Although it’s been around for a while, “ownership” has become one of the latest buzz words.  It has always been important for you as a leader to own your library program, but there are others who need ownership as well.

Owning leads to lifelong learning for students, and involvement and investment in your program from teachers and administrators. Consider the difference in renting or owning a home. If you rent a home and are conscientious you keep it in good order and that’s about it.  When you own your home, you feel pride in it.  You look for ways to improve it, make it better.

The same is true for students’ connection to schoolwork.  The “good” kids are like conscientious renters. They do what is necessary to get an “A,” but they are not truly invested in it.  I know and have known many excellent students who are merely going through the motions by the time they are half way through high school.  They have learned the game and play by the rules, but unless it’s in a subject they love, there is no passion or excitement around the learning.

We have been talking about student engagement for some time, recognizing kids need to be interested in what they are learning in order for the content to have any lasting impact.  We can all remember taking courses where the attitude was cram and forget.  You “learned” what you needed for the test and once you received your grade, you promptly forgot it all. (This is related to students often-asked question, “Will this be on the test?”)

If you who want a review of what student engagement entails, an article in Educational Leadership, “Student Engagement: What Do Students Want” provides an excellent overview.  You will notice the article is from 1995.  What we have moved to is student ownership.

In another article in Educational Leadership, this one from 2008, Adam Fletcher discusses the “Architecture of Ownership.” In it, he covers Students as Planners, Students as Teachers, Students as Professional Development Partners, and Students as Decision Makers. Just reading the headings is enough to get you thinking.


Student ownership connects into inquiry-based learning and problem-based learning. If your Mission states you guide students into becoming producers as well as users of information, you are giving student ownership. Makerspaces are one way many of you are giving students a form of ownership.

When students make something, they are proud of what they have produced. It’s theirs.  They had to figure out how to do it.  Without a grade being involved, they threw themselves into the task. They were invested.

Some elementary librarians have helped students create a garden whose produce is used in the cafeteria or given to a community kitchen.  Again, students aren’t being given a grade but they are learning, and they are proud of their accomplishment.  They own the garden. 

I have had a library council and student volunteers (not counting the ones “assigned” to make up needed courses for graduation).  By giving them tasks beyond shelving, they owned the library.  They created displays on topics they cared about. They compiled webliographies to help teachers, and they were encouraged to pull books for possible weeding when they were shelving.

By carefully helping teachers reframe an assignment you can give students ownership of their work.  For example, a World Culture teacher came to me after she thought she gave her students what they wanted—and it flopped.  The kids had complained about the topics, finding them boring, so she told them they could explore any topic related to World Culture—and they froze.  They had no idea where to begin.

Working with the class, we put all the countries they were studying in one column.  In another, we listed cultural aspects from art and architecture through literature, medicine, and science.  This second column grew long as kids came up with more possibilities.  They then had to choose one from column “A” and another from column “B,” and they had their topic. Those interested in the same subject worked together on the project.

Before we finished, we also developed a list of general questions they needed to answer such as, “Why this was an important topic?”, “What was the contribution to the country and the world?” What people need to know about this?” etc.  After reading an overview, they added more questions.

You can give teachers ownership as well.  You want them to see the library as theirs.  If you haven’t done so already, start a professional collection but don’t leave it on some back shelves.  Display titles with a note “Specially for Teachers.”  Invite teachers to suggest items for purchase. When publisher representatives came to my library, I invited any teachers who were there to evaluate the books along with me.

If at all possible create a “teacher nook.”  Whether it’s on the reading room floor or in your office, teachers appreciate that separate space even if there is a department office. Put out the most recent issue of a professional magazine if you get them.  Provide supplies if they want to create something for their room.  Ask them what they need/want.

Whenever you do a big project such as Battle of the Books, a Makerspaces, or the garden, involve teachers and parents.  Let them work on the parts they most enjoy.  The more they are invested in the success of the project, the more ownership they have.  And when they feel they have ownership in the library, they become advocates for your program.

Giving students, teachers, and parents ownership of the library is about being a leader and creating the partners who want your program to succeed.  I haven’t thought of a way to give administrators ownership, but that would further the success of your program.

How are you giving ownership to your stakeholders?  Have you figured out a way to give administrators ownership?  Share your ideas.




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