Monday, January 25, 2016

Why Classroom Libraries (Only) Are a Bad Idea

The Philadelphia schools are talking up classroom libraries, having books in each classroom.  While this sounds great, it is a poor substitute for a school-wide library with a trained librarian.  Having books in each classroom is good, no doubt about that, but as an additional to a school library not a substitute for it.  And that is what Philadelphia schools are talking about.  Note this from the Inquirer ("In city elementary schools, a campaign for libraries," by Kristen A. Graham, 11/15/2015):

On Tuesday, Mayor-elect Jim Kenney, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., and 30 other leaders gathered at Clara Barton School to launch a $3.5 million fund-raising campaign aimed at placing libraries in every Philadelphia School District elementary classroom.

The need is great, especially in a system where few whole-school libraries remain, and fewer than a dozen librarians are on staff citywide.

Here's the problem with only classroom libraries and not school libraries.  How many copies of Harry Potter are you going to have?  You'd need one or two in each upper elementary classroom.  How many books can you put in each room?  How can you have students do research projects?  The few bookshelves in each room can't fit enough books for each student to find something on a subject they are interested in.  Students reading above or below grade level are going to have slim pickings.

That's the beauty of a school wide library -- there are books at all grade levels.  There are books on all subjects.  There's something for everyone!  But to have a school wide library you need someone to arrange all the books -- to put them in some kind of order, say by call number.  Someone has to know the collection to refer students to books they will enjoy.  Someone to handle book donations.

I volunteered in my kids' elementary school library for one hour a week over several years.  I was very impressed by the librarians there (and we had more than one, plus a staff person).  They knew the collection and the students and did their best to connect kids to books they would like or would need for assignments.

A classroom library is a fine idea but it is no substitute for a school wide library and a librarian.  

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