“Would you ever consider letting students take books out of the library for the summer?” a classroom teacher asked me in passing one early June afternoon. She glanced at my face–filled with my typical I-don’t-know-what-the-right-answer-to-this-question-is, and tacked on, “Think about it. I don’t need an answer right now.”
So I did think about it. I mean, what if the books didn’t come back? What if they got ruined or left somewhere like Detroit on vacation? What if I was shaking sand out of them for the rest of the year? Budgets are tight; kids can be irresponsible; and let’s face it–it’s hard to let go of our center of control. The idea felt reckless and absurd.
And then a conversation that mimicked my internal dialogue showed up on our state librarian listserv, and I lurked and listened carefully. What I discovered, was that my school librarian colleagues who were allowing their students to sign out books had the same return rate as the rest of the year–no more, no less (and let’s face it–we lose books alllllll year long to damages, divorces, messy bedrooms, vacations, moves, etc., right?). No librarian who allowed summer checkouts had a single hesitation or any regrets. While there were some grumpy not-in-my-library posts and a few you’ll-regret-it advisors, I discovered that every librarian who had actually started to lend books over the summer would recommend it wholeheartedly.
So I took the plunge.
And here’s what happened. Books went out like nuts! An upcoming senior took so many books home she needed a cardboard box to bring them home in. Another came and got his reading list for an off-campus class he’s taking. Ninth graders and AP students perused the nonfiction sections for summer reading requirements. A junior, anxious to try out Hemingway, signed out all of our Hemingway books. Another junior borrowed our Kindle to read all the series that were on it so she didn’t have to lug around a bunch of huge books. An eighth grader trustingly asked me to fill a bag for her with my recommendations. There are a bunch of others–kids who wanted something to read during their long car rides or while they were home alone, bored, or were looking forward to simply having the time to read something new.
And here’s the other thing that happened–each and every one of those kids looked at me, smiled, and offered a genuine “thank you.” One boy said, “It makes me feel really good that you trust me with these books for the summer.” Right there, my heart soared and I stopped doubting. Books are gifts, and when students recognize that you trust them with this gift, you have made an indelible impact on their relationship with the library.
The library should never be about extinguishing any love for reading. We should never set up boundaries that interfere with students’ desires to read more. And while I always encourage our students to use their public library, I also recognize that getting the right book often comes from a recommendation from somebody you trust. Our students know and trust me in this sense, and for many, it is much easier to stroll in during lunch or after school and have that conversation. We also live in a rural area, and getting to the town library is not always as easy as it sounds for our kids. And when our 7-12 student body of just less than 400, has more than a hundred books signed out for the summer, I know this is the right thing to do.
Library policy that benefits and promotes rather than punishes and restricts will always suit our students’ needs best. And when we have our ears to the ground listening to what our users are saying, we will know which policies will do just that. So while I’m sure I’ll get some books back with sand, and I’m sure at least one will find its way to Detroit, I have also heard what my students need loud and clear: summer access to our books.
Author: Angie Miller
Angie Miller is a 7-12 school librarian in Meredith, NH. The 2011 NH Teacher of the Year and the recipient of the 2017 NH Outstanding Library Program of the Year, Angie is a TED speaker, National Geographic teacher fellow, and freelance writer who writes for her blog, The Contrarian Librarian, and is a regular contributor to sites like EdWeek and the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet. As a co-founder of the initiative, Let the Librarians Lead, Angie leads professional development, speaks to audiences, and advocates for school leadership through librarianship. Her book, It’s A Matter of Fact: Teaching Students Research Skills in Today’s Information-Packed World, published by Routledge, will be on shelves in April 2018.