Kim, what do you feel is the changing role of school libraries in upcoming decades?
I don’t think the role itself has changed as much as the context. School librarians have two main responsibilities to our students: to help them become effective users of information and to help them develop a love of reading. As far as the first one, the amount of information available on any given topic is so vast these days that we need to give them skills to navigate through it all. How do they know if a website is reliable and authoritative? Why should they use subscription databases rather than just Googling their topic? How do they use this information ethically? These days, we’re not only helping students to find information, but to find the best information. Our second responsibility is to help kids develop a passion for reading and for learning. Whether you’re reading a paperback or using an e-Reader or listening to an audiobook, the act of reading allows you to open your mind to new worlds and to broader perspectives. “The more you read, the more you know; the more you know, the smarter you grow” is the beginning of a catchy quote, but it’s very true and especially important in a time when technology is changing so quickly that we all need to develop skills that encourage lifelong learning.
I like your perspective – I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I see your point that it’s not so much the role as the context that is changing. Let’s talk a bit more about the second of the two roles you mentioned a librarian has: inspiring children to become avid readers. What do you think are the most effective strategies for librarians to encourage children to read in their schools?
When a librarian is excited about books, that excitement is evident to children. When I was in an elementary school and would read a book to the younger grades, several of the kids always wanted to check out that particular book afterwards. Book-talking several titles with older kids gives them a one- or two-minute synopsis of what the book is about and why it’s worth reading. And seeking out the kids who are looking a little lost or overwhelmed during checkout time allows me to gauge their reading level and interests and make some suggestions. I always love finding a book for a student who is convinced he or she doesn’t like to read. If I can get students hooked up with the right book, it’s so great to watch their confidence in reading build up and see them turn into “repeat customers.” Diary of a Wimpy Kid may not be great literature, but it has built the confidence of so many kids and helped them to realize books can be pretty fun. I started a book club in elementary school where we Skyped with authors as the culminating event. The kids loved the opportunity to visit virtually with a real live author and ask questions. Now that I’ve moved over to high school, I’m still sharing my enthusiasm for books with the kids. I’ve modified the vehicles slightly: for example, I use social media for virtual book-talks that will reach more students. But face-to-face is still best, and I love engaging kids to find out what they’re reading and to make suggestions. We’ve started an after-school book club here, and while we haven’t done any author Skypes yet, attendance is steadily growing as word gets out.
I absolutely love the idea of getting kids to Skype with authors! That is such a wonderful learning opportunity!
Of course, a school community includes teachers as well as students. What have you found are the best ways school librarians can support teachers in their classrooms?
By finding opportunities to talk with the teachers to find out what’s going on in their classes. Whether it’s a couple of minutes grabbed in the hall or a planning meeting with a department or grade level, if we know what they’re covering in the classes, we can come up with all sorts of ways to help. Doing a research project on Ancient Greece? How about if I pull some books for your kids to use and show them a couple of really great databases? You’re frustrated that you can’t get your students to read anything besides Harry Potter? Bring them in for a historical fiction “book look”—a game where they’ll do a quick perusal of about 20 books over a thirty-minute period and walk away with a new appreciation for the scope of books available (and hopefully one or two of those books checked out). Classroom teachers have so much coming at them these days that if they get the impression that we’re suggesting “one more thing” on an already full plate, they’ll run away as quickly as they can. It’s when we show them how collaborating on a lesson or unit will benefit their students AND decrease their workload that we have real success. The kids get a positive message as well: regardless of the discipline, whether language arts or science or government, the library has resources that will help them be successful.
Your teachers must have a deep appreciation for you and the thoughtful support you offer. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences and ideas with us, Kim. Hope everyone has a lovely holiday, and see you all in the New Year!