Thursday, June 16, 2011

Huff Po on School Librarians

For a number of years I took advantage of a flexible work schedule to volunteer in my children's elementary school library for one hour a week. I staffed the circulation desk for the first hour of the school day, as the paid staff person didn't come in until the second hour. The extra set of hands was useful and other parents covered that hour most other days of the week. I got to know a lot of the kids at the school and they got to know me. One time I walked into a kids-based event and one of the kids started shouting gleefully "The librarian is here! The librarian is here!" I explained that I was not actually a school librarian, only a parent volunteer, but this did not seem to dampen the child's enthusiasm. Apparently an out of school siting of a parent who sat at the desk and checked books out for an hour a week was almost as good as running into a teacher in the wild.

Volunteering in the school library was a great experience. I got to know the kids and the teachers, got volumes of face time and parent points, and most important, I got to see what happened in the school library. I had not been in an elementary school library since I was a student and seeing it through adult eyes was illuminating. The librarians do more than read stories to little kids, although they do that. They also talked with older grades about locating information, doing research, learning to use computers, and learning how to avoid plagiarism. The PTA paid for authors to come in and give presentations. In the weeks leading up to the author visits the librarians would talk about aspects of that author's work, the genre, related works, the author's background, and so on.

The librarians knew their collection well and could make individual recommendations to the students. I was fascinated to see what the kids were reading and to hear why the librarians thought those books were popular. Non-fiction is surprisingly popular, especially among boys. I was also surprised at the depth of the librarians' knowledge of the students, what they were like, who their friends were, and who their teachers were currently and in the past. Watching the librarians in action really opened my eyes to all they do.

School libraries and librarians play a major role in the educational process and are frequent targets in times of tight budgets. The Huffington Post recently published an article called "Communities behind librarians facing layoffs," by Gabrielle Canon 6/13. It's worth a read.

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