Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mrs. Readerpants: The Place to Be

by Mrs. Readerpants

It’s 8AM, and I hear them coming. Their pounding footsteps rattle the stairs, and their excited voices fill the empty hallway. While school doesn’t officially start for forty more minutes, our library will be hopping this morning, just as it is every morning before school. The library doors swing open, and here they come! My morning library babies. Smiling, talking, laughing, excited to be at school. Excited to be in the library.

Morning library kids come in for all kinds of reasons. Some are completing school projects on library computers. Some are there to checkout new books because they already read the ones they got yesterday. They are there to read magazines, buy poster board, or login to Goodreads. Many simply want to hang out with their library-loving friends and avoid sitting in the noisy cafeteria until school starts. Others just want to talk to my aide or me, knowing we will listen to whatever they have to say. Whatever their reason for coming in, my morning library kids are a special group. From the tiniest sixth grader to the tallest eighth grader, they are a motley group from different grade levels and different backgrounds. They are boys and girls. Boisterous and quiet. Honors students and special ed. Yet despite their vast differences, our morning library time has developed its own unique culture. I once commented that they are like a family, and the kids agreed.

While mornings, lunches, and after-school are our busiest times of day, we know many students are also asking their teachers to send them. In addition to our scheduled classes and the computer lab, we also see anywhere from 10-30 additional students, sent by their teachers, each class period. The teachers repeatedly tell me that their students are constantly asking if they can go to the library during class. Clearly, the library is the place to be.
As a middle school librarian, I like to compare myself with Oprah Winfrey. When Oprah started her book club in 1996, people who never really read much at all suddenly became obsessed with the books she recommended. When Oprah raved about a book, people bought it, read it, passed it on. Like Oprah, I have huge power within my school to influence my students’ perception of reading. It never takes long for my newer students to figure out that if they need a book recommendation, my aide and I are the ones to see. Teachers routinely send us students who don’t like reading, in the hopes that we can find something they will want to read. Like Oprah, it seems my aide and I have this magical power to get our students excited about books. As soon as we say we loved a book, students are clamoring to get their hands on it. 

But here’s the thing—we have no magic. Instead, we have real smiles, a sincere love for our kids, and an enormous dose of enthusiasm for the books we read and love. I have the world’s most amazing library aide, who loves reading almost as much as she loves working in the library. We both read the books in our library constantly, and we passionately talk up reading and books every single chance we get. We know our books well, and we take the time to get to know our students. We go out of our way to learn their names, to ask them questions, to notice when we don’t see them for a few days. We connect with our kids on a personal level, and constantly remind them that we really do care about them.
So while our audience is on a far-smaller scale than Oprah’s, I know how Oprah must have felt when the books she loved became favorites of readers worldwide. Oprah’s Book Club could never have been so successful without her genuine passion for her booklist. Enthusiasm is contagious, and it is vital for today’s teens to see the adults in their lives truly excited about reading. In my library, I know my aide and I inspire our students to fall in love with reading, to wonder what all the fuss is about. When I really loved a certain book and talk it up with a few classes, that book stays checked out for months. Our library lunch passes are always totally gone by second period each day, and one student recently went so far as to “buy” a lunch pass from another student by purchasing him cookies at lunch. Many students have told us that they never liked to read until they came to our school. Our students’ fervor for reading quickly catches on with other students, and our library has become “the place to be” on our campus. Looking around our crazy, crowded, sometimes-quite-noisy library, my aide and I know we built that community. We made that happen.

About Mrs.ReaderPants
While she was never a Morning Library Kid in middle school, Mrs.ReaderPants probably would have been interested in trading cookies for a library lunch pass if the opportunity had presented itself. Thankfully, as the school librarian, she gets to be in the library all day AND eat her cookies, too.


Dominique Eastwick said...

What a lovely blog it made me smile :)

Hales said...

Good Morning! What a lovely post. Thanks Mrs. ReaderPantsand Val :P

I was one of those kids growing up. I could never get enough of the library. In school or out of school. To this day I still go, now so more for my teens than myself but I do make sure I read whatever they're interested in so we can have our own book discussion. Only two of mine have the reader bug the third is slowly catching on. I was finally pleased as punch to see her bring home something on her grade level, not an easy below her grade level read. I don't know where I would've been or how I'd have turned out if it wasn't for the local librarian or school librarian. With their help and guidance my thirst for knowledge grew as did my comphrension of books years befoe I should've been reading them. My daughter is 15 with the same thirst, on college level reading and loving every minute of it.

Valerie Mann said...

First thing I do when we move to a new community is get a library card. I agree, the library was my favorite place in school and in my community. I was very saddened to drive by the little public library in my hometown and see it boarded up (they'd built a new and improved version, but it still broke my heart, LOL). When I was a teen, I was on the phone so much, my dad gave me my own phone line and it was a party line (remember those?). I shared it with the library, LOL Anyway, the library in both school and home fed my love of reading. Now I don't have time to read for pleasure too much, so I listen to audiobooks. I need the escape!

Anonymous said...

Nice post. Brings back memories of when I was in school - asking to be dropped off early to have at least an hour in the library before going to class, then staying after school four nights a week to be tutored or study in the library.

My love for reading waned a bit but it's back with a vengeance, and I'm reading whatever I can get my hands on. Sometimes that means six or seven books checked out from the library at a time. :)

Jessica Subject said...

I think it's wonderful that you've built a community around your school library. My mom always emphasized the importance of reading and I hope to instill the same lesson to my children.

In middle school, I remember spending a lot of time looking at books in the library and then in high school, the public library was just down the street.

Keep up the great work! :)

Barbara Elsborg said...

Ditto, ditto, ditto. I helped out in the school library for years and loved it!

Kate Richards said...

I can't imagine a nicer blog!

Cate Masters said...

How wonderful you connect with kids in such a meaningful way. Kudos to you and your aides! And yes, you do have magic - the most important kind. To inspire kids. Keep up the excellent work! The world needs more readers.

Mrs. ReaderPants said...

Awww, shucks! Thank you all for such nice comments! Makes me get a little sniffly to know that libraries are so appreciated.