two counties. I took some quick photographic notes of the reference collection to remind me why I care. I know I can help this library right away. If you decide you want to send them titles, here is the address:

River Valley School District
100 South 5th Avenue
Washta, IA 51061
(712) 447-6318

Some quick photos of the Washta Public Library:

I loved reading series fiction as a child from the Washta Public Library and see some of my favorites from then – Trixie Belden, the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, etc.
These are the encyclopedias available to the public library patrons. Yes, their copyright dates are 1991 and 1977.
These comfortable chairs look welcoming to me. There were many new ficiton titles I’d like to read available in the public library.
I found the old photographs of each class from the schools that are now part of River Valley: Washta and Willow. I hope none of you ever see my high school graduation picture. It would keep rodents out of your house!
I like the note on the desk about patrons returning videos. My sons love using the video collection when we visit. You can see the adult collection to the left.
Public Library shelves for the adult fiction and nonfiction.
The children’s section of the public library. The hours have improved beyond the 2-4 Wed and 2-4 Sat when I was growing up.


  1. Amy Bowllan says:

    Wow, Diane! What an awesome post! Thank you, friend.