What can a library be?

Stony Evans
Library media specialist
Hot Springs, Arkansas, USA

Do you ever stop and think about what the school library can be for your learning community? It is easy to get caught up in the daily activities and forget about the endless possibilities that exist for our learners. As I prepare to begin my 10th year as a school librarian, I’ve been thinking about how the library spaces and resources can transform our students’ lives. I would like to share some recent happenings that have illustrated this to me.

A safe place
Recently we hosted an 8th grade school-wide orientation. It was a busy day of meeting countless new students. As these young people arrived at the high school for the first time, I thought about how intimidating this transition must be for them. It was also easy to see which students were new to our district, since they were usually standing by themselves. How uncomfortable this must have been for them.

I enjoyed seeking these students out and introducing myself and our library staff to them. Such connections will undoubtedly direct some of them to find us again in the library. In years past, the library has been a safe haven for many of our students in all year levels. It is fulfilling to know that we can accomplish this by being friendly and showing interest in the students that visit. Most of the time, all it takes is a simple ‘Good morning’, ‘How are you?’, or ‘I’m glad you are here’. As I reflect back through the events of the day, I’m glad I took the time to visit with so many new students. This was an investment that will bring new customers to the library when school starts. The library is an important safe place in the school.

A place of inquiry and innovation
We started our brief orientation sessions in the fiction room portion of the library. My teacher librarian colleague, Mrs Kaitlyn Price, enjoyed telling the newcomers about her project to genrefy all fiction titles. (You can learn more about how she accomplished this genrefication here.) I imagine many students were curious about the titles they would find in the nine different categories she established in the space. I feel certain many will return to browse their favourite genres. In fact, one student proclaimed he would read every one of our science fiction/fantasy titles!

For the next part of our orientation, we moved next door for a brief tour of the non-fiction room. Then we allowed the students to explore the makerspace resources. We had View-Master Virtual Reality devices, Ozobots, Little Bits, Legos, colouring pages, jewellery making resources, and our Ollie robot out for everyone to try. Each group was very engaged with all the resources. As we interacted with all the students, I began to wonder how many of them might become proficient with our makerspace resources. Consider the numerous possibilities for these students: by having access to such resources at age 13, what progress might be possible between years 8 and 12? Students could begin designing and building projects using the 3D printer, learning the basics of coding, and designing video games. Such activities may change their lives forever. The library is an important place of inquiry and innovation in the school. 

A place of connections
In the past, we have used Skype and Google Hangouts to connect students all over the country and world. We are already planning to continue this practice in the coming school year. When I asked our new student visitors if they had ever Skyped with another place at school, some hands went up, but most had not enjoyed the experience. I wonder if those students are looking forward to the places we will connect with in the coming year. Will they associate the library as a place that connects them all over the world? Will they tell their parents and grandparents about the places they connect with in the library? How will this change the perception of the library and school?

We enjoy having guest speakers and performers in the library. In previous years we have had military veterans, local politicians, librarians from the county library, guest authors, local community musicians, and more. Many students have connected with these people during our brief lunch programs. I can’t help but wonder what connections await us this coming school year. What lives might be changed as a result of such programming? The library is an important place of connections. 

Final thoughts
I hope you will join me in pondering these things as the school year starts and progresses. I want to stay focused on what the library can be for our learners. We can make a difference in our school and community. Anything is possible in the school library! It’s going to be a great year.

This article was originally published by Stony Evans on his blog Library Media Tech Talk, and has been republished here with permission.

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