So – why are teacher librarians so important in schools? How do they help increase literacy in students? We’ve learned that literacy goes beyond simply the ability to read and write – that our role as teacher librarians is more than to simply read to students, it is to teach them, and to help them understand the importance of being active members of society.
It is to help students like Jeremy in Jonathan Kozol’s Article The Other America: Giving Our Poorest Children the Same Opportunities as Our Richest, who is perfectly described as “This was a boy who hated tests in public school and managed to fail most of them. A neighborhood poet and a school librarian and, later, the Barnes & Noble in New York’s Union Square, which he liked to frequent, were Jeremy’s salvation.” (Kozol, 1).
We need to do everything in our power to create the kind of school library Kozol imagines:
“I think school libraries ought to be delightful and congenial places. I wish that we could get rid of those plastic chairs and overhead fluorescent lights that make too many of these rooms in low-funded schools about as intimate as Walmart. School libraries for wealthy children frequently resemble living rooms. When I walk into the libraries of inner-city schools and see a group of children filing in beside me, I often get the sense of something “dutiful” about it all instead of something joyful and exalting. I wish the kids could sit at maple tables with reading lamps that have lampshades made from handsome fabrics. I wish the space were beautiful. If we think of libraries as places where we give our kids a feast of learning, the place we serve that feast should be worthy of our offerings.” (Kozol, 1).
Several studies have been conducted illustrating the impact teacher librarians have on student academic success. School districts should take note of these findings and make teacher librarians a central part of the educational system. Teacher librarians can improve literacy by taking on leadership roles within their schools. Getting involved with instruction and curriculum development will help teacher librarians provide better assistance to teachers and students, ensuring teachers have the proper equipment and students have adequate resources to complete assignments. Teacher librarians should integrate technology into their libraries whenever possible. The 21st century learner is more technologically advanced but they still lack information literacy skills. Teacher librarians are there to help bridge that gap, connecting students with information and helping them think critically.
The next question then, is: Where do we go from here? What are some ideas to help increase literacy rates in Title 1 schools? One idea: We would love to see local businesses adopt a school library in lower income areas. It’s great advertising for them, increases their presence in the community, and helps children prepare for the future. Why don’t businesses do this? In Jeana’s school library they had a local insurance company “adopt” them for Christmas — employees (and the corporation) donated money, and asked for a list of books the students would enjoy (that were not already in the library) and then they went shopping. The students loved it, and it gave the business a lot of really good — and relatively inexpensive — PR.
Maybe adopting a library isn’t going to work for you, never fear there are plenty of charities and organizations looking for volunteer work and donations. Some of our favorites include Room to Read, LitWorld, 826 National, and KIPP Public Charter. Or you can always volunteer at your local library to help with Storytimes, and other event programming. Another option is to volunteer in your local school district as a reading aide, libraries and schools are always in need of adults willing and capable to help children learn with literacy of all kinds.
So get out there – and then come back and share your experiences. As always, any ideas you have or any experiences you would like to share are welcome in the comments section of this post.
Until next time, keep fighting for literacy!
-Elisabeth, Jeana, Kara, & Kendra-
Haymond, J., (2012). Donation, [digital image]. Retrieved from http://bookshooksandnooks.blogspot.com/2012/01/merry-christmas-to-us.html
Kozol, J. (2012). The other America: Giving our poorest children the same opportunities as our richest. School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://www.slj.com/2012/08/literacy/the-other-america-giving-our-poorest-children-the-same-opportunities-as-our-richest/