My love of reading was instilled in me by my mother, who is an avid reader, but my elementary school librarian was the person who opened my eyes to the wide world that was within my grasp through the library.
I still remember the first time I read Shel Silverstein’s collection of fanciful children’s poems, “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” Our school librarian had highlighted the book on top of the “new book” shelf in my elementary school library. I thumbed through the pages, and the silly poems made me laugh. I loved it, and I was hooked.
Books could make me laugh. What else could books do, I wondered. The school librarian was happy to show me.
“Reading in general is a thing that opens worlds for people,” said Amy Carpenter, Stillwater Central School District’s middle school/high school librarian. “It’s really embedded in everything that we do.”
I was reading for pleasure, but what I didn’t realize was that my school librarian was helping to set me up for future success.
“Good reading skills will be essential throughout students’ lives—when learning to use new technology at work, when trying to understand a lease, and when figuring out the right dose of medicine to give their own kids,” according to ilovelibraries.org, an initiative of the American Library Association (ALA).
School librarians and the school library serve important roles in a school community, said Jennifer Cannell, Capital Region BOCES Library and Arts Program Manager.
“The school librarian is a teacher, and the work that happens in a library is very intentional,” she said.
School librarians help students become critical readers, able to assess the information they are taking in, and then become effective users of that information, she said. Librarians help students hone their research skills and to locate and assess sources, particularly whether a source is credible and unbiased.
“We want students to be looking at information from multiple points of view,” she said.
While that role has been constant across the years, the role of the school library itself has shifted and evolved to meet student and staff needs.
Once the place where students were hushed, the library is now the main meeting place for students to collaborate and have rich conversations. It is also a place where students—and staff—gather to meet friends, relax or de-stress through activities such as coloring or putting together puzzles.
“It’s not always quiet,” Dr. Cannell said. “It’s not what it used to be.”
Because libraries often have flexible space, there is typically enough room for those students who need a quiet place to study and work on assignments and for others to gather together, meeting friends or project partners, Dr. Cannell said.
Mrs. Carpenter said she often sees teachers and students sitting together in her library, sometimes those who don’t have classes together, engaged in an activity such as working on a puzzle.
“It’s a different way to see kids interact with staff,” she said. “The library becomes that place to build connections.”
These informal activities also help students form relationships with another trusted adult in their school community, Mrs. Carpenter said.
And because of their role in the school library, librarians work with everyone within the building, creating connections like no one else can between students, staff, and students and staff, Dr. Cannell said.
Bridging the ‘digital divide’
Although information technology is woven into almost every aspect of learning and life, not every learner and educator has equitable access to up-to-date, appropriate technology and connectivity; an effective school library bridges digital and socioeconomic divides to affect information technology access and skill, according to ilovelibraries.org.
Libraries help provide equity amongst students by giving all students access to technology or other resources that they students may not have at home due to poverty, Mrs. Carpenter said.
“Strong school library programs can make a huge difference in the lives of students and help bridge the ‘digital divide’ (inequalities between people who can afford up-to-date technology and broadband internet access, and people who can’t),” according to ilovelibraries.org.
In addition to being a meeting place, libraries also often serve as the hub of technology within a school, and because of that technology, students may not have to be confined to the physical space of the library to avail themselves of its resources, Dr. Cannell said. Students could be in classrooms or, if they have technology and internet access, at home.
Because of this, the school library has become a vital connection between school and home, according to ilovelibraries.org.
As school libraries have evolved in their offerings and functions within the school community, it has become a destination for both on-site and virtual personalized learning, which is a shift away from the traditional classroom model of students seated at their desks and teachers lecturing from the front of the classroom. Instead, students are more involved in projects that are hands-on and often student-led.
What does your child’s school library have to offer? Ask your child, your school librarian or check it out on the school website.
How do school librarians and libraries support students?
More than 60 education and library research studies have produced clear evidence that school library programs staffed by qualified school librarians have a positive impact on student academic achievement. Below are some of the findings.
- School library programs foster critical thinking, providing students with the skills they need to analyze, form and communicate ideas in compelling ways.
- School libraries are places of opportunity. They are learning hubs and homework help centers where students use technology and the latest information resources, preparing them to succeed in a global, competitive economy and the ever-evolving workplace.
- Strong school library programs instill confidence in reading in multiple formats, which is fundamental to learning, personal growth and enjoyment.
- School libraries foster a safe and nurturing climate during the day and before and after school. They are often the one place in the school that is open to all students and where a school librarian cares and can support students across grade levels and subject matter.
Nancy Cole is a public information specialist and grant writer for Capital Region BOCES. She lives in Onondaga County with her fourth- and sixth-grade sons.