Bringing the Arts to the School Library

The arts have their place in every facet of a school, and the library is no exception. Thinking beyond traditional definitions, arts education could include teaching creative problem solving as well as continuous questioning of issues and ideas (Conrad, 2005; Moga, Burger, Hetland, and Winner, 2000). The media center is the perfect venue to showcase students' efforts in the arts.

This article gives examples of how the arts can be used in a school library at many different levels. Making the media center a safe place where students feel that they can be expressive is an essential. Being the literary hub and the arts center for a school makes the library.


Music and singing are brilliant ways for students to express themselves. Though these may not be the quietest forms of the arts, students will enjoy sharing music with their peers. Concerts: A choral concert is perfect for beginning of the year orientations, holidays, book fairs, or parent nights. It's a wonderful way for the students to shine through their music and to showcase the library all in one location. It may not be quiet, but it will be beautiful.Songwriting contest: Have a songwriting contest where students can showcase their musical pieces. Compositions could be performed live for an evening performance, which could also include a night of story telling, theater, and poetry. Performances could be recorded and peers could vote for the best musical numbers.Karaoke: What a great way to get students to read out loud while singing! Have students read through music lyrics together. The class can then sing songs collectively, followed by individual or small group karaoke (Patton, 2010).


Though having bands and instruments seems like a noisy way to go, your students will thoroughly enjoy it, particularly the boys, who can often be the most reluctant readers. Bring a rock band into your library, and you will definitely draw a crowd!

  • Concerts: It may be difficult to have the entire band in your library but small group bands can always play for events. Think how lovely it would be to have a four piece orchestra playing during a book fair night, a parent orientation evening, or a storytelling event.
  • Books and instruments: People are fascinated with those who know how to play an instrument. Set up students and adults throughout the library with their various instruments at their own listening and playing stations. Have visitors talk to each artist about the instrument—what it's called, how it can be played, what it sounds like, etc. Display related books, videos, and CDs at each station.
  • Books and bands: Feature books and have a band play songs that embody the time period of that book (e.g., Jazz by Walter Dean Myers: jazz music). Have students read short books or excerpts, followed by a performance of the music. This activity brings music and literature together.


Theater and drama come in many different forms, in both live and filmed performances. Both can be used in the library. Libraries are often open spaces that lend themselves to theatrical performances.

  • Evening of improv: Modeled after one of the improvisational television shows (e.g., “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”). Students thoroughly enjoy putting together a comedy performance that involves the audience and will get everyone laughing. Plan performances for a parent/teacher night, book fair, new student orientation, or any other school event.
  • Book commercials: Students can advertise books through short book commercials. They can do them alone, with a partner, or in groups. If your school has a news program or video announcements, these can be shown weekly Book commercials can also be recorded as podcasts.
  • Reader's Theater, storytelling, and puppets: Have students turn their favorite stories and books into plays and perform them for their peers. Have older students invite their younger siblings and students from younger grade levels, and have storytelling on a book fair or parent/teacher night (McPherson, 2005).


The visual arts are likely the most commonly showcased style of the arts because it's so easy to do. Bookshelves can display models, sculptures, and other handmade projects. Walls and windows are perfect for presenting paintings, drawings, and other work that can be hung. If all else fails, set up easels to show student work.

  • Collaborate with your school's art teacher: Art educators are always looking for a venue to exhibit student work. Using the library is a wonderful way to advertise the art class and get students into the library to see their work on display.
  • Book posters: Students can create advertisements for their favorite books and be creative with them. The visual representation publicizes why other students should read that book. Students can see what their peers are reading, and those who made the posters can take pride in the ownership of their ideas.
  • Picking color schemes: If your library is labeled by area (e.g., nonfiction, fiction, biography, ESL), have your students create a new color scheme each year. They have pride and ownership in the part of the library they helped to create, and you get to enjoy variety in your library's colors.
  • • Models: Lower book shelves are the perfect height to show off any type of model, design, science fair project, or sculpture that students have created. Students will enjoy seeing peer work at eye level.


Dance can have a dynamic impact on a school library. Linking literature to movement is magic and a wonderful draw, particularly for female students.

  • “ Dance Dance” library: Borrow a Dance Dance Revolution game and player, hook it up to a digital projector, and let the games begin. This is an excellent weekly incentive for good reading habits, behavior, or anything else!
  • Book dance: Have students read a book and then turn it into an interpretive dance. The style or music doesn't matter; it's the imagination and creativity that are important. Students can create these individually or in groups. They could be performed live for a talent show, book fair evening, parent or student orientation, or they could be turned into podcasts to be shared on sites such as SchoolTube or TeacherTube.
  • Dance concert: Librarians can always open up the library as a performance space for dance. Invite parents, teachers, peer students, administrators, and other community members to a dance performance. It's a wonderful way to showcase student talent and the library space.
  • Dance workshops: Not all students can afford dance lessons and workshops. Talk with local dance instructors, college students, and dance teachers from other schools, and have dance workshops for students in the library. All types and styles of dance can be offered. Books about dance could be showcased, and local dance groups and performances could be advertised (Ben way, 2010).


Arts integration focuses on the arts and core academic disciplines being taught together. Each should reinforce the other throughout the school curricula (Weissman, 2004). The library is a location of continuous integration with all subjects. Integrating the arts should be a natural step in the media center.

  • Museum: This activity could be used for language arts, social studies, science, or math. Students choose a famous literary character, author, scientist, mathematician, or person from history. They put together a monologue or speech about that person and dress up as that person. Following practice times, have a live museum in the library. Peers, parents,
  • siblings, teachers, and administrators tour the museum to find out about the person who each student portrays. Students have fun playing the characters; the audience is engaged in learning about history, math, literature, or science.
  • Poetry slam: Turn the library into a cafe and have students perform their own poetry, writing, music, and more. Student groups on campus can raise money by selling snacks, coffee, and hot chocolate while their peers perform.
  • African American History Month: Bring history to life through models, sculpture, poetry, plays, speakers, dance, music, and singing, all presented in the library. This can work for Women's History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, and many others.


The library is an amazing location to bring more arts experiences into the school. Let your colleagues know that space is available. They will approach you to use the space for exhibits, performances, and showcases. Local and state performing groups in dance, music, and theater are always available throughout the school year to come and perform, usually for a nominal fee. If the local high school is working on a series of one-act plays, they can perform them for the school for free. Virtual art tours of many different national and international art galleries are available. Picturing America, from the National Endowment of the Humanities, will send reproductions of notable American art to show in your school (NEH, 2011).

Theater, dance, music, and visual arts opportunities are out there for the willing librarian.


Special thanks to :
Cynthia Curtis and the students at Hanes Magnet School in Winston Salem, North Carolina
Donna Johnson at Reidsville Middle School in Reidsville, North Carolina

Further Reading

Benway, N. "Fine Art Programs, Teens, and Libraries: Changing Lives One Program at a Time." Young Adult Library Services 9.1 (2010): 28-30.; Conrad, D. "Rethinking "At-Risk" in Drama Education: Beyond Prescribed Roles." Research in Drama Education 10.1 (2005): 27-41.; Mcpherson, K. "Dramatic School Library Literacy Programs." Teacher Librarian 32.4 (2005): 68-70.; Moga, E., K. Burger, L Hetland, and E. Winner. "Does Studying the Arts Engender Creative Thinking? Evidence for Near But Not Far Transfer." Journal of Aesthetic Education 34.3/4 (2000): 91-104.; National Endowment for the Humanities. Picturing America. Web. 21 March 2011.; Patron, L. R. "Karaoke in the Library: Effects on Learning, Literacy, and Social Communication." Teacher Librarian 373 (2010): 44-46.; Weiss man, D. "You Can't Get Much Better Than That." Putting the Arts in the Picture: Reframing Education in the 21st Century, edited by Nick Rabkin and Robin Redmond. Center for Arts Policy at Columbia College, 2004.

Heather Moorefield-Lang

MLA Citation Moorefield-Lang, Heather. "Bringing the Arts to the School Library." Library Media Connection, 30, no. 3, November 2011. School Library Connection,

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Entry ID: 1979551

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