Access is definitely a universal priority among teacher librarians. Technology has definitely made meeting patrons’ needs quicker in some ways, but there are many other things that school librarians do to make patrons’ library experiences better.
Creating more access for my students and faculty is a continuous journey for me. The past few years have seen a number of big and small steps that have given greater access to the materials, programs, and facilities in our library. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, hiring a bilingual media clerk was a decision purposefully made to meet our student population’s needs. This one change has given almost one-third of our students a positive connection to the library. Physical access has also been a consideration. When new library furniture was added two years ago, one of my must-have items was tables that allowed wheelchairs to comfortably fit under them. Our old tables didn’t do this, and it was hard to make every child feel included when some had to sit apart from their class or group.
A less obvious, but possibly more dramatic change has been the revision to our checkout policy. At my school, students are required to wear an ID badge, and the library policy was no ID = no checkout. While this supported the value the school placed on the IDs, it didn’t support the value the school (and our library!) placed on reading. After a number of long discussions with my principal last spring, we agreed that students would be able to checkout without their IDs, but only one book instead of two. Hopefully, the item limits will be lifted eventually, too. It’s been amazing how students have responded to this small change—and our circulation statistics show this has made a difference.
Even though all students can checkout at least one book, actually finding a book can be difficult or overwhelming to kids. Unfortunately, many of our students don’t consider themselves readers. When they start talking about books they’ve liked in the past or what they enjoy outside of school, it doesn’t naturally lead them to a specific author’s name or a Dewey decimal range. I have a long way to go, but I’ve added large signs over different sections of non-fiction and have tried to label different topics on the shelves to make it easier for students to find what they are looking for. Graphic novels are the most popular books among our students, so I’ve moved all of our graphic novels to a prominent space near the front of the library with plenty of room to browse. I’ve also started adding genre labels to fiction books. Genrification is something that intrigues me, but it is currently not in line with my district’s policies (that’s a whole different post!), so the genre stickers are my best option right now. When students say, “I want something with action in it,” I can now show them what the Adventure stickers look like and offer a few suggestions. In addition, I’m also adding labels to my series books so the kids can tell which title comes next. It’s quite the process to put stickers on over 6,000 books, but it is happening slowly but surely. And, the students are responding positively and using the stickers to guide their selections.
Access beyond the school building is another area where I’m trying to make headway. Being able to provide additional avenues for students and teachers to get what they want and need from the library is essential. I’m fortunate to work in a district that has invested heavily to provide a large amount of quality digital resources that are available to students and staff at home and on mobile devices. The school and library websites are the primary means of giving this access, and keeping this simple and straightforward is a struggle for me. The library website is definitely an area where there is a lot of potential to do more and make the library a true resource for our students and staff no matter when or where they are.
Access is something all teacher librarians are always working to enhance for our students. In addition to improving the library website, adding consistent before and after school hours and helping students embrace ebooks are next on my journey. I’d love to hear what other librarians have done to increase access to their school’s materials, resources, and facilities. Please share your own milestones on your journey to greater access.
Author: Christine James
I am the teacher librarian at Northwoods Middle School in North Charleston, South Carolina. This is my twentieth year in education, all of them working with middle school students. When I’m not trying out crazy ideas in the library, I like to read on the beach, play with my puppy, and try new restaurants with my husband.