Libraries fulfill their promise when they feed curiosity, nurture passion, and encourage experimentation. In this way, school libraries can serve as natural incubators for innovative programs, thus extending their institutions’ capabilities.
Audiences connected to resources are a library’s lifeblood. A library’s staff and human resources are easily its most valuable assets. I am fortunate to work with a talented staff. Adults’ interests and expertise often act as catalysts for student engagement.
This year, we have been fortunate to run a weekly drop-in Arabic program during lunch. The program is run by one of my library assistants, who shares her formidable talent, passion, and experience with our students. She first learned Arabic in Algeria, attended Zaytuna College in Berkeley as an undergraduate, and just graduated with a Master’s degree from Claremont Graduate University with a focus in Islamic and Women’s Studies.
She credits her love of Arabic to an inspiring professor that she met during her undergraduate studies. This “amazing teacher” broadened her relationship to the language and made it an “ocean” that she wanted “to keep swimming in.”
She was motivated to share her love of the language to help expand students’ worldview and to overcome any social stigma that the students may have encountered in association with Arabic.
The feedback from the students amazed my assistant. About a dozen students attended, all for unique reasons. One student spoke a bit of Arabic, so he became the teacher’s “assistant.” He ultimately wrote her a letter of gratitude during Teacher Appreciation Week. Another student had attended a semester program in Washington, DC, and had researched Egyptian politics. She wanted to pursue language to supplement her political studies. Another student had familial ties to Arabic, but she had never formally studied it.
Significantly, this student proposed to undertake an independent study in Arabic with my assistant next year. The administration and the World Languages department are supporting the endeavor to make sure it is manageable, employs robust and appropriate assessments, and fits a schedule that will help the student achieve her goals. My assistant will lead the independent study, which represents a significant professional growth opportunity.
In this case, we witness individual interests coalescing in an informal space. A supportive administration helps to nurture connections between faculty and students, as well as push the participants to strive for their best possible work. The library allows the space and time for low-stakes experimentation and provides an opportunity to take these endeavors to the next level.
I often hear stories about libraries as incubators. Leave a note in the comments below to share some experiments you are supporting in your library.