Let me start off by saying that what I am going to talk about today may be controversial to some people, but it is my belief that we need to start thinking about why these policies are in place and how are they benefiting students. My hope is that this blog post will start to really spur a conversation within the librarian community and hopefully change some people's minds on some of these policies.
The new school year is about to begin and with that comes the opportunity for each librarian to ask, are the rules and policies currently in my library breaking down barriers and making it easier for my students to access information and materials?
If you have any of the following three policies in place it is time to rethink them:
1. Students can not check out a book without an ID card - If students are required to wear ID cards at all times or if the ID card is used for multiple purposes in the school like for your lunch account etc than I have no problem with an ID Card being used for book checkout. If the ID card is only really only used for book checkout than I believe it is time to rethink this policy. Yes, I know the policy in most schools, especially High Schools is that students are supposed to have IDs on them at all times, but when the policy is not enforced and the ID card's only real purpose is for book check out, how can we really expect our students to have their IDs on them? In circumstances like this making students need an ID card to check out books is impractical and puts up unnecessary barriers for allowing students access to much needed books and materials.
2. Students can not check out books if they have a fine - Why are we denying students a chance to read due to the fact that they have not paid a fine for an overdue book? By enforcing a rule like this you are unintentionally making it so that students who might be economically disadvantaged are the ones who suffer the most. Lack of money and resources should never be a factor in access to information and no child should be turned away for checking out a book because his or her family can not pay a fine! In my over 15 years as a librarian, I have seen way too many students be afraid to take out a book because they did not want to lose it or pay a fine. Things have gotten so much easier for me once I moved to a district where there are no fines. I highly recommend looking into the idea of eliminating overdue fines for your library. Here is a great article in Slate about how some public libraries are eliminating fines. If public libraries can do it surely school libraries can also do so.
3. Students can only read certain level books or "just right books" / labeling books with level stickers - Library books should never be shelved by reading or grade level, by doing this you are unintentionally singling out students and potentially embarrassing them. I also believe that we should never make kids take out books within their "levels". Let students read what they want! When students are forced to read within levels or limit what they can read, the joy of reading soon begins to disappear. I completely agree with AASL's position statement on labeling books especially where it states "Student browsing behaviors can be profoundly altered with the addition of external reading level labels. With reading level labels often closely tied to reward points, student browsing becomes mainly a search for books that must be read and tests completed for individual or classroom point goals and/or grades. School library collections are not merely extensions of classroom book collections or classroom teaching methods, but rather places where children can explore interests safely and without restrictions. A minor’s right to access resources freely and without restriction has long been and continues to be the position of the American Library Association and the American Association of School Librarians. Labeling and shelving a book with an assigned grade level on its spine allows other students to observe the reading level of peers, thus threatening the confidentiality of students’ reading levels. Only a student, the child’s parents or guardian, the teacher, and the school librarian as appropriate should have knowledge of a student’s reading capability."
This is by no means a complete list of all the ways that libraries policies can have unintentional consequences. Please feel free to add to the list and I would love to know your comments.
Just the other day I was at a local High School Library and I counted 23 signs like the ones pictured above in the space. Yes, you heard me right -- 23 (and I may have missed a few)! Almost every row of books had a No Eating Sign on it and all the computer carols had multiple signs on it.
Is this the correct message to send our students when they walk into the library? I say no! We want our students and staff to feel welcome & feel like they want to come into our libraries. When you have negative signs up, you are doing the exact opposite. You are also challenging kids to do the exact behavior that you are fighting so hard against. I know that when I was a high school student I would take these signs as a challenge to see if I could break the rules.
How does it make the public feel when they walk into this space? Libraries are very often the space used for community events, like the one I was attending. Events filled with Board of Education members, community leaders, etc. are in attendence. The impression that these and other signs leave is that there are serious problems going on in this space. That is not the impression you want to leave especially when library positions and libraries are constantly being cut. My recent School Library Journal Article does a good job explaining the fight we as librarians face. These signs do not help make the correct impression to those exact BOE members & community members, who we so desperately need on our side.
Librarians, it is time to break up with these and many other signs and move to a much more positive way of getting your point across!
Do not want eating in your library (I am willing to have a debate with anyone as to why they should rethink this policy.. especially in a HS setting where students often have to choose between lunch or a elective they want... but that is a blog post for another day) make your signs creative and funny like these from the Georgia State University Library.
Want students to clean up after themselves! I love this idea from the Pompton Lakes High School Library.
Want students to be respectful of the space try one of these from Trent University Library:
Want to list rules for the library try something like this:
Librarians, its time to let go of the negative and embrace the positive. I promise you will not regret it!
There is an article that has been floating around the internet for awhile now called How a School Library Increased Student Use by 1000% . At first glance the article looks really incredible, and helpful for all the librarians out there that are looking to change up their "traditional library" and include a makerspace. The school did a total redesign of the space and added technology, new furniture, a green screen and more. Students and teachers started to utilize the space much more because it allowed for more collaboration, creativity and the ability for people to connect and grow. All great things!
The problem is this "library" does not have a full time certified librarian in it. This district and many many others (including the South Orange/Maplewood School District, where I use to work and where my child goes to school) made the decision to eliminate certified librarians. One of the many arguments I hear is that with the Internet and technology there is not as much of a need for a librarian... and who needs a librarian in a makerspace. These argument is so misguided and wrong for some many reasons but I do think this letter by the American Library Association, American Association of School Librarian, New Jersey Association of School Librarians, Dr. Joyce Valenza, myself and many more experts in the field does a good job explaining why we must have certified school librarians in every school.
This leads me to the point of this post, should we continue to call the the space a library if there is no certified librarian in it? I am starting to think we should not. What do you think? What would you call it instead?
I am so excited to share that my book is now available from pre-order from ABC-CLIO. It is coming out in August! To pre-order a copy click here!
I was talking with my dear friend Samantha Morra @sammorra about the 3D printer we have at school and expressed to her that I would love to have more students be able to use it. She mentioned to me a project that she does with her students where they take drawings they made and are able to see them come to life as 3D prints! Well I just had to try this! Is is amazing & easy to do. Here is the direction sheet that Samantha give her students.
It really is that simple!! I am working with an art class now and we are trying it out!
Elissa Malespina is the Middle School Teacher Librarian in Somerville and a Presenter, Author and much more. Find my full resume above.