By: Bel Outwater
Libraries are dedicated to protecting the privacy of its patrons. It’s one of the most essential core values of the profession, extending to internet histories, reference questions, circulation history, and more. Cathy Evans, Director of Libraries at St. Mary’s Episcopal School: James Frederick Smith Library, has created an innovative approach to guarding her students’ interests with her “green-dot” collection.
The “green-dot” collection is a compilation of books that deal with some of the most awkward or uncomfortable topics that teens deal with, from mental health to eating disorders to puberty. These books are housed in their own area of the library and denoted with green circle stickers on the spines so that both library employees and students are aware of where the books belong. Due to the uncomfortable nature of the material, Evans instituted a policy several years ago that students could take books as needed without using their library card. She noted that even though the library offers self-checkout, student accounts would still show what books were checked out if accessed. Allowing students to take what they need when they need it adds another layer of anonymity and prevents students from being too embarrassed or afraid to seek information or help.
The “green-dot” books were created about 16 years ago when Evans read about a similar collection while reading some professional development. She ordered a large number of books on a variety of topics and began using students (her “library ambassadors”) to help promote the new resources, and now it is included in new student orientation. The collection continues to grow and is an important part of the services that the library offers to the students of St. Mary’s. Recently, books on gender-identity and LGBTQIA+ have been important additions to the collection. She is currently working with Overdrive to create a digital collection of Parent Resources – a virtual “green-dot” collection for adults to help them understand what their teens are going through. She hopes to roll this initiative out after spring break.
Cathy was one of the ten recipients of the prestigious 2019-2020 “I Love My Librarian” award. While the “green dot” collection may seem like just a footnote in a stellar career of faithfully serving teens, Evans regards the collection as her legacy. It even inspired a book being released next month, Kate Klise’s Don’t Check Out This Book!. As Evans approaches her retirement at the end of this school year, she hopes that sharing her experiences with this project will inspire other school libraries, media centers, and public libraries to create their own collections. Her advice for aspiring creators would be to pay attention to what their community/students need – “you may think you know, but it’s important to reach out for information and really dig in.” She further stated that “once you get buy-in from the students, they will spread the word and you can let it grow organically from there.” Don’t be afraid to risk the books. Sometimes they don’t come back, and she says that is “gratifying to know that a book meant so much to a student and they couldn’t let go of it.” And most importantly, “keep it fresh”. Don’t let the collection sit there and grow stale.
Cathy Evans may think that her legacy is a collection of “green-dot” books, but it is also a legacy of love for her students and of inspiration for how other librarians can think outside the box to meet the needs of their patrons. From all of us, thank you for your service.
Bel Outwater is the Library Manager for the Auburn Public Library in Auburn, GA. She lives with her husband and two spoiled dogs in Barrow County, GA, and is currently working on her Masters of Library and Information Science at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. Before libraries, she worked for Borders Books (RIP) for almost a decade. She is this year’s recipient of the of the Georgia Library Association’s Hubbard Scholarship and a finalist in the 2019 Innovative Librarians Award contest. Working in a library combines her two passions — reading and helping people. She is also entirely too obsessed with penguins, sloths, and dinosaurs.