ON LIBRARIES: 3 R’s for Librarians – Reading, Research, & Relationships

It occurred to me if librarians focused on the three “R’s” central what we do, our leadership will emerge naturally and advocacy will follow. Since so many of you feel becoming a building leader is hard to do, and advocacy is even more difficult, I thought this might be an easy way to concentrate efforts, and get positive result.

keep calm and love readingReading– Reading is at the heart of what we as librarians are about.  You can’t do research or much of anything else if you can’t read.  Of course, we are not responsible for the teaching of reading, but we are responsible for instilling a love of reading. The first of the “Common Beliefs” in AASL’s Standards for the 21st-Century Learner is “Reading is a window to the world.”  The explanation that follows is:

“Reading is a foundational skill for learning, personal growth, and enjoyment.  The degree to which students can read and understand text in all formats (e.g. picture, video, print) and all contexts is a key indicator of success in school and in life. As a lifelong learning skill, reading goes beyond decoding and comprehension to interpretation and development of new understandings.”

When students fall in love with reading, they become lifelong readers. Their curiosity stays present and grows, and they search out information.  In other words, lifelong readers are lifelong learners—and in our constantly changing world this is a vital attribute.

So how do we develop this love of reading?  On an individual level we pay attention to each student. We listen for their likes and interests.  We are alert to what they don’t enjoy. Not having to compel students to read a particular book or type of book, we connect students to just the right book for them.  In so many casual conversations with adults, I have heard how one book set them on a course to loving to read.lifelong readers

As I have said, forcing students to read leveled books doesn’t do this. And I don’t believe reading for a prize works either whether it’s AR or a contest to see who reads the most.  I would much rather for example see a reading motivation program that seeks to find out what types of books is the most popular.  You could set up a genre bulletin board (and be prepared to add as students choose from new areas).  When they complete a book they like, have then fill in a book-shaped cut-out with the author/title/call# and their name. Staple it to the bulletin board, creating an ever-growing graph.  You can probably come up any number of other ways to do this.

Give a small reward for the first book a student posts.  You can do the same for a post in a new category. This type of non-competitive program, doesn’t put pressure on students to read a certain number of pages or try to best others. It’s personal.

At the elementary grades, librarians are charged with the first step in creating lifelong readers.  They choose a variety of stories to read aloud.  Stories with refrains encourage group involvement. Discussions about the stories builds critical thinking and visual literacy, while cultivating an appreciation of the sounds of language, word choice, and literary heritage.

As one of the bookmarks from the Libraries Transform initiative says, “Because Learning to Read Comes Before Reading to Learn” and learning to love reading is the middle step.”

research 2Research – From the time libraries came into existence, their central purpose has been research. In an age when information is at everyone’s fingertips, the role of libraries and librarians has become ever more critical. Another bookmark from Libraries Transform says, “Because There Is No Single Source for Information. (Sorry Wikipedia.)”  We have an obligation to teach students how to search efficiently – which means to quickly locate relevant and accurate sources rather than what they get with their non-specific Google searches.

We teach how to use information responsibly and ethically as well as digital literacy which encompasses understanding multiple platforms for accessing information.  Students need to learn which is likely not only to be the best one for their current need but also which one to use to share their knowledge.

An ongoing challenge for us is helping teachers restructure assignments so they are not just asking students to collect facts – which can be one-stop shopping-but rather to weigh and interpret their findings to make meaning from them.  Even better is to have students produce something of value to others.

Without proselytizing we must show students and teachers the difference between search and research.  By being mindful of this ourselves, we can guide them into more meaningful interactions with information and truly prepare them to be successful in college and their future lives.building relationships

Relationships – At the beginning of last month I blogged on relationships and why it is vital for the success of our programs. I won’t repeat what I said then, but recognize in order to instill in students a love of reading, you need to develop some relationship with them. Teachers are far more likely to listen to your suggestions on modifying their assignments if you have a relationship with them.

When your relationships are in place, students, teachers (and administrators) are comfortable coming to you with questions and asking for help. You become a guide for new technology and trends in education.  You are trusted.  You discover that you have become a leader.  And because what you bring has become so necessary to the success of all within the building, you have built advocates for your program.

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ON LIBRARIES – Uninformed or Misinformed?

beinformedI was talking with a professor colleague at the library school where I teach an online course, and she mentioned she came across an interesting distinction between people who are uninformed and those who are misinformed.  The first group are open to learning while the latter will reject what conflicts with their thinking.

I have been going over the difference in my mind for several days.  As school librarians we deal with both categories. Our students for the most part are uninformed and whether it’s for a class assignment or their own personal reasons they are looking for accurate information.  We are very good at helping them fill in the many missing blanks in their knowledge.

We also deal with students who come to the library with misinformation, and for them we need to think through how we approach this so they are open to accepting facts.  I believe the reason the misinformed cling to their beliefs is related to something I discussed in a blog last April – eighty percent of our decisions are emotionally-based. We use the other twenty percent to justify them.question things

With our students this may not be the case. It can be they just came across something in a Google or YouTube search and never bothered to verify it.  You can manage this, along with the uninformed by having students complete a KWL chart before embarking on a research project.  Add another column after the “K” for “H” – How do I know it? This provides the basis for fact checking, and gives us an opportunity to review the importance of validating sources.

When there is a strong emotional investment, you need to be careful.  This often surfaces when students are doing a pro/con paper.  Many years ago, I had a student who had strong religious beliefs on abortion.  She wanted to do her pro/con on the topic and we had a brief chat.  I pointed out to her that in the course of her research she would have to read and evaluate sources that contradicted her beliefs. Those arguments had to be presented and refuted with facts, not personal convictions.  While her research might confirm her views, there was no guarantee it would. I told her if she couldn’t accept the possibility, she should choose another topic for her paper.

answersDepending on their backgrounds, our students walk into our libraries with many convictions on climate change to evolution and more. These may not stand up to the rigors of academic research, and we do need to allow them the choice of whether to explore those topics.  This is not a denial of their intellectual freedom. The access is there if they choose to investigate the subjects.

Probably nowhere is the issue of emotionally-based decision making more apparent than in political views. As the presidential race heats up, the difference between being uninformed and being misinformed is likely to become more obvious, particularly when the views held are contrary to your own.  It will affect teachers as well as students.  Your responsibility is to have resources on all sides of the issues, whether or not you agree.  To keep your relationship with teachers positive, stay out of political discussions unless you talking with close friends with whom you know the subject is safe.