Saturday, 17 January 2015

Reading and traditional school #libraries

What is more important, keeping a traditional school library or putting books into the hands of the children?

This is not as simple as it seems. Which librarian would want to keep a room full of unused books if they had the opportunity to give those books to children who do not have the opportunity to have access to books anywhere else? Why in this instance would you demand that the Dewey system was the best way forward?

I have read many articles including this one on " why I won't ditch Dewey" and I wholeheartedly agree with all of them. We should teach the children to use the library properly, but what if that is not possible now and getting the books into children's hands is? I have also read Successful school libraries which demonstrates good practice but what if all this is still not possible. 

We help support all school libraries in our area, and up till now they have all had traditional library spaces. We have one small primary school that is really focused on improving literacy in the school and has an infant and junior library. They are asking us to change the 'traditional' set up of infant library resources and this is my dilemma. 

The infant library is tiny and in a corridor and there is nowhere else to put it. It is not very accessible and cannot be used for class visits. We have discussed a redesign that would allow it to be more open but financially that is not possible. Last summer they asked us to split the library up and put bits of it into each infant classroom making the resources available to the children in the classrooms but we were not keen to encourage this as it would reduce the amount of access each child had to all the books. We also felt that a tiny library is better than no library at all!

As I have already said they have a wonderful reading scheme for the infants that is used heavily, children are given a colour banding and encouraged to swap books within that band, there are both fiction and non-fiction books in this scheme. These books are in the library and the children are used to going and choosing books from there. This is done before school, usually with their parents but they are never encouraged to choose from the library stock. There are several reasons for this but mainly they are difficult to access when a lot of children are in the small space and the parents know if their child had been given a red colour banding that if they choose it from that box they are doing the right thing and its easy. 

I have therefore suggested that we add the library books into the reading scheme so that the children get more selection and the library books are just not sitting on shelves. In order for this to work we need to ensure that any teacher who did use non-fiction books from the library as a resource within a topic is encouraged to issued these books to themselves and take them to the classroom. This will need to be monitored as it depends on how many there are as we still may have to store them in the library space. This is could be a better solution anyway as the children will see the teachers using the library too. 

I am not sure if I have agreed to do the right thing. On one level this seems right. By putting them into the reading scheme we are giving more choice and there will be a chance that the books are read. On the other hand this is not a 'traditional' library and it will be impossible to run library skills lessons, if we ever get the chance to do this, as nothing will be in traditional order therefore really difficult to find. Banding them will just mean that on the catalogue they will just be in the 'red' section. At this point in time we are a long way off from teaching basic library skills lessons to these infants. 

The positive of this is that the school has agreed to do transition library lessons from yr2 to yr3 so that in the juniors they will learn what a traditional library is like and have the skills taught then. This can be built on and feels very positive. 

I'm not sure if any of this makes sense but your comments would be appreciated. 


  1. I don't see any problem with this - if putting the books in the reading scheme is going to mean they will be read then that's great. I think we can get too caught up in library 'rules', what does order matter compared to encouraging kids to see reading as fun and something they want to do? At this young age it's all about putting books into their hands and if ordering them differently makes it easier for them to find things they want to read then no problem. Enough time to work on library skills further up the school, better to have a good choice of books be that fiction, non fiction or graphic novels right in front of them than to cling to order rules. When I go into a school library that has all the books perfectly arranged in alphabetical/dewey looking pristine my heart always sinks because if they are that tidy they are not being taken out!

  2. Thanks Bev, I really appreciate you taking the time to reply. I sometimes feel that we live in our own bubbles and it is too easy to say no to something just because 'that's how it has always been done'. It is a lot of organising to see if it will work but as I see it, it's not working now so we will be no worse off at the end and at least we tried.

  3. Hi Elizabeth
    I agree with the above comments of Bev. Libraries having moved to learning commons are experiencing what works as opposed to what is protocol. Having read the book Building a Learning Commons I have a more open attitude towards meeting the needs of our users and leaving the rules behind :) Love teaching the classification system in older years but for younger ones it is all about colour, access and ease of use. More like a book store :)

  4. Hi Pippa, thanks for your comments. I think working out what works for the children is what is important, like you said we can do library skill in junior school. More books in children's hands is what is important at this stage.

  5. I very much sympathise with your dilemma, Elizabeth. I totally agree with all the comments that the most important thing is for the children to have access to the books.I do have a concern with the reading scheme plan though. It always worries me if children are only allowed to choose books that are within their band. Everyone, whatever their abilities, needs books they will enjoy, and sometimes that will be books that are just at their reading level, but quite often it will be books that are below it, because everyone should be able to read to relax, and sometimes it will be books that are above it, because if children are fascinated by something they can comprehend text that is harder than usual. Is there any way that you can avoid the children's choice being restricted? (Incidentally, i assume it is not possible to combine the KS1 and KS2 libraries?)

  6. Thanks for your comments Anne. Strangely enough when talking it through with my colleague we were discussing using the Junnior Library to do the story sessions in and if needed using it to do any library skills lessons too. Following on from this we did wonder if we could move some of the infant stock to that library. We will have to discuss it with the school but it could work. On the other hand I am not sure how we would encourage the younger children in to use it other than when we organise it.

  7. I just want to give you all an update on what happened at this school. We did go in and weed the stock with the plan to integrate it into the reading scheme. After we had done this we realised that there was more library books left than we thought there would be. The decision was made to swap the reading scheme books with the library in order to create a library corner. This looks great and it also give more space for the reading scheme so everyone wins. We will just have to wait and see if a more appealing space with a small amount of good stock makes a difference to the use of these books.


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