My parents are well educated, extremely well read people, and I can still conjure up the way I felt as my first grade teacher, Mrs. Rovere, unwrapped the magic of reading to me. My folks had read to me, probably since the time I was born, but to be able to read things myself . . . I was seriously delirious with the new skill!
The library was a vast storehouse of information, adventure, and learning. From picture books with just a few words to my first chapter books to books that were well within my reading ability but probably beyond my maturity level, they were all there for the taking, and I literally absorbed the freedom and the learning.
Today in education we debate about the best way to bring information to our students. We debate about the merits of traditional books versus digital books. We debate about the appropriate uses of the Internet for learning. We debate about the best devices for accessing the Internet. We debate about whether we should put restrictions on what students can access on the Internet. We debate about the role of teachers in classrooms, and we debate about the role students need to take when it comes to learning. All of these things are worthy topics of conversation and deserve careful consideration.
What should not be open for debate, though, is the school library. Libraries, whether full of books on shelves or electronic information through technology, should be the heart of the school. I reach back to my childhood and my young adulthood and think about the special times I spent in libraries. I think of the learning that took place there and the relationships forged there, and I think of how important the public spaces for learning are. I remember:
- Storytime as both a child and a young parent
- Picking out storybooks for reading aloud
- Finding just the right book for the mood I was in as I started to read myself
- Checking out copies of books my teacher was reading to us
- Finding books my parents had read as children
- Finding the book about the topic we were studying in the classroom
- Digging through periodical catalogs and card catalogs for resources for the papers I wrote
- Craft time
- Studying for final exams
- Collaborating with my classmates on classroom projects
- Writing debate card after debate card in hopes of winning that next tournament
- Being awarded the trophy right there in that library when my teammates and I were successful
- Accessing the Internet before I had it from home
- Class meetings
- After school activities
- Guest lectures
- Meet and greets
As an adult I still find libraries of all kinds extremely important. I don't care if there are books on the shelves or eReaders for checkout or computers or mobile devices. The library is the space people of all different ages with all different interests and all different motivations come together to learn and to celebrate learning. I love the history. I love the smell. I love the people who choose to work in libraries. And, I can't imagine a school without that heart.
Stay curious. Keep learning. Read.
Photo by Martin Gonzalez