Spotlights
Celebrating National School Library Month - Meet Jeff Flynn, library media specialist, Franklin Middle School
In honor of National School Library Month, we will feature profiles of three BCPS library media specialists and the work they do to ensure that school libraries transform learning. To see all that have been posted, please click here.
04/20/2016

Spotlight

Jeff Flynn, library media specialist at Franklin Middle School, might spend much of his time surrounded by books, but he is also surrounded by computers, a 3D printer, television cameras, and makerspace materials.

The “modern librarian,” he says, “cannot just be the keeper of the books.”

When asked about his work, Flynn talks mostly about how he collaborates – with teachers, with the Baltimore County Public Library, with students, with technology folks, and with other library media specialists.

Central to his work is partnering with teachers to use technology and research to create student-centered learning opportunities. Flynn and teachers work together to develop lessons and sometimes co-teach those lessons.

Spotlight

“One good example,” he says, “is when students in Christine Watson’s American History class researched Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists and Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans. Christine and I worked together to create a lesson that would engage and be relevant to the students. The students found background information and created Web pages to compare and contrast the political parties and debate their merits. But the students also determined how the party they were studying would react to a modern political issue, and they recorded their results on mock Facebook pages.”

As another example of a recent lesson, Flynn shares how he is using the library wiki website to host all of the school’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) Fair projects, as well as Environmental Science Showcase projects. “Students,” he explains, “are completing research on their own for their projects, and I help them with the basics of hosting them on the Web. Each group of students makes a webpage where they host their graphs, tables, results, pictures, and videos.”

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Franklin Middle School students are accustomed to spending time in the library and working with Flynn in a variety of ways.

“I think that libraries are comfortable places for a lot of students,” Flynn says. “Middle school is a busy, challenging place, but they can come here and feel safe. They can experience comfort while still expanding their minds.”

Participating in the maker movement is one way that students expand their minds at the Franklin Middle Library. Popping up in libraries and other community spaces, the maker movement or makerspaces involves students using various materials to design and build.

With a grant from the Education Foundation of Baltimore County Public Schools, Flynn was able to jumpstart the making program in his library by purchasing materials for robotics, circuit kits, coding, a 3D printer – and even low-tech materials like yarn for students learning how to knit.

Spotlight

“Because libraries have the flexibility to be the places where creativity can shine while learning is taking place,” Flynn says, “they are the perfect place for makerspace activities. Students who come in to practice computer coding might just see it as having fun with their friends, but they are doing more than that. Even as school libraries become less solely focused on print media, they are still the place to congregate, learn, and grow.”

Another aspect of Flynn’s work is serving as the advisor for the school’s media club, which produces video projects (sometimes award-winning) and the online school newspaper. Just this year, Franklin Middle established its own television studio, and Flynn works with media club members to broadcast each morning’s news.

Working closely with students in a variety of ways had led Flynn to conclude that students read more than they or many adults realize. “The biggest challenge,” he says, “is harnessing the reading that they do – online, on their phones, etc. I don’t care what a kid is reading so much as that they are reading. I am fine with graphic novels or a biography on a hip hop artist or a book on haunted houses. I actively promote e-books. I want students to see that they can read about something that matters to them, that relates to them. I want to help them find reading they will enjoy.”

Spotlight

Flynn works closely with librarians from the Baltimore County Public Library branch across the street from the school to promote the school’s and the county library’s summer reading programs. Since the public library is so close, Franklin Middle’s school library doesn’t have formal hours during the summer. “But,” Flynn says, “I keep a cart of books in the front office so students can check out books all summer.”

To make books more accessible during the school year, Flynn has created a mobile library cart. “I try to take highlights from our print collection,” he says, “and put them on a cart I can set up outside the cafeteria. That way, if the library is closed because of testing, or if I want to expose some titles to kids who might not pop into the library, I can bring books to them.”

Flynn grew up with a mom who was a school librarian, so he always knew it was an important job."

Prior to becoming a librarian himself, Flynn was a special education teacher at Lansdowne High School and Stemmers Run Middle School. Part of what led him to an education career, he notes, is that school was not a positive experience for him.

“I faced bullying in elementary school,” he says, “and in high school, I actually dropped out. School failed to offer me safe harbor or someone to believe in me. Doing a better job as an educator and leader has always been a motivator. I don’t know what being a librarian means to other people. In many ways, I’m not half as talented as other librarians I talk to – but I’ve been able to lead, make changes I want to see, and make connections with students. I’ve made being the librarian something that’s personally meaningful.”

Follow Flynn on Twitter @theFMSLibrary.

 

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