Library Programming When We Can’t Get Together

TL;DR: The Lower School Library has put together a three-part program to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. Fourth grade students created an interactive timeline exhibit that shares the history of the 19th Amendment, including prominent suffragists, allies, organizations, and events that led to the historic amendment 100 years ago, as well as what has happened since 1920. Next, faculty on both campuses participated in creating a virtual library of read-alouds to go along with the project. Lastly, the library is offering a book giveaway for classroom libraries who visit the virtual and in-person space. 

COVID has required all of us to adapt and innovate, and that has proved no different in the library this year. Despite knowing that my day-to-day was going to look drastically different than in previous years, this summer I applied for a book donation from the American Library Association and the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission. If I got the books, I was agreeing to do displays and programming, neither of which I was entirely sure I could accomplish with a limited schedule that did not involve students using the actual library. 

And… of course… I got the books. 

For libraries, programming usually involves guest visits or read-alouds or crafts, but we aren’t accepting visitors, and I didn’t really have time in classes to go into the history and depth of what these women (and a few friends) did to make the 19th Amendment happen and still have time to check out books. But, necessity breeds creativity, or innovation, or invention, or desperation, so instead, I got creative, innovative, and inventive, and collaborated with and called on a lot of colleagues in the process. 

Program #1: Interactive Timeline Exhibit

I teamed up with fourth grade to create a visual timeline of the 19th Amendment. The fourth grade teachers were incredibly gracious and willing to devote some of their “frozen” block time to allow students to research and create the project. As Anna Frame noted, this did not align with the current content, but she and her team “knew it was important and worthwhile for students to learn more about this important anniversary, and our frozen block made it easy to work it in without disrupting other classwork.” 

The project was loosely modeled on John Spencer’s PBL model, which encourages choice and exploration. Students were given time to explore the topic, and then they chose a topic. Because the exploration time was so limited, I prepared a list of about 80 suffragists, allies, events, and “other” important ideas centered on the 19th Amendment. Students could choose from those or pick their own; for instance, two girls became interested in Kamala Harris from hearing her name in the news, and another was interested in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg after her passing. Students were then given access to a customized note-taking sheet that helped them focus their research on how these topics related to the 19th Amendment. Two of the books donated, The Woman’s Hour and Women Making History, were perfect for some of the student research, along with a website I curated to help guide them to appropriate sources. The note-taking sheet was in Google Docs and uploaded via Google Classroom, so it made it incredibly easy to give feedback to students and link them to information they may have missed, whether they were in school or virtual.

For the actual project, students were allowed to pick the method in which they presented their research. In order to facilitate this, I created a Project Planning Guide that helped students plan and set realistic expectations for their project – including whether or not it could be done in the limited time frame. If students asked if their project was done, it was so easy for me or the teachers to tell them to refer to the checklist on the guide, putting them in charge of their own work!

Our collaboration was a huge success! The timeline transformed into an interactive exhibit made for kids by kids right here in our own hallways. No need for special guest presenters or field trips, and it is available around the times classes have to come engage without disrupting the entire day or routine. The posters and print outs are bright and filled with so much information. Videos were turned into QR codes, so when teachers and students come to view the “exhibit,” they bring iPads to watch the movies. Jessica Farris and John Taylor helped put it all together and fill it out to look more like an exhibit. Students shared with me over and over again how much they enjoyed it, specifically the choice of picking a topic and picking how they presented the information. They have shown their excitement when walking down the hall and showing each other their work and admiring their peers’ work. 

The students also became incredibly invested in their work. Several told me with enthusiasm they were glad I “made” them research this because they would not have known otherwise. Anna shared that when they watched one of the read-aloud videos about Ida B. Wells, two of her fourth grade boys started cheering because they had researched Wells and were so invested in her story. During one of Anna’s Morning Meetings, when she asked students to share about people that inspire them, a student responded, “The women of the 19th Amendment!” 

Program #2: Read-Alouds

The ALA and the Commission also included a suggested reading list with the donated books. It was a great list full of stories of suffragists and a celebration of female leaders. Many of the books I already had, and I was able to order some of the others. But there was no possible way for me to read all those books to students, and I couldn’t have multiple copies for every teacher. 

In the Spring, libraries and our ever vigilant fair-use specialists settled that recorded read-alouds, if unlisted and for students to use for school purposes, were line with fair use, especially since we were purchasing the books for the library. To get as many books to as many students, I decided to create a sort of “read-aloud virtual library.” I pestered my colleagues on both campuses, and the result is an amazing collection of read-alouds based off the suggested list to celebrate this centennial. So many of my colleagues thanked me for including them and shared that they enjoyed the experience, but the gratitude was truly on my side. 

We are also lucky on the South Campus to have parent and member of the Mississippi House of Representatives, Shanda Yates. I asked her to do an introductory video for the site, and she did not hesitate! 

Now, teachers and students can watch the videos and hear these amazing stories when it works for them. This method of delivery also allows for more discussion in the class and  allows students to make connections between the exhibit and the text.

Program #3: Book Give-Away

Also donated were three copies of “Around the America to Win the Vote,” one of my favorite picture books about the 19th Amendment. It is a great book, and we already had a copy in our library. Plus, these were paperbacks, which usually don’t hold up well in library circulation. So, to entice visitors to our exhibit and to view the read-alouds, we offered a giveaway to teachers. The first three to respond to my email with their first read-aloud and favorite project get a book. 


The application specifically asked how I would incorporate other voices who are often left out of the history of women’s suffrage. It is such a tough topic to cover because the 15th and 19th Amendments should have fixed things, but they didn’t, and we have to be mindful of teaching these tough topics in an age-appropriate way here on the South Campus. The fourth graders did not shy away from taking on these topics and accepting that all was not fixed in 1920, and we were able to discuss who was left behind. Students throughout the school will be exposed to this information first through the exhibit, but also through the read-alouds that tell these stories in a way that makes age-appropriate sense, but doesn’t hide the truth.

And though the programs are out in the world, it is not over yet. We’re still working on finding the best ways to share this with students at home. For now, the fourth grade Virtual Saints have an iPhone video I made, but we’re working on a way  our Saints@Home and Virtual Saints can share in this amazing work by our students and faculty. 

This was such a fun journey that I almost didn’t take because I worried about time and stress in this COVID reality. But Shea Egger pushed me and others, and I could not be more excited about the work our students produced and the stories that we are sharing. 

Published by Kate Dutro

St. Andrew's Lower School Librarian

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