School Libraries Empower Students
School libraries are the buzzing hub of a school learning environment. That excitement around learning does not start and stop when the school bells ring. More and more, school librarians are offering programming before school, during lunch, after school, and during summer breaks to maximize the opportunity to reach all students and to meet their unique educational needs. Here are some of the great programs offered in school libraries across the nation.
Many school librarians lead or support student clubs that meet during study halls, flexible learning times, or after school. One classic example is the Battle of the Books. Teams work together to read a list of books, and then they compete against other teams school-wide and state-wide to answer questions about the content of the novels. Another classic is Reader’s Theater. A group of students can get together to read and learn about a story (no need to memorize lines) and act out different parts. After several rehearsals, they can perform for family and friends or another group of students. It’s lively, fun, and an easy way to bring reading into children’s lives.
One not-so-classic example is coding clubs. Students learn coding, starting with simple, inexpensive (or free) computer programs. Students create their own games or projects using increasingly difficult types of code. Many libraries have Ozobots, Spheeros, Dots, and Dashes. These are all small robots that can be programmed to complete challenges. As many librarians (or at least not this one!) have not formally studied coding, students and librarians alike are learning together to complete these challenges — an excellent example of teamwork and growth mindset.
Many school libraries host special events throughout the school year. Often, school libraries celebrate the releases of novels of favorite authors. For example, middle-grade students are always eager for the next installment of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. School librarians capitalize on this by celebrating. They have Wimpy Kid themed games, trivia, book cover design contests, and other activities.
Author visits are another library-sponsored event that drum up excitement in books and reading. Many authors do book tours to promote their new titles in the evenings at bookstores. Very often, they will stop by a school to talk with students during the day time. School librarians work with bookstores (or even sometimes directly with an author, thanks to social media) to organize these visits. Meeting an author is exciting for kids and creates interest in new titles. Many authors will also do virtual visits or webcam discussions, too.
Elementary school libraries have pajama story time in evenings. Young students can come in their pajamas with a stuffed animal and listen to the librarian or another adult in their life read picture books. It’s an easy, fun way to support a love of reading.
Increasingly, schools are offering flexible learning time. This is a great time to explore the library! Many libraries have makerspaces, where students can tinker and learn about science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM). Makerspaces are an exciting way for students to explore new topics or subjects that they are passionate about while applying lessons they have learned in school. For example, a makerspace might have a circuit activity, where students learn about the basics of electricity. Or, students might make their own robots using what they have learned about simple machines. The opportunities are exciting and endless. And should students be interested in learning more, they have the entire collection of library books to continue their exploration.
School libraries also have space (and the quiet) to house a green screen or digital storytelling center. This can be used during flex time or for completing in-class projects. With an iPad and a green sheet or screen, students can make any sort of video to show their learning. They can have the Louvre Museum or the Amazon be their backdrop even if they live in Buffalo, New York. Adding a microphone allows students to create a podcast as their project. Students can vlog a project, create newscasts about events in the school, and so much more using these simple pieces of technology.
Of course, students come to the library during flex time to get new books and read! Many school libraries have comfortable reading corners, with bean bags, armchairs, or benches for students to read comfortably.
Before and After School Work Time
School libraries are a place for students to work before and after school. For students who are lacking technology at home, the school library offers any and all technology needed for school-related projects, an important piece for closing the digital divide. School librarians are there offering homework support, too. It’s a wonderful opportunity for students to get one-on-one help and assistance in researching for a project, writing an essay, or anything else.
Studies show that kids’ reading scores decline over summer. So school libraries offer different summer reading programs to keep kids reading; surprisingly, reading just a handful of books over the summer is enough to keep kids’ reading scores up. Some school librarians offer summer book checkout and others are able to keep their library open during summer school. Other school librarians provide reading challenges, online book clubs, or incentives if kids read a certain number of books, anything to keep kids reading and engaged over the summer.
School libraries are an important investment made by a community. More and more, school librarians are taking their programming outside of the traditional school day, reaching more students, meeting family needs, and inspiring more learners.
[NB: originally published for EveryLibrary on Medium]