Libraries are important places for social connections in our societies and schools. When I worked in a small public library, many of our older patrons counted on the library to serve a social function. Not just with programs or activities, but simply for conversation — about books, life, and our community. The same is true in the Camden Hills Regional High School Library. We always have a jigsaw puzzle going, community hats to knit or crochet, board games, coloring pages, crosswords, math puzzles, and more. Frequently these are the engagement points that stimulate social interactions for those who need them most.
Over the four years that I have been the school librarian/technology integrator here, I have come to know a student called C. (not his real name or even his real initial!). Now a senior, our interactions have been limited to his almost singular interest in playing video games on our library desktop computers. Because we prohibit games on these computers during the school day, this is his usual pattern: in the morning I watch C. come into the library (checking the whiteboard for our after-school hours), log in, and play. Then he literally RUNS out the door to make it to class, his head pitched forward, backpack swinging, often barely missing a collision with another student. In the afternoon, it’s the same: C. makes a beeline to the computers and plays while he waits for his ride home. Sometimes I hear him chuckling to himself as he plays, while also listening to a streamer on his personal device. I greet him, morning and afternoon, with a smile and a welcome, and his response and expression is flat, without inflection. As a freshman and sophomore, sometimes there was no return greeting or any response. He does not interact with me, and I only rarely have seen him interact with his peers. I learned from another teacher that C. wants to be a videogame designer.
This fall, chess has taken our library by storm! We started with a pretty beat-up set that I found in a storage closet. When the chess club advisor asked whether he could give us a few nicer chess boards to inspire more interest in the chess club, we were grateful to receive them. Two of the sets are oversized, with pieces that are 6-8” tall. We leave one of these boards up all the time now and it gets played off and on throughout our days; sometimes students come from a neighboring study hall to borrow a smaller set. It was a logical next step to invite the chess club to relocate their meeting space to the library after school, instead of in a classroom.
It was a chess club day, and C. came screeching into the school library as usual. But instead of veering immediately to the computers, he paused at the desk, taking in the giant chess game in progress, with a few spectators gathered around the board. C. edged over and stood with the group. The next time I looked, he was perched on the edge of the table, offering some comments to another spectator about the play. Since that day, I have seen C. approach different chess games in process to observe. He’s never played yet, but I’m wondering if that might happen before he graduates in June.
Before this year, I could not imagine a way to facilitate more socialization for this student that would not be too intrusive or forced. Though the school library was clearly a part of C.’s routine, and a place he felt comfortable visiting, he wasn’t seeking connection with others in our library. Now, whether or not C. ever chooses to play, chess has become his social entry point, a platform upon which to practice social skills in a place of safety.
How does your library support students who may need more opportunities to socialize? Are these casual or structured connections? Is the library accessible to all of your students? How do we reach those in our community who may be at the fringes? How do we invite participation in our school libraries from all of our students?
Author: Iris Eichenlaub
Iris Eichenlaub is the Librarian/Technology Integrator at Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport, Maine. She is the 2017 Knox County Teacher of the Year, and was named an Inspiring Educator in 2017 by the Maine Education Association. Iris serves on the board of the Maine Association of School Libraries as the chair of professional development. Follow the story of the Edna St. Vincent Millay Library via Facebook (@ESVMLibrary or https://www.facebook.com/ESVMLibrary) or Instagram (@ESVM_Library or https://www.instagram.com/esvm_library).