School’s Open. Is Your Library?

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Schools across the country are getting ready to welcome students for a new year, but will your library be open the first day? In the following article Judi Moreillon explains why your library should be open and welcoming students from the first bell.

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Policy Challenge: Why Is the Library Closed?

The bell rings on the first day of the new school year. Students and teachers are meeting and greeting each other in their classrooms after the summer break.

But wait, why isn’t the library open and library staff ready for the excitement of the new school year? Some school librarians may believe tasks in preparation for opening the library warrant keeping the library closed on the first day or first few days of school. While these tasks may be important from a librarian’s perspective, other library stakeholders may not see it that way.

What do students, classroom teachers, and principals think when the library is not open like every other classroom on the very first day of school?

CLOSED LIBRARY

Student’s Perceptions of the Library As a Learning Environment:

Students may surmise that a closed library means it is not an integral part of their education. Rather than the library as the hub of learning, they may see it as an add-on, something extra, not central to their academic success the way the classroom is. Although they will use the library the next week and later in the school year as an academic learning environment, students may not place a high value on using the library if it is closed when they need it—even on the first day of classes.

Student’s Perceptions of the Library As a Social Gathering Place:

Students who use the library as a social gathering place may feel frustrated and unwelcome with not having access to the library at this time. These first days of school are when students are excited to reconnect with their friends—some of whom they haven’t seen all summer. Instead, the library is closed and inaccessible.

Classroom Teachers’ Perceptions:

Classroom teachers return to the campus before students so that they can prepare their classrooms for the first day of school. Whether they are ready or not, students will arrive when the bell rings, and teachers will begin the process of building community, negotiating norms, establishing procedures, and teaching content. Some teachers may logically wonder why the librarian’s first day of school is different from theirs. Others may make assumptions that the school librarian is not a peer because the rules that apply to them do not seem to apply to the librarian.

Many teachers may want to check out materials for their classrooms before school begins. Yes, some may expect to do this on the first day of school. Others may want to include the library on their first or second day of school for campus tours. Still others may be ready to introduce the librarian and integrate the library program into the first assignment of the new school year. For these library users, a closed library door is not a welcome sight.

Principals’ Perceptions:

On the days leading up to the first day of school, principals are like orchestra conductors—tuning up each section of the orchestra, making sure everyone knows the score, tapping their podiums to get everyone’s attention so that the opening number begins on cue. A closed library sounds a discordant note.

As instructional leaders, principals are invested in establishing a continuous learning environment for teachers as well as for students. If a Learning Commons (LC) model is being implemented or has been implemented in the library, accessibility is of utmost importance. Educators must have access to the library so that they can come together to discuss and plan curriculum, data, and learning activities surrounded by a plethora of resources in multiple formats with technology tools, and the available expertise of a school librarian leader. Also, colleagues should be able to access the Commons for job-embedded professional development that involves coteaching (most effective and adult learners) and should not have to leap closed-sign barriers to access the LC.

LIBRARY: OPEN

On the other hand, consider what message is given when the library doors are wide open from the very first day of the school year. An open door indicates that a warm and welcoming librarian serves the entire school every day of the year. It means that the library is an essential part of the physical facility of the school, and the library program is important to learners’ success.

The slogan for School Library Month 2012 was You Belong @ your library®. AASL’s promotional poster for this advocacy initiative included ten reasons why students should feel a sense of belonging at their school library. Four reasons are as follows:

Expand your world online.
Find endless opportunities.
Explore new ideas.
Get a global perspective.

An online extra from Knowledge Quest also spotlighted how librarians can help make other educators experience “belonging” at the library (Moreillon and Barnett 2012). It is, therefore, essential for all library stakeholders to have access to the library as a source for information, resources, instructional partnerships, and inspiration every day of the school year.

When librarians or principals decide whether or not to open the library on the first day of school, they must consider and reconsider the negative messages associated with that closed library door. Libraries and librarians must be open and accessible even on those first days of school. If librarians want the library to serve as the hub of learning and as an essential component of the school’s academic program, the welcome mat has to be out for the school’s learning community every day.

moreillonJudi Moreiellon, PhD, is an associate professor of library science at Texas Woman’s University, Denton. Moreillon received her doctorate from the University of Arizona, Tucson, and has been a school librarian at all instructional levels. She is the author, most recently, of Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Elementary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact (ALA 2013). Judi tweets @CactusWoman and coblogs at http://buildingacultureofcollaboration.edublogs.org. Her personal website is at storytrail.com.

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