That First Trip to the Library

I’ve always been drawn to books and bookshelves. When I enter the homes of friends the first thing I look for is a bookcase. You can tell so much about someone from their collection of books. Libraries also held, and still hold, a certain wonder and awe. The information they hold, alongside all of those stories and imagination still holds me speechless. That’s why the first visit to the library with any class of mine is so important. If a love for reading is the reason which lead me to teaching then it is essential that I try and pass that on. And, unless you do it right, it can go horribly wrong in a way which will leave you trying to catch up all year.
One of the first things I do is ensure that my classes not only get to visit the library but that they are timetabled to do so at the same time every week. Reading is as much of a routine as anything and taking one trip up to get a book every now and again just won’t kick it I’m afraid. Students need to know that they will be there every week to ensure that good books are always available to them. They need to be given the opportunity to talk to the librarian regularly and to change books they may not be enjoying. They will also see that you take reading and the library seriously. There is nothing so dispiriting as being told that we cannot visit the library because ‘we have other things to do’. It may seem like a lot of time but it is not a sacrifice believe me. If you use your library time constructively, in conjunction with literacy lessons, then it can be the most productive period of the week.
As their teacher, I make sure that I prepare fully for these library visits. I want the students to make the best use of their time so I will work closely with our librarian. I will find out about new books, book awards, availability of PCs for blogging purposes. It is not acceptable to allow this to be a ‘free’ reading period without your input. Yes, they need and should get private reading time. But I need to know about the progress of their comprehension, their ‘reading out loud skills’. I need to know if that book is too easy, too hard. I need to know that they are beginning  to understand imagery, recognise sentence structure. In short, I believe that this period is the one to bring a lot of things together if you prepare and work with your librarian.
Many of the kids who come into my classes are experienced library visitors. They have gone with parents since early childhood. However, many are not. I want every one of them to learn about the life of the library. They need to learn about silence and what a reading atmosphere is. They need to discover encyclopedias and non-fiction of all sorts. They need to develop inquiring minds. Last year, I worked with our librarian to set small tasks and quizzes to open up all areas of the library. Libraries are more than just fiction depositories. They contain a world of information both electronically and in book form. But how much of that information is used correctly?
I am very lucky to have a great librarian. ( @stenmeister on Twitter) He is very much a pro-active librarian who is never happier when his library is full of active learners. We very often call him our Fifth Beatle in the English department. We could not cope without him. However, more importantly, neither could the students. I often pinch myself when I realise that I work in a  building which has a library. It is the most important room in any school so it is our duty to use it well.

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