One of my favorite activities, when my son was younger, was walking to the public library and spending time finding books to read together and then later for him to take out books on his own. We are fortunate, our public library is very close to where we live and it’s air-conditioned; so it made for an excellent, free, summer activity.
We’d stay there for hours sometimes, reading together and engaging with the displays that were available.
When Logan was older, he was lucky enough to have a librarian in his elementary school who noticed he was a reader and always engaged him to “help” other students who didn’t like to read as much. He’d come home with projects she’d ask him to complete.
“Mommy, I have to make a powerpoint about Harry Potter.”
“That’s cool. What is that for?”
“The school librarian asked me to try to get other students interested. So I said I’d make a presentation.”
At this time, Logan was a reader and writer. He had his own blog of poetry and he voraciously read new books when they became available. From Harry Potter (which is really my love), he moved onto books about baseball and then mysteries.
And with that same eagerness, I enjoy visiting our school libraries and watching how the librarians interact with our students and teachers.
There’s truly nothing better than watching students read. Those who enjoy it exude a peacefulness that is truly gratifying to watch. Just recently I had the opportunity to see how one English teacher collaborated with the librarian to create an immersive experience for the students with poetry.
Poetry can be tough for kids who have already decided it’s not for them. What I loved about watching the students and the preparation that went into the assignment was that there a great variety of poems and an activity that helped all students connect with poetry in some way. There was kinesthetic movement and opportunities to look through so many books. They could get messy and read and make decisions about what resonated for them individually.
Another experience in the library was when a social studies teacher collaborated with the librarian and students were engaging in initial research about the industrial revolution. The librarian curated a number of resources and went over a database lesson to help students make an informed decision about what to research deeper.
Since research is such an important skill and although how we do it may change in some aspects, there are some skills that never change. Students aren’t necessarily familiar with academic libraries; they think that using the internet is the only way to find information. We, of course, know this not to be true and that’s why librarians are such rockstars. They are true curating experts. They know how to find information and they know where to look and then how to be responsible with what they find.
As classroom teachers, we need to make use of the tremendous resources we have in school libraries and for older students, taking them to the local college libraries to help them get acclimated early and often. We never want students to feel overwhelmed in a library, but more curious. But like any skill, they need practice and right the help to get good use out of the resources available.
School librarians can:
- Introduce immersion topics for a subject if you want students to get a variety of perspectives.
- Provide students with a working knowledge of how information is organized and how to locate what they need when they are doing research.
- Provide different books and online databases for all reading levels.
- Help plan rich research and then assist while the students do it.
- Teach students to be responsible about where they get their information and how to cite it appropriately.
- Curate a collection of books and periodicals for teachers to bring back to their classrooms during a particular unit or topic.
- Make the research process come to life and aid in helping students select good sources, refine thesis statements and synthesize the information they find.
- Create interdisciplinary learning opportunities to help teachers and students bring learning across classrooms and into their own personal lives.
- Empower students to learn more deeply about content that matters to them.
- Inspire students to be lifelong readers and lovers of information.
School librarians are vital to student learning as early as kindergarten. The exposure alone to books and experiencing the atmosphere young can really set up a positive connection to learning in all forms. Libraries are no longer solely quiet places, now they can be makerspaces that invite play and curiosity and librarians are the perfect educators to engage students in the truly exciting nature of learning outside of the typical classroom.
The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.