What is it about School Libraries?

school Libraries

What is it about School Libraries? What makes them vital for some and irrelevant for others? How is it possible that so many are closing down?

What aspect makes them essential?

Is it the librarian’s ability to pass on the necessary information literacy to staff and students?

Is it the relevant reading material (in all formats) assessable to both?

Is it just a quiet space for study, or a venue for presentations and meetings?

Is it the enthusiasm and love of reading (both librarian and students)?

or is it more…? A safe place, a haven, therapy, a world of wonder…

The closing of a school library . . .

I received sad news recently, the school library I worked in for 9 years has temporarily closed. Doors shut until possible renovations occur later in the year. The same renovations that were on the table every year, but never materialised.

The library’s size, utilities, and decor may not meet the expectations of an elite private school, but it was functional. And has been functional for two decades.

Update 4 April 2017: I have just heard that this school’s library will remain closed indefinitely following the management’s decision not to fill the school librarian position.

The school library world . . .

While I try hard not to take it personally – that despite my efforts my role was superfluous and the library’s potential may never be realised. I can only hope that reason will dawn on the school management before it’s too late and hundreds of children miss the opportunity to be wowed by stories.

A world where their school librarian, who reads the books they read, can participate in, and instigates book chats. Where the librarian takes recommendations from the students as well as making recommendations, not just to the class as a whole, but to the individuals whose reading needs are unique. Where learning difficulties and the need for spot-on bibliotherapy is are not only understood but actively catered for.

Fight for it . . .

To any parents and teachers who face a school library closure. Fight for it. Fight for the rights of your children who will only know what they are missing once they no longer have access, once it is too late and reading for pleasure is a foreign concept.

Reach out . . .

To the students who temporarily use the library as a safe haven from toxic friendships and bullying, those who need a space to come to terms with family troubles, to reflect quietly on their troubles they may not be ready to confide, please know someone cares. Reach out and find an alternate safe place.

Undiscovered school librarians . . . 

The lack of suitably qualified school librarians in your area is not an excuse to close a school library. All that is needed is to find someone (perhaps a parent?) with the enthusiasm and passion for reading and children. Someone who is who is willing to learn. Give them the opportunity afforded me, a former nurse, send them on training courses, encourage formal study (by correspondence if necessary) and make active cooperation with other school librarians possible. It can be done. Even if it’s a temporary solution.

I am thankful for libraries

I am thankful for libraries.

I am thankful for libraries.

In every new town we move to one of the first things I do is register with the local library. When I look back over the places we have lived, I remember each library so vividly I could probably find my way around them in the dark. I guess it’s no wonder I became a librarian myself!

There have been big libraries and small libraries, in one case it was a library caravan, but here’s just one place we lived in where there was no library and that’s a tiny little village in the centre of Sumatra, Indonesia. When we lived there I had to beg and borrow and steal books. I loaded my suitcase with books on return from every trip home to South Africa, I paid exorbitant prices to ship internationally (I didn’t know about Book Depository then), but best of all was Singapore. From big brand bookshops to my favourite second-hand bookshop tucked away in a side street, I was in heaven.

We are returning to that little village in Indonesia and this time I am older and possibly wiser. There will be Book Depository, there will be Kindle‘ing, there will be AudioAudible‘ling, there will be begging, borrowing and stealing… and I know that I will never feel that desperate, sick feeling of having nothing to read next. That feeling when you long to read, but know if you do your book will be finished and there is nothing lined up to replace it. I never want to experience that again.

As a school librarian for the last ten years, I have had access to more books than I could possibly ever read, but in preparation for the big move I have resigned and found myself back at the little library in our tiny South African town.

Walking in, after shielding my eyes against the harsh orangey yellowy glare, I was surprised to see how popular it was. (read: I walked in, tripped over a table leg and brought down a whole display stand causing mayhem). I wondered over to the YA section and although it is just one tiny bookshelf I was really impressed to see the titles are pretty recent. Go our library!

What’s your local library like? Do you use it? Have you ever had that awful nothing to read feeling? How did you deal with it? I’d love to hear from you.

An insider tip 

The better the borrower statistics the better chance the librarians will be able to get more funding to buy more books. So wherever you live, support your local library, if you have one, and remember to say hi and thank you to the librarians who make it all happen.

Are we ready for book-free libraries?

Are we ready for book-free libraries?

Book-free libraries? The Los Angeles Times published an article earlier this month about America’s first all-digital bookless public library which has opened in San Antonio:

The article goes on to clarify that while this isn’t actually the first all-digital library, the Tuscan-Pima public library in Arizona opened a book-free branch in 2002, this didn’t stay book-free for long – books were brought back after complaints from the public!

So the question is – are we ready to give up print books altogether?

book-free librariesPersonally, while I have no problem reading on my kindle or ipad, there is one thing that I miss – seeing the book cover every time I pick up the book!

I love book covers and am not afraid to admit I judge a book by its cover…  those with boring covers tend to gather dust at the bottom of the pile of to-read books.

Our school library was one of the first in South Africa to introduce an e-Library, but this runs alongside our traditional print library and adds value by being available to students anytime & anywhere, thus allowing them to exchange books outside school hours, even while on holiday at the beach.

What do you think of book-free libraries?

Today I am thankful

I am lucky enough to work in a school library in South Africa, not only because so many of our schools are not privileged enough to have a library. But sometimes I forget how fortunate I am. I tend to be drawn up in my dream of where I would like to take our library, only to be inhibited time and time again by financial constraints. I often look around the room just seeing the ‘if only’ and forget how far we have come in the seven years I have been working here.

This week was ‘Back to School’. In our corner of South Africa, January and February are stifling hot and humid and during these months our library is particularly popular for its ice-cold air conditioning. Add that to students returning from their six week summer holiday  desperate for something new to read and you can see why my first week of the year is always busy.

I needed someone to wake me up… New to our school he arrived one lunch break, stopped in the doorway and exclaimed WOW! Wow… He went on to explain that the school he came from did not have such a big library. He asked for a particular book, one of our more popular titles and as I handed it to him he clutched it so hard to his chest I was a little concerned we may never see it again! His old school didn’t have this series, and he couldn’t wait to read it…

Needless to say this student made my week, and probably my month… I look around our library and I am thankful.