Reprinted courtesy of: Unite for Literacy
By: Mark Condon
The school library is the most important room in the school.
No, Really. It is!
For the sake of those who may doubt this assertion, permit me to begin with the more basic idea that avid reading is the keystone of a complete education… “Keystone” of course means that without it everything falls apart.
In the United States, reading and the teaching and learning of reading, is the subject of research and commentary in every community and nearly every school setting. It is a constantly shared topic of interest, encountered in every medium. It is found everywhere, in virtually every corner.
Okay, now stay with me…we’re talking about libraries here …
OH! … and flying!
Learning to read has two complementary aspects:
The technical and cognitive aspect is well known. It’s the skill of fluent reading. That is the focus pretty much of ALL the instruction and ALL of the testing that goes on in the name of improving reading education. This is all very important of course. It is absolutely necessary.
However, reading skill is not sufficient for establishing a complete education.
The second aspect of reading gets much less attention. With it, virtually every child can and will grow to be a fluent reader (even those who struggle, and if even only years later) but without it most children will fail to flourish and end up as only modestly “educated.”
The second aspect of reading is personal and emotional. It is the love of reading, which translates into the love of learning. That deeply personal dynamic brings children (and adults) to actually grow to become avid readers.
Like anything else they learn, if children love something, they get better at it. If they don’t love reading, while they may still, at some minimal level, learn to pass the tests that measure technical fluency, they won’t become avid readers. This dooms their deepest and widest learning potentials (which sadly aren’t measured on tests) to largely end and then begin to fade at the last school bell of their formal education. This is borne out by the troubling statistic, oft repeated, that a full 33% of high school graduates and 42% of college graduates never read another book after formal schooling has ended.
The continuous head shaking and hand wringing about test scores that we see from parents, educators and pundits might sensibly be supplemented, or more productively, be replaced by, utter shame that while we may have effectively taught our children “to fly” via fluent reading, we have failed to help them develop a love of flying. Huge numbers evidently miss why they would ever want to fly.
See? I told you this was about Flying.
Reading skill gets addressed constantly in the classroom. The love of reading, sadly, rarely gets addressed at all in schools… Except in ONE place.
Large proportions, even of the reading “eagles,” stay on the ground, possibly able, but utterly disinclined to continue to learn from the stunning array of resources that lay before them. Books are the most convenient learning resources available to most of us of course, but evidently nearly half of us were never led to understand the vast possibilities that lie literally within reach in our homes, throughout the community and most predictably in the school or public library.
This brings us back (as promised) to school libraries, where literally EVERY possibility for learning spreads out before a child. This may be the only place in school where children can learn WHY to read, and to learn to love it. THAT is what builds the foundation for lifelong reading, which in turn ensures lifelong learning.
School librarians are the only professionals positioned to focus primarily upon this absolutely most important learning for children: Reading as a joyful, fulfilling, and empowering resource for their lifelong, independent learning and personal enjoyment.
Though librarians are more than willing to help with the classwork that calls for “required” reading or research, their largest contribution is to take leadership across the entire school by creating a lovely and loving place where, with the attention of knowledgeable, professional guides independent, exploratory learning has the time and resources to take wing.
When given a chance, librarians seek to find out what the children want to do and then help them learn to do it themselves. That’s true for public libraries as well as school librarians of course.
Most importantly, their focus can be upon independent, Avid reading.
The rewards of Avid reading can be boldly demonstrated for all to see only in the library.
Full on engagement in Avid reading is constantly nurtured and encouraged only in the library…
- Only in the library, can school children experience what is called “flow,” when time doesn’t exist for them, where everything else disappears from consciousness, and wherein every effort brings joy as it gets them closer to their heartfelt personal learning goals.
- Only in the library, are students positioned to develop the necessary “grit,” to answer tough, nagging questions that just about always require resources beyond the pre-digested content of their class textbooks.
- Only in the library, do they experience the comfort of knowing that they CAN, with hard work and the help of a library professional, get their questions answered while discovering whole new worlds of learning possibilities.
- Only in the library, is there always someone to turn to that has the time for offering individual help without the interruption of class-change bells, and free from the confinements of class-work focused agendas that proliferate at school.
Librarians provide this wonderful context for infants at story time, for upper classmen burning the midnight oil and for everyone in between.
School libraries are places that offer dozens of choices no matter what the topic. When sufficiently funded and provisioned, libraries offer children the time to do this hard work of “becoming,” and a safe and nurturing place to enjoy the fruits of their own hard labor in service to their own improvement.
It’s no surprise that most schools are literally built around their libraries. With rich material resources, multi-media focus and digital access, each school subject is served up in inexhaustible portions. Offering something at every point of the academic compass, libraries invite youngsters to fly out on their own and to go as far as they can see or imagine, on the wings of a developing, truly great, lifelong education.
Mark Condon is Vice President at Unite for Literacy. Father of three. A teacher and teacher educator for over 40 years, supporting professionals and volunteers to teach anyone to read and write and (as importantly) to choose to read and create throughout their lives.