Thoughts on Life in the Library

Chances are…

If you’re reading this, you like books. If you enjoy books, you undoubtedly go to the library. Let’s face it. A limited amount of space exists for books in our homes, and libraries are the only practical solution.

An ordinary bloke can read about 75 books a year. So, the question becomes, how much time will we dedicate to re-reading books? I hate to re-read, there are so many wonderful books, I can’t stand the thought of reading a book over, and missing something better.

Most of my life, I’ve collected books because books bring me joy, and I always thought I would pass them on to the next generation. But, alas, not a single solitary soul wants my books, and thus they sit, so I stopped buying and started going to the library.

As it happens…

I work in a school library. I’m currently in the middle grades, but I’ve spent the last two years in primary school libraries.

And, well, I have some stories, thoughts, and observations. If there is interest, I’d love to turn this into a weekly column.

I work in a large urban setting. It’s a minority, majority school, where roughly 90% of the kids live in poverty.

I should also mention that I am the assistant person, the guy that checks out the books and puts them away on the shelf.

I’m a certified teacher but I have no desire to get my librarian license. Cancer knocked me out of teaching, and bad luck, I got cancer again. Worse luck, both cancers could return.

So, no more higher education for me.

Thoughts on Culture

School #1

Kids walked into the library without talking. We had stars on the floor, and kids had to stand on the stars and wait for the librarian to dismiss them to the tables. They had assigned seats at the tables. When kids left the library, they had to line up on the stars, wait until they were silent, and then follow the teacher into the hall.

We had two doors in the library; if a student came in the wrong door, they were told to go back out and come in the right door. We had lines on the floor and instructed students to follow the lines when checking out a book. If nobody was in line, and a student came right to the desk to check out, they were made to go back and walk the line.

We gave the students red book placeholders. We taught them to put the holder on the shelf when they took a book. That way, they would know where to put the book back.

What happens if you have overdue books? No placeholder for you, too bad so sad. This was deemed a consequence.

School #2

None of the above exists. Kids can come and check out a book during their 4 minute passing time. We’ll write them passes to get back to class. Not only do they talk, but we ask questions.

Nothing is on the floor, not one thing.

Kids check out up to 3 books.

Kids may check out additional books, even if they have missing or over-due books. I’m encouraged to gentle mention the lost books, but that’s it. Kids can get more books, if it’s the start of the weekend, or are checking out the next few books in a series, or child’s simply read a lot.

The guiding philosophy in this library is to get books in kids’ hands.

Now, I ask you:

Which library would you want in your child’s school? (Yes, it’s not an entirely fair comparison as school # 1 has younger kids than school # 2, but still.)

Do you even have to think about it? School # 2 is where I would want my daughter to go and it’s where I currently work.

A Guiding Principle

Kids learn more when they are happy, engaged and actively taking part in their learning, and sometimes that gets a little messy, and that’s completely, utterly and totally okay.

Teaching in the Key of Life is an outstanding book by Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld, that I frankly think ought to be required reading for all teachers.

Sharing humor and playfulness with children works many wonders. It breaks open and rearranges closed ways to thinking, relieves tension and anxiety. and multiplies the fun of learning.

Neat right? How does it work in actuality?

Go into any elementary school and you will see classes of kids in the hall walking in a straight line with hands to themselves, and absolutely no talking. The teacher has a grim expression, and now and then gives the particularly troublesome kids a stern look.

What if we played the child’s game “Simon Says,” when walking? Could we actually get the kids to stay quiet and have fun?

I thought it was worth a try.

I did a lot of subbing in a rural elementary school. I told the kids they had to stay silent, but that they also had to copy me when we walked from one spot to another. I pretended to be an airplane; the kids did too; I skipped, the kids skipped also; I danced and boy did they laugh at my dancing. So I stopped.

A little fun is great, too much fun is not. I wish I had a video, I had an entire class of kids pretending to be airplanes. How cool is that?

As it turns out, school can be enjoyable, while at the very same time being a rich learning environment.

Question authority, hell question rules, and by all means, make the library a safe spot for all kids, so they can read the nuggets of joy that we call books.

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