We all know the stereotype of a mean librarian. She (always a she, naturally) wears her hair in a severe bun, she never smiles, and she peers at noisy students over her horn-rimmed glasses. She probably hates kids, and she definitely doesn’t want them touching her books. As a profession, we work hard to upend that outdated stereotype. We create exciting makerspaces in corners of our libraries. We let students bring their lunch and hang out during study halls. We teach coding, engineering, and science. We celebrate learning in a big way, and we definitely don’t shush anymore.
This is all great and so important. As schools cut certified librarians and replace us with paraprofessionals and parent volunteers, we have to demonstrate how we transform learning in new and meaningful ways. But have we strayed too far? Have we lost some of the students who most need what a traditional library offers? Has the pendulum swung too far, and is it time for it swing back just a little?
Recently, I had a student tell me that she doesn’t come to the library during the day because it is just “too much.” Too much noise, too much going on, and too much distraction. She’s constantly stressed out because it’s too loud and crowded everywhere in the building. Hearing this broke my heart. Students like this are the reason I became a librarian, and what I’m hearing is that I am failing to meet her needs and the needs of other students like her.
As an introvert, I get this. It’s tough to be an introvert in education. We have to be on all the time because we interact with hundreds of people daily. Librarians never get to close our doors to take a few desperately needed quiet moments to ourselves. I know I cannot be the only person in my school who craves a little peace and quiet. If not the library, where?
How do we make sure our libraries truly are for everyone not just in our collections, but in the way the space is used as well?
Some libraries have back rooms, quiet corners, and separate computer lab areas, but many do not. My library is one giant, open space. What happens in one area of the library, happens throughout the entire space. It’s beautiful, and powerful education happens here, but it is impossible to have quiet study areas and active learning happening at the same time.
One of the Shared Foundations in the AASL Standards Alignment for the School Library is “Include.” This foundation specifically asks us to “Organize facilities to enhance the use of and ensure equitable access to information, resources, and services to ALL learners” (Alignment 2.B.2). For now, my plan is to offer time after school for students to come in, wind down, and decompress from their day before they head home on the later bus. I will continue to look for ways to incorporate more time during the school day for every type of learner.
Participating in the AASL Leadership Induction Program has given me many opportunities to reflect on my role as a teacher-leader and my impact on the students I serve. Not only has it forced me to step outside my little bubble of comfort, but it has given me the insight to ask myself tough questions. I’ve learned strategies to make changes in the way I look at issues affecting my students. With inspiration from and the support of my cohort I grow as a teacher, librarian, and leader every day. I know my thinking on this issue isn’t done, and I encourage everyone to consider ways we can transform learning for all of our students.
Author: Katie LaFever
Katie LaFever is a middle school librarian in North Tonawanda, NY, and a member of the AASL Leadership Induction Program. She loves to spend time camping, trying new restaurants, and swimming with her family. Her hobbies include introverting, reading, and naps. Follow Katie on Twitter @LaFeverKatie and on Instagram at NTMS_Library.