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Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School Principal Samantha Leput addresses the Upshur County Board of Education at Tuesday's meeting. / Photos by Katie Kuba

The middle school library is here to stay — and it may even be modernized, thanks to UCPL staff

TENNERTON – The brick-and-mortar library at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School will remain intact and receive a much-needed reorganization, thanks to assistance from the Upshur County Public Library.

Middle school principal Samantha Leput addressed the Upshur County Board of Education about the rumored dismantling of the B-UMS library at Tuesday’s board meeting, saying she’s never wanted the library to be disassembled, but a shortage of volunteers and a lack of library science expertise had led to the potential closure.

The school has no librarian and instead allowed teachers to take books back to their classrooms for use.

“I understand there’s been a few concerns and some misunderstandings with the middle school’s library, but hopefully I can clear a few of those things up,” Leput said. “I want us to have a library. I want us to have a librarian or a media specialist position at the middle school. I have asked for one through our strategic plan, but it’s highly unlikely that it will become a reality.”

The library discussion began during the April 11 board meeting when board Upshur Board of Education Vice President Jan Craig asked about students at B-UMS no longer being permitted to check out books or use the library for research. Then, when Craig asked for an update at the board’s April 25 meeting, board members asked that B-UMS administrators stop redistributing the books from the library to classrooms throughout the school.

Pictured, from left, are Upshur Board of Education President Dr. Tammy Samples, Vice President Jan Craig and board member Sherry Dean.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Leput said when she was hired as B-UMS principal two summers ago, she completed a walk-through of the building and found the library space in a chaotic state.

“I made it to the library, and there were books stacked everywhere, on top of each other, in complete disarray,” Leput said. “I wondered, ‘What do we do with these books?’ Some of them, if you look in the back, they haven’t been checked out since 1970.”

Moreover, Leput said, there was no functional system that would allow students to check out books.

“The first step was organizing the library, so we gathered volunteers and they spent months organizing the library so that things were at least on shelves,” she said. “Now, these [volunteers] didn’t know what we should keep and what should go, so all they did was organize the shelves.”

“The books are still on the shelves,” she added. “They’ve been sitting on the shelves for a year-and-a-half not being checked out because there’s no system to make that happen, so we’ve worked on plans to figure out how to get the books into students’ hands.”

Leput’s plan was for individual teachers to select books to help them build up their in-classroom libraries.

“Books were not removed from the building; they were not destroyed — none of that,” she said. “Actually, at this time, there’s only been about 75 books that have been taken out of the library and put into teachers’ classrooms – that’s it. Using reverse seniority, teachers were to go in, and they were to pick 25 books they wanted for their classroom, and those would be used to start building their in-classroom library.”

In addition, school administrators had finalized a plan to secure an Upshur County Public Library card for every middle school student, but in the meantime, students can check out and download books online.

“Our students all have one-to-one devices; they have iPads, the Libby app, the Sora app are all on our devices, and kids can read and download books, so they will have the entire West Virginia Library in their hands,” Leput said. “Every day, they can download a book while they’re at school, and then it’s downloaded, and you can have it even when you don’t have internet access.”

But it ultimately looks like the middle school library is here to stay. When Leput recently consulted with Paul Norko, the head librarian at UCPL, he offered to assist B-UMS in giving its library a facelift.

“An amazing thing happened in that conversation — he is now offering to help our library sort and organize our books,” she said. “He understands that it’s a daunting process and that people don’t know what to do with the books; I don’t know what to do with the books that are completely outdated, and how do we handle that situation?”

In fact, Norko said he’d be willing to assist all Upshur County Schools in updating their physical libraries.

“He is going to come in and assess our collection of books, see what needs to be replaced and what needs to be weeded out,” Leput reported. “He’s offered these services to all schools now, but the middle school is going to get first dibs on those services.”

Norko said he could also assist with the system that students utilize to check books out.

“With that help, it will enable us to keep a library and a media STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math) space within that library, so it’s going to be the best of both worlds,” Leput said.

Board member Roy Wager asked why employing a librarian or media specialist wasn’t realistic.

“I’ve always been given the impression that if I want a position or a new position that I have to figure out what I’m willing to give up for that position,” Leput said.

“We are under the [state] formula in teachers, so we have positions available for a librarian,” Wager replied. “We need a librarian or a media specialist.”

“That would be amazing,” Leput said.

When Craig asked if the 75 books that had been removed would be returned, Leput said yes. Craig said the update “made this board and a lot of people in Upshur County happy today.”

“I still think there is nothing that can duplicate a child having a book in their hand as opposed to a tablet, so thank you very much,” she said. “I think this board will work with you to [give you] what you need in assistance.”

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