One characteristic of teachers and librarians is our fondness for structure. There aren’t many of us who like chaos in our jobs or classrooms. When I think about structure and procedures and how I run the school library, I am constantly thinking, “What is best for kids?” Put another way, “Is this rule for ME or for the kids?”
A discussion I have had recently with colleagues has had me thinking. A school librarian asked me how I limit my first and second graders in choosing books. “Is there a shelf for them? Do you color code books with stickers on the spine?” she asked. I replied that I do none of these things. Their area for checking out is the entire library. I do not limit them to just Easy books. I do not restrict them from checking out nonfiction if they want to. (I have made a concerted effort to purchase nonfiction books for all reading levels. The publisher Capstone does an exceptional job in creating these, in my opinion.) It’s my feeling that kids should be allowed access to whatever they want to read. Period.
When I began my career as a school librarian, I often quizzed kids in the checkout line, “Is someone going to read that to you?” (my comment to a second-grader about a Harry Potter book) or, “I think that book is too hard for you. Let’s find another one.” I stopped doing that because I realized it’s really none of my business. Of course, I want to encourage reading and my readers, no matter what the level. But asking questions and interrogating my students served no purpose. Guess what? If the book is too easy, they will return it. If it’s too difficult, they will return it. That’s when I was able to have a meaningful conversation about the book and why that book didn’t work for them and was able to suggest another book that might be a better fit.
Besides thinking about what shelves are accessible for your students, it might be time to think about how many books do you let your kids check out. A friend of mine, Janice Raspen of Stafford County Public Schools, was a school librarian in an elementary school for many years. After running a successful summer library program where families checked out as many books as they wanted each week, she decided it seemed cruel to limit the students to only one or two books during the year. So she started unlimited checkout for students in third through fifth grades. Students could check out as many books as they needed, and the only thing she monitored was the number of overdue books. If more than two books became overdue, students weren’t allowed to check out more until they returned the old ones. While at first, she admits, it was a bit chaotic, the students soon self-regulated, and those who were more comfortable with just one or two books went back to that model. Lost books did not increase, but joy in reading certainly did, with some students checking out books to read to younger siblings each night.
In closing, don’t be afraid to switch things up in your school library.
Are your procedures working for your students? Why? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section.
Author: Elizabeth Kyser
H!! I am the lucky librarian at Ettrick Elementary School, located in Chesterfield County, Virginia. I graduated with a degree in History from Allegheny College, received a Master of Education degree from Loyola University in Maryland, and my library certification classes were taken at Longwood University. I was a classroom teacher for fourteen years before I became a school librarian and I am so glad I was. Please feel free to find me on social media. I am energized by sharing ideas with colleagues from around the world!