Memories of School Libraries Past due 9/4, LIBR 233

Describe your current understanding of the role and mission of school libraries.  What are/have been your experiences with school libraries and how has this colored your understandings of what a school library is and should be? 

My understanding of school libraries is that for many students, they will be their first exposure to a library. They should learn how to be responsible for books and how to treat books well. I think they also should learn to use the catalogs and how to begin to do research. They should have computer access to the internet and online resources. The librarian should collaborate with the teachers regarding what curriculum will be taught and how the library resources can support that.

Growing up, I was always surrounded in my home with books and classical music. Many children must have a very different experience. They should learn how the library can support them by providing them with research materials but also enjoyable pleasure reading and exploration. It can also provide a quiet place to study and to collaborate on projects with other students.

My first experience with a school library was my school library at Walter Hayes Elementary School in Palo Alto, starting about 1964. We must have had an orientation to it but I only vaguely remember standing in a room having an adult talking to us. Almost every time I went into the library, there was no one there but me. It consisted of a long hall with books on both sides (the numbered Dewey books) and another room with most of the fiction by author last name. There was a small room with a counter where the books were stamped and checked out. There was always a huge pile of books on a table at the back, waiting to be put back on the shelves.

I was a somewhat accelerated student so I had lots of spare time in 5th grade. I recall going to the library frequently and putting books from the enormous pile back on the shelves. I don’t recall that anyone showed me how to do this, but no one ever told me not to do it. There were certain books I just loved, such as a particular fairy tale book, and I would go back and check it out over and over again.

At my sixth grade school, Luther Burbank, in Pasadena, I don’t have any recollection of a library at all. I recall doing most of my research from a set of encyclopedias I had at home. The next year I went to Middle School at a private school. Again, I don’t recall a library. I remember buying some books to do research projects.

In Upper School we had a very nice library and could study at carrels, big tables or play cards outside on the porch. The librarian was Sally Hall. She had very short hair and very big glasses. She ran a tight ship. My major finds were a whole shelf on the Romanovs and Rasputin after seeing the movie “Nicholas and Alexandra.” I read every one of them. I also found a reference book listing scholarships. I leafed through every page and applied for every scholarship I qualified for. I also have an overall memory of the library being dark and cool inside.

My next experience was when my son was in kindergarten at Washington Elementary in Berkeley. They held Chess Club in the Library so I spent some time there waiting for him and sometimes assisting.

I enjoyed the library at Longfellow Middle School in Berkeley when I taught there for a semester. The librarian was very accessible. She used the library for all sorts of activities. Kids could play chess and other games in there during lunch. She organized concerts at lunch using kids in the school to play a few instruments together.  At Willard Middle School in Berkeley, where I also taught for part of a year, the librarian had long hair, glasses and a snake. She allowed the students to park their skateboards in the corner of the library before and after school. There were some computers placed so that she could always easily see what the students were looking at. I brought classes in a few times to do research and she had pulled a cart of books that might be most useful to us. Unfortunately, I felt most students wasted their time in the library. They would get side tracked from what our research goal was.

This last year I volunteered at my daughter’s library at Oxford Elementary School in Berkeley. Ilene Sheng presides and is an interesting person to be around. She told me that she did not teach the kids how to use the electronic catalog. She gave them heavy book marks to stick into the shelf when they pulled out a book so that they would know exactly where to put it back in. She also taught the students to handle the books carefully. “Hug the book to your chest,” she would remind the kindergarteners. She read to visiting classes. She also had a system where kids would return books by putting them in a big tub in their home room. Then two kids would carry the tub down to her. We also did the RIF (Reading is fun (damental) days there. I felt badly when a kid would want to look at the longer books but was from a younger grade. We were instructed to bar the way to the longer books so there would be enough for the older kids who came to select books. I read advanced books as a child and thought kids should be able to choose whatever book they wished to read. Some children could not find a book they wanted to read. Others came in with a list of authors and titles they were looking for. Each child who chose a book received a bookplate with their name on it.


About KLevenson

I am Teacher Librarian at Piedmont High School in the San Francisco East Bay. I am a part time reference Librarian I for the San Francisco Public Library. I have a Masters in Library and Information Sciences from San Jose State and a Teacher Librarian credential in addition to my teaching credential in Science. My first MA was from Harvard in Archaeology. My students teach me something new every time I am with them!
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