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Indianapolis Middle School wins Sara Jaffarian School Library Program award

The American Library Association (A.L.A.) announced Tuesday, June 24, 2014, “An Indiana middle school library has been recognized… for its work in creating an innovative genealogy program for eighth-graders.”

Perry Meridian Middle School in Indianapolis won the 2014 Sara Jaffarian School Library Program Award for Exemplary Humanities Programming for its “R.O.A.D. (Research, Observe, Analyze, Discover) I Travel” unit, created in 2013 in partnership with the Indiana State Library and Indiana Historical Society.

The school library will receive a plaque recognizing the achievement, a cash award of $5,000 and promotion on A.L.A. Web sites and other media. The applicant was Leslie Preddy, Perry Meridian’s Library Media Specialist.

The A.L.A. stated, “Over one semester of “R.O.A.D. I Travel,” librarians assisted nearly 500 students in researching their family histories online and in historical newspapers on microfilm. The students learned from historians and preservationists how to interpret historical photos and preserve family documents, practicing interview techniques to gather knowledge from relatives.”

The unit culminated in a project fair, where students displayed videos, scrapbooks, student-made family cookbooks and demonstrations of unique family hobbies…

The Jaffarian Award selection committee noted the unit’s success in meeting multiple learning objectives, with students learning research skills and gaining an understanding of their family’s past.

Elsewhere, the A.L.A. stated, “Over the course of one semester, librarians assisted five eighth-grade classes and nearly 500 in researching their family histories online and in historical newspapers on microfilm. The students visited the Indiana State Library and the Indiana Historical Society, learning from historians and preservationists how to interpret historical photos and preserve family documents. Students also interviewed family members and caregivers to learn more of their family history, developing valuable memories as well as in-depth learning skills. The R.O.A.D. I Travel project culminated in each student's creation of a personal research goal and plan, with an independently developed personal family research project presented at a community project fair.”

“Normal library experiences cannot touch the in-depth scope of the R.O.A.D. unit,” wrote Ms. Preddy, who nominated her school. “Students were able to access materials and resources not normally available to middle-school students. Their engagement in extensive research over the majority of the semester was unlike any project in the history of our school.”

In the application, Ms. Preddy wrote, in part, “The Indiana State Library was a critical component to this project. Through phone calls, emails, and face-to-face meetings, we brainstormed what was feasible for both the educators and the state librarians. The excitement from the state librarians and the educators was palpable as we planned this project together.”

We didn't want the only teaching voices students experienced to be those of the teachers they already knew. We wanted to familiarize students with the field experts throughout the community. Videos were created by the Indiana State Library for us to incorporate into the lessons and were the first contact students had with these experts.

Previous to this project, students had no knowledge of the “Ask-A-Librarian” feature available through many library websites. We incorporated the experience of consulting an expert so students could learn firsthand that an information expert was as easy with the Internet. Students used their school-provided email account and the Indiana State Library “Ask-A-Librarian” website form to request the meaning and origin of their surnames. Prior to this, we worked with the state librarians to prepare them for the nearly 500 inquiries they would receive in one week and the quick responses required for the unit to progress efficiently.

Our students also needed experiential knowledge of their community resources; therefore, we coordinated a field-trip to the Indiana State Library and the Indiana Historical Society. Most students were unfamiliar with both, which made this trip especially powerful. This one experience single-handedly expanded how students thought of information retrieval, learning, and their community. During the field-trip, students received formal training from genealogy experts on using and researched their birth date using historical newspapers on microfilm. During a companion visit with the Indiana Historical Society, students learned from historians and preservationists through hands-on activities how to preserve family documents and interpret historical photos.

Active family engagement in students’ learning was key to the unit’s success. Students made valuable memories by interviewing family members and caregivers. After receiving training and practice conducting interviews, students led simple personal history interviews of their mother and father. In a later phase of the unit, students conducted a higher-level Family History Interview using a personal interview format customized and adapted for the project with permission from the Purdue University 4-H Youth Development genealogy project manual. Students developed more in-depth learning through these activities: interview skills, making an interview appointment, interview etiquette, utilizing technology to conduct long-distance interviews, and developing interview questions.

“‘R.O.A.D. I Travel’ is an excellent program resulting from a unique collaboration between school library, state library and state historical society,” said Nancy Keane, a school librarian at Rundlett Middle School in Concord, New Hampshire, and Chair of the Jaffarian Award Selection Committee. “We commend the applicant and participants for their innovative use of school and community resources.”

Established in 2006 to recognize and promote excellence in humanities programming in elementary and middle school libraries, the A.L.A.’s Jaffarian Award was named in honor of the late Sara Jaffarian (1915-2013), a school librarian and longtime A.L.A. member. It is presented annually by the A.L.A. Public Programs Office in cooperation with the American Association of School Librarians (A.A.S.L.), a division of the A.L.A.

A committee comprising members of the A.L.A. Public and Cultural Programs Advisory Committee (P.C.P.A.C.), the A.A.S.L., and the Association for Library Services to Children (A.L.S.C.) annually select the award-winner. Sara Jaffarian was a member of the A.L.A. for over sixty-three years.

The A.L.A.’s Cultural Communities Fund (C.C.F.) funds the Jaffarian Award. In 2003, a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities kick-started a campaign to secure the future of libraries as cultural destinations within the community.
Since then, the C.C.F. has grown to more than $1,700,000, serving libraries as they serve their communities through the highest quality arts and humanities programs. One can contribute to the C.C.F., visit

One can read more about the "R.O.A.D. I Travel" program here. The Indiana State Library Watch created a series of videos for "R.O.A.D. I Travel."

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