We’d like to welcome Alicia Vandenbroek as our featured librarian from Shackelford Library at Shackelford Junior High School. Alicia is a long-time NetGalley member, a tech-savvy librarian, an author, and reviewer who shares how she incorporates technology in her library, which upcoming titles she’s looking forward to, and tips for considering which books to read and review for your audience.
A nice place to start is with your librarian origin story – how did you become a junior high school librarian?
I’ve had a passion for books for as long as I can remember. Even at a young age, my mom always made sure I had access to books from the library. I found out in high school that being a writer might be harder than I thought, so I began to investigate jobs that would allow me to write and also explore other passions (like working with kids). I soon fell in love with teaching. After six years, I started to look for ways I could still teach, but reach a larger audience. The library was the perfect fit! It is an ideal place for collaboration, the geeky tech stuff I enjoy, books, and kids… lots of kids! Add a makerspace into the mix, and it is literally my dream job. Right now it is such a joy to see students experience things that they never thought possible and challenge themselves to do more.
As a self-proclaimed “tech nerd,” how is technology incorporated into your library, for your students but also for yourself and your staff? Do you have any goals for incorporating further technology into your library?
Yes, I’m a nerd. That used to bother me, but I embraced my inner geek a long time ago. I even rock a Haven and a Firefly shirt from time to time (only nerds will get that). What I love most about tech is that it is continually evolving. Life is a journey and you can never be complacent. Technology forces us to keep growing and expanding. I started learning code last year. I stink, but I know enough Scratch to stay one step ahead of my makers and we learn together. In the library technology is a huge part of my makerspace and my lessons. Last year we got a grant for a 3D printer and 3D Doodler pens, so I’m very excited to incorporate those into curriculum this year. We’ve added some life skill tech in the form of sewing machines and a button maker too. The plan is to do some cool wearable art this year. In lessons we use tech to enrich the curriculum through activities like online research, speedbooking, and student lead projects. I try to lead by example and then I also offer classes at both a local and regional level.
In addition to being a librarian, you also run a blog, Poetry of Words – can you describe the focus of your blog and the types of titles you review there?
Initially, it was going to be a book blog only, but occasionally I also blog about some of the cool things happening at school like our STEAM festival. I mostly review YA books because that is largely what I read, but I review other books also like professional, nonfiction, and some christian fiction. The blog gives a summary of the book, what I thought of the book, and then some other tips like grade level, genre, etc.
You review titles across multiple platforms, and for multiple audiences – what are your top tips for writing reviews?
I review ebooks, books, and audiobooks. I love NetGalley of course, because you can get the books so much easier. My advice is a reviewer should remember when reading a book that just because it isn’t appropriate for your level doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. It might be too mature for your students but great for a higher level. I just finished my first fiction book and am currently looking for an agent. When I write a review I always try to keep that in mind and consider the person behind the book. Hopefully one day someone will do the same for me. He he.
Has having access to digital galleys impacted your collection development strategy? Has it also affected the types of titles you recommend to your students and blog followers?
Access to galleys is great because I can get a head start on books that are coming out. I’ve also found quite a few books through smaller publishers that I might have missed otherwise. Linking directly to my Kindle is wonderful because it is so convenient.
Which upcoming book(s) on NetGalley are you the most excited about recommending?
I really liked the Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan. I was surprised how much a loved Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone. I’m not sure that is one I would have picked up on my own since it is too mature for my audience, but the blurb snagged me and I’m glad it did! I desperately hoping The Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard will show up soon. Book 1 in that series was wonderful, but I am dying to know what happens next!
If you could bring 1 author into your library for a special event, who would it be?
Cornelia Funke. She is amazing!
Your go-to books for reluctant readers:
Anything Nathan Hale… they love those graphic novels.
The most requested title in your library:
Anything coming out in movie format! Recently, Mockingjay
The last book that made you smile:
Can I cheat and give you a short story? “The Getaway Car” by Ann Patchett. A beautiful commentary on being a writer. I think I texted everyone I knew this wonderful passage about how hard it is to get words onto the page correctly.