Celebrating what we have chosen to do for our life’s work is steeped in both reflection and joy. School Library Month reminds us to pause in our busy school librarian lives and contemplate for a few minutes what we do and why we do it. For all of us, it is all about our learners.
After watching Dav Pilkey’s moving School Library Month video, I thought about the power of reading in our learners’ lives—in fact, in all our lives. Dav’s story about his mother’s “radical idea”—letting him pick whatever book he wanted to read—that led to his realization that “reading without judgment was a turning point in my life and that is what made me a lifelong reader” really resonated with me.
Reading for me—and I am sure for many of you—is my escape, my dream world, my reality check, and my magic. But sadly this is not the case for all our learners, young and old alike. A recent report from the US Department of Labor found the following:
“Time spent reading for personal interest varied greatly by age. Individuals age 75 and over averaged 51 minutes of reading per day whereas individuals ages 15 to 44 read for an average of 10 minutes or less per day.” (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018)
How do we change THIS?? How do we cultivate readers that feel as we do about reading? How do we build a culture of reading?
Often it’s the little things and sometime the simplest that make a difference:
- CURATE displays to generate interest. We often see children gravitate to books that have their covers in plain sight. Shelving some books to show their covers rather than their spines often helps learners find their next read.
- Remember Reader’s Advisory 101 from library school. Connect learners with what they want. Really listening to a learner sometimes helps you identify the perfect book. And when you see a pattern in a reader’s selections, advising becomes even easier. Catalogs that provide read-alikes and then deliberately teaching learners how to use this feature gives your readers independence and new options.
- Provide multiple formats for readers to make meaning about the world. Give learners who struggle with the printed page an audio option to engage them. Often giving these children and young adults both the audio and the accompanying print text provides two things: 1.) a way for readers to look like everyone else because they are holding a physical book just like their peers and 2.) a way to actually make meaning out of what they are seeing in print as they listen to the audio. Be sure you have audiobook versions of popular print titles.
- Share your passion and let others share theirs. Let learners create podcasts, video trailers, and Flipgrids that can be shared with others. Let learners EXPLORE with you to make their own virtual book shout-out!
- Don’t make reading an assignment; let it be just about the reading! Has anyone ever given you a tri-fold brochure assignment about the latest James Patterson novel?!
- Talk about reading. Use a book to open a dialogue. INCLUDE both student learners and adults in conversations about reading. Share something you like or something that made you curious. The conversation might be as quick as: “Have you read Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka? I just started it and like both the format and where the book is going. I think you might like it. Let me know what you think.” COLLABORATE with classroom educators to help them display what books they are reading in their classrooms and in the library. One of our high schools uses a display wall in the library showcasing the books classroom educators are reading.
- Broaden your learners’ world. Do your learners see themselves in the books in the school library? Do the works in their school library help them gain a global perspective? Do you share works of varied and diverse authors? INCLUDE them in discussion and provide books that offer diverse perspectives. ENGAGE learners with knowledge that allows them to extend their own interests.
- Amplify your learners’ curiosity. Do you know what your 3rd graders, 6th graders, or 10th graders are interested in? What piques their interest? Ask questions. Listen carefully. Then add to your collection accordingly. Make sure learners know about your new finds. Channel your learners’ INQUIRE skills.
- Build a community of readers. Sustained silent reading, for example, can be done at any level. One of the high school principals in my district shared with me that he loved that new high schoolers from one particular middle school always came to class with some sort of reading material. They had developed the habit of reading!
When interviewing school librarians, one of my favorite interview questions is, “Tell me about a serious book you have read lately, what have you learned from it, and how you have applied that knowledge.” How would you reply? I have had fascinating answers; some people immediately think of a non-fiction title, some share a fiction title with an important theme; others describe an audiobook; and a small group identify a graphic novel. This question gives me insight to whether or not a school librarian is a reader, an absolute necessity for a learner-ready school librarian!
Celebrate School Library Month and build your community of readers!
It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations—something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own. —Author Katherine Paterson
Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2018. “American Time Use Survey – 2017 Results.” https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/atus.pdf (accessed 4/3/19).