And so I had an interesting conversation with two moms this weekend. One is an avid reader like me, and the other is a 4th grade teacher.
Here are the two main issues that were discussed:
- The avid reader feels they should do away with school libraries. She hasn't seen any worthwhile books coming home with her children, who range in age from preschool through high school.
- The teacher has a lot of strong feelings; and I've had many conversations with her before, but she says that her students just don't read at home. Any and all efforts she's made to encourage parents to read with her students have not made any difference. In her eyes, families are just too busy doing other things to commit to spending even a few minutes a day to reading together.
Did I get all bent out of shape when it was suggested that school libraries are not worthwhile?
Believe it or not, no. I did not.
Actually, I was not surprised at all by these comments because I've personally witnessed both of these problems as a parent and a teacher. And one problem directly relates to the other.
But I'm so done with focusing on the problems. It's all too easy to get so lost in them that you fail to see a solution that's staring you right in the face.
Anyone can come up with a problem. They're around us every single day.
On the other hand, it takes a special sort of person to come up with just the right solution, don't you think?
The ripple effects of a simple change in mindset could rock our world.
And for librarians, who dive into the deep sea of information every single day, those ripples could end up making some real waves.
So today, I'd like to share some ways I would shake things up if I were a school librarian. Here are just a few off the top of my head:
- Take time out to personalize book selections. There are books, magazines, and newspapers out there for every type of reader. Let their interests and prior favorites be your map. If you don't, it's very possible that no one else will.
- If at first you don't succeed, try another format, genre, and/or author. Help students connect the dots. It's a gift that will last a lifetime.
- Reevaluate reading materials regularly, and how you display them. Make sure you have a well-rounded selection, and remove (donate, swap, or transfer) materials that have not been circulating much. Make room for tech, but don't exclude other choices or resources.
- Rotate books that are on display, depending on relevance and subject. Talk to teachers about what they're covering each month and seek out materials to support them. Go above and beyond what they expect, and encourage them to use high quality children's literature in their classrooms regularly.
- Teach students how to use a wide variety of resources for research. They need to know how to sort and sift through web sites and other nonfiction reading materials to evaluate quality and reliability.
- Emphasize the importance of creating original work, and make sure they understand the difference between paraphrasing and plagiarism. Students also need to know how and why they must give credit when credit is due.
- Limit information overload for yourself and your students. Seek out and recommend only the very best materials, encouraging students (and teachers) to mix up the format. Some may prefer eReaders, and some may like books-in-print. That's okay, as long as you have many choices available and students understand the value and limits of each.
- Strike up conversations with students about the benefits and risks of using social media, and even start a club to help them use it responsibly.
- Open up conversations about current events which might spark heated debates, which might even spark them to act in some way. Get them thinking and problem solving!
- Set up surveys online so students can anonymously (track by class) provide info about reading preferences, internet safety, and brainstorm ways to improve the library program or even the school. Share such information with staff and parents.
- Set up a suggestion box for students to ask you questions, give feedback, or make book requests.
- Consider a quiet or seemingly disinterested child a challenge. You can help every child become a lifelong reader and learner, just by taking small steps. Enthusiasm is contagious!
- Sit back and let groups of students talk about their favorite books and reading habits/materials. Suggestions and enthusiasm coming from peers can be very powerful.
- Invite older children to select favorite picture books to read aloud to younger students.
- Share your own stories and favorite children's books. Ask students about theirs. Talk about how much you enjoy reading and doing research. Be yourself! Share your passion.
- Reach out to staff members, parents, and most importantly, public librarians. Brainstorm ways to work together to get kids excited about reading. After all, it provides the foundation upon which all other forms of learning stand.
- Never forget the importance of the first item mentioned on this list. Never give up on a reluctant reader.
School librarians are probably already doing many of these things, but how often do you hear about the difference they're making? That's why communication is so important. When school librarians reach out to students, parents, and other staff members, they're more likely to see how much value they add.
Like I said last week, librarians need to be that shiny red car, and make their passion shine through for all to see. Their jobs may depend upon it, but so does the future of education.
All children need to have some kind of personal librarian in their lives. At the rate we're going, all adults will need one too! There are just too many reading materials to sort through, and it's not going to get any easier.
Any way you slice it, reading is the future. The future is reading.
The lack of it in our homes and schools is a very real and scary problem, but let's not allow it to paralyze us. Instead, let's cheer on and support our school librarians. And since summer's approaching, it's the perfect time to make a trip to the public library.
More on public librarians another day.
Would you like to share a story about your school library? We'd love to hear it! Or, feel free to add to this list.
For further reading: