Q: I haven’t done an adequate job preparing my aide and classroom teachers in readers’ advisory during checkout time. How should I start addressing not only this but intellectual freedom issues?
What a great question. We know that more and more often school library media specialists are having to divide their time between multiple buildings, which means the individual staffing the library when students are looking for or checking out books and other resources may not bring a school library media specialist’s unique understanding of the school library media program to their interactions with students. And you’ve hit on two key—and related—areas where that understanding is critical.
Don’t be apologetic about what you haven’t done in the past. Instead, move forward with an “I’ve been thinking about ways we can be more proactive in our work with students” approach.
We suggest you begin by thinking about three to five essential things you want to communicate. Develop talking points for each—the information you want those working directly with students on a regular basis in the school library to know and, ideally, embrace.
Here, for example, are several key points we can imagine wanting to make:
1) The school library is a place of choice. Sometimes students may need to find a particular type of book to fulfill a classroom assignment, but giving them the freedom to choose books for recreational reading, and to pursue their own specific interests, is one way we know we can support their growth as readers.
2) We can help students find books by asking questions about what they are interested in, or what kind of books they like, and directing them to areas of the collection where they can browse, or help them use the online catalog to find titles. Encourage them to take books off the shelf and read “flap” copy or back matter, or the first few pages of a longer book to see if it interests them.
3) The school library has a wide range of materials for students varying interests, abilities, and maturity levels. That means not every book in the library will be for every student, but every student will be able to find a wide range of materials s/he can enjoy.
4) It is not our job to make assumptions regarding why a student may be choosing a particular book. It is also not our job to say “no” if a student chooses a book we don’t think s/he is ready for. It IS our job to provide students with a wide range of books and other resources to choose from. Sometimes, we may point out that the book they’ve chosen may be “hard” (re. reading level), or sad, or even upsetting, and we can encourage them to share what they’ve chosen with an adult at home. And always encourage them to bring any book they decide they don’t like or don’t want to read, and to ask for help in finding another.
5) If a student—or parent, or anyone—has a concern about something in a book from the library, listen to their concern and offer to help find another book the child will enjoy. Additionally, take down the concerned individual’s name and contact information, and state that the school library media specialist (that’ you) will get in touch with them to talk further about their concern.
Obviously, you will need to develop your talking points around your specific district’s own policies and procedures. And of course you want the aides or anyone else regularly staffing the library to be aware of what those policies and procedures say with regard to everything from circulation policies to privacy to responding to a concern.
It would be great if you could launch this at an all-school staff meeting early in the year (or prior to the year’s start!)—that would also give you the opportunity to respond to questions and even generate some discussion. You could also talk to them about how you professionally select materials—so they all understand there is a selection process—involving criteria and guidelines outlined in policies and procedures you follow—that informs the choice of materials available to students in the school library.