I start this week’s article with a confession. I love elementary school libraries. A great school library serves as the figurative, and occasionally, the literal center of the school. Many of the highlights of my career have happened in school libraries, from staff celebrations to parent committee meetings; from sharing my favorite book with students to listening as they share theirs. The elementary school library, in my mind, is the family room of the school. So, with this obvious bias, allow me to explain why Morgan Elementary’s library is an essential part of our system.
Our library is often a unique first experience with formal storytelling and literature for children. From the first preschool or kindergarten “Hello,” Mrs. Carter, our librarian, shares her favorite stories with expression and a dramatic grandeur that often escapes us as parents. Almost instantly, the weekly trip to the school library is elevated from a procedure to an event that our students anticipate. My stand-by and frequent question for children, “What was the best part of your day?” is often answered with, “Our class visited the library!” Books are the media, but stories ignite the excitement.
From that original “hook,” the elementary school library then fosters a love of reading. From a student’s perspective, it’s the discovery of a whole room with stories for them to read and enjoy. The fact that this experience is also shared with peers, classmates, and friends makes it even more special. Elementary school libraries provide a social context where reading and talking about books is fun. A class trip to the library provides a collective group experience that can make the sometimes difficult skill of reading desirable.
Elementary libraries are built specifically for the students and staff of that school. The original collection and the constant maintenance of the materials and books required to keep that collection current, is a big job. Materials in the library also support classroom instruction. As our teachers and grade levels develop units of study and daily lesson plans, they communicate with Mrs. Carter topics and subjects that need support. Recently, we’ve increased our focus on cross-curricular texts in the STEM subjects; science, technology, engineering, and math. As the collection for each unit or lesson grows, and as the teachers refine their instruction, it is common to move a whole section of books from the library into the classrooms. This allows our students and teachers to have immediate access to the information they need.
Teachers too often use the collection and the librarian as a professional resource. “What book is a good book for introducing the water cycle?” “What do you have to support a unit on early American explorers?” “What are the 2nd grade students interested in, right now?” All are very common questions Mrs. Carter would help teachers with each day. Of course, students ask even more specific questions, “I loved the latest book by Sharon Creech, what would you suggest next?” or “I love science-fiction, what is the best book for me?” or the excellent, and ever-present opportunity, “I don’t know what I want, can you help me pick one?”
Because the elementary school library is such an important part of the school experience, continued success requires continued support. The funding for school libraries has changed from 2007, when the per-pupil allocation was $8.88, to the current rate of $0.95 per-student. Please let our representatives know that libraries are important and even an essential part of our schools.
At the same time, show your children that reading matters. Spend time together reading and discussing stories and model lifelong learning through reading. Celebrate the endurance required to finish a book and track accomplishments to show progress. Together we can ensure the continued success of the elementary school library.