“How do you do inventory if you can’t close the library because you’re letting kids take books out for the summer?” The criticism in the other school librarian’s voice was not even trying to veil itself behind a smile.
“I don’t do inventory,” I admitted. “I mean, there were some kids eating lunch in the library a couple years ago, and they asked if they could take books out for the summer, and that got me thinking…” My voice trailed off at the sight of her expression. “They eat lunch in the library?” she asked. I suddenly found myself, once again, under the weight of heavy judgment. I am always doing things “wrong” in the library.
But sometimes it’s worth doing the wrong things for the right reasons–especially when our right reasons are our students
I let kids eat lunch in the library.
The premise of a library lies at the intersection of truth and justice. It is the heart of the school where all are welcome and safe, where needs are met and potentials challenged. I didn’t start to let students eat in the library because I didn’t feel like battling the food issue. Instead, I let kids eat in the library because that is the just thing to do.
- Like us, for a variety of reasons, some students need to work through their lunch. I’d rather them take bites of a sandwich and put words on a page rather than choose between the two.
- Some students like the quiet break to sit and read during their lunch. There are several regulars who just opt to sit by themselves and, for 20 minutes, fall into a good story while they eat.
- Some students do not feel safe or comfortable in the cafeteria. Students who have Aspergers, autism, or social anxiety gravitate during their lunch period, where they can either sit with a small group of trusted friends or by themselves to prepare for their next transition.
Lunch in the library can bring its own share of battles, but we tell kids who want to just come and hang out that hanging out during lunch is completely acceptable–just in the cafeteria. Every public room has its own function, and part of ours is to ensure that every child has a comfortable, functional, and safe place to be.
I let kids sign out DVDs and movies.
There is no room filled with teacher-only materials in our library. Just as we don’t purchase and house the entire English department’s book copies of To Kill a Mockingbird, we don’t do that for audio-visual resources, either. We are a supplementer to curriculum materials, not the warehouse for them. The library is about access for all patrons, and we want to make sure that culturally important cinema is readily available. Not only do we have Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird, but we have also have J-Law in Mockingjay. And while I am always on the lookout for good movies that will augment my teachers’ practices, I take great joy in watching a 17-year-old take out the entire Star Wars saga for a weekend binge.
I let kids take out unlimited books–even when they have overdues.
Sure–there are “those” kids with whom we have to have private conversations about returning items or maybe only taking a few out at a time, but there will always be the exception to the rule in education. When I go to the library or the bookstore, my eyes are always bigger than my 24-hour-day constraint. There are so many choices! A kid who wants to take out five books? I want to nurture that greed of good storytelling. We should never be the gatekeeper of literacy, but always the gate openers.
I let kids sign books out over the summer.
Significant reading loss–particularly for children in poverty–occurs from not reading over the summer. A proactive library needs to start talking up books a month before school gets out. Bring books to English classrooms during move-up days, send out summer sign-out memes, hang signs, make beach-read displays. Ask every kid you encounter, “What are you reading this summer?” Let kids know summer is a great time to read! We have found that our rates of book loss are exactly the same as school-year circulation numbers. And that seeing a kid walk out with a shopping bag full of books is worth everything.
And yes, I don’t do inventory.
Here’s what inventory says to the school community: we are not busy enough or instrumental in learning enough to stay open until the end of the school year. We want you to read like nuts–until it’s time for us to make lists of and count our books. At that point, please return everything. Our relationship is over for the year. I know and value all of the reasons for doing annual inventory, but in the end, my students’ access wins. We only have a finite time with our patrons, and I want our library to be a valuable resource through the very last day and into the summer. And if a book goes missing and nobody has been looking for it? Well, then. That speaks for itself.
As I write this, I am uncomfortable with the prospect of being chastised–I know I don’t do everything the way I’m supposed to and I worry that my philosophy sounds like I’m embracing chaos and disorder. I know all of the counterarguments to my practice, and sometimes, in a moment of insecurity I question if I’m betraying the norms of my profession by untying the knots of cumbersome policy. But ultimately, I have decided I will shoulder the criticism and ensure that what is best for students will drive my practice, and that means that our library is student-centered, not policy-centered.
Author: Angie Miller
Angie Miller is a 7-12 school librarian in Meredith, NH. The 2011 NH Teacher of the Year and the recipient of the 2017 NH Outstanding Library Program of the Year, Angie is a TED speaker, National Geographic teacher fellow, and freelance writer who writes for her blog, The Contrarian Librarian, and is a regular contributor to sites like EdWeek and the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet. As a co-founder of the initiative, Let the Librarians Lead, Angie leads professional development, speaks to audiences, and advocates for school leadership through librarianship. Her book, It’s A Matter of Fact: Teaching Students Research Skills in Today’s Information-Packed World, published by Routledge, will be on shelves in January 2018.