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Mira Costa High School Library Revamps, Relaunches After COVID

Feb 15, 2022 08:23AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
The Mira Costa High School library, which has essentially been shuttered for much of the past four years, is going through a post-COVID reawakening with a dynamic new librarian, cutting-edge resources, and a revamped website.

The library has been quiet - too quiet, if that's such a thing for a library - since 2018, when the facility was shut down for asbestos remediation. In 2019, there was a long-term substitute while the regular librarian was on leave. When schools closed due to the pandemic in March 2020, the then-librarian was reassigned to help with distance learning.

In August 2021, Mira Costa got a brand-new librarian, who is working to revitalize the now-opened facility and its website.

"Mira Costa is coming back to life, and the library is a big part of that rebirth," said Mira Costa Vice Principal Daniel Pestle. "It's something that has essentially been left alone for three years, and it's now coming back."

Pestle said that during the library's extended closure, he remembered the unhappy feeling of opening the library doors, handing out books, and then shutting the doors again. "Not having kids in there is not fun," he said.

Now Mira Costa's new librarian, Jennifer Forier, is working to bring the library and its website up to date with the latest tools and techniques. That includes updates that launched today with an array of new search options.

Forier is an expert in school library management. Unlike many school librarians, Forier has multiple credentials, including a teaching credential and a master's degree in education. She is also about to complete a second master's degree in Educational Technology and Media Leadership, and an additional certification in Library Services.

"It is so exciting to be able to put together resources for students and staff to help them find information," said Forier. "I look forward to coming here every day."

MCHS Library in the Spotlight

As Mira Costa's library has slowly started coming back to life, it has also been uncharacteristically in the spotlight. In the past several months, the school board had been hearing concerns about two Alex award-winning but controversial books (Gender Queer and Lawn Boy) that have been the subject of national pushback. On the Mira Costa website, the names of the books can be seen by clicking through to an external awards list, but neither book has ever been in the district's digital or physical library collection.

Public debate over the books had been simmering, but fully erupted when Manhattan Beach City Councilmember Suzanne Hadley read a portion of one book aloud at the January 12 MBUSD school board meeting, over the objection of board members. (Due to technical issues at MBUSD, the video of that meeting did not start until after the public comment period.)

Later, commentary about the issue nearly dominated the public comment period at the January 18 Manhattan Beach City Council meeting.

While portions of the Mira Costa library website were under construction, those award links along with others were removed. However, the tool that rolled out today called "Find a Book" features book finders, book lists, book awards, and library collections. The "book awards" page contains links to six award-winning booklists, including the Alex awards.

The awards list page also contains a disclaimer that reads: "The books on the above book lists have been selected for teens (12 to 18 years  of age). The titles span a wide range of reading and maturity levels. The lists are being provided as resources for students and their families. MCHS is not recommending any specific books for students and encourages parents to take an active role in helping individual teens choose books - movies and social media - that are the best fit for them and their families."

Forier and Mira Costa administrators emphasize that parents should talk to their children about what is appropriate with any resources, not just those in the library, and that parents should feel free to communicate with teachers and/or administrators if they have questions.

From the administration standpoint, "We're always listening to community members, students, and parents - including getting feedback about what's on the reading list, and what's in the library," said Pestle.

Assessment of Materials Continues

Meanwhile, Forier is continuing to refine the library's offerings, using the MBUSD policy on Library Media Centers and MBUSD board goals as guidelines. 

Forier works closely with teachers to ensure that the right resources are on hand. For example, each English class is invited to tour the library and go over the physical resources and what's available on the website.

Plus, Forier organizes grade-specific resources, such as setting out mythology books for 9th graders who are going through a mythology unit, and creating  "research pathfinders" for 11th graders as they study the American Dream.

"The last thing I would ever want to hear would be a student telling me he can't finish his paper because he can't find the right resources," said Forier.

Forier is also working to assess which tools are used the most and when. She has meticulously tracked in-person visits to the library (more than 10,000 visits of 15 minutes or longer since September) and to its website (more than 3,300 unique visits since September). 

Beyond Mira Costa, Forier maintains communications with other local school librarians to learn about issues that might arise, and she is active in professional networks such as the American Library Association and the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the ALA.

Research strategies and resources are changing quickly, she notes, and it is important for librarians to stay on top of the latest tools and methodologies. 

Going forward, Forier envisions being able to build more infrastructure in the website to help with digital technology research, and provide "tech talks." 

"I'm new, and excited, and I have lots of great ideas about how to help our students get the most out of the learning experience," she said.

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