As we've talked about many times in School Library Connection, there are plenty of issues and problems that are impacting school libraries. From budgets to facilities to schedules to staffing, there are lots of problems to be solved in school library land. (Don't get me wrong…there are lots of great things happening and going right in school libraries, too. But, for purposes of this editorial, we're only going to focus on the problems…at least here at the start!) As we ponder the way forward with the issues above, it is crystal clear that school librarians aren't going to be able to solve them all on their own. Instead, we need to partner with various stakeholders in order to find solutions that will work for everyone. Some of those stakeholders can (and should be) students.
Working in your facility, consider how you can utilize students to make changes. In my library administration course, we talk about asking students their opinions. What would they like to have in the library? What do they need out of a library space? If they could design a layout that works, what would they include? Places where they can eat lunch in the library, or soft seating areas, or just a fun place to read quietly might all be things of interest. Consider how the facility can be used beyond just for classes. Ask students what they might like to use the library for. As we think about makerspaces, it also might be worth thinking about how students can create in the library as well. Students will be full of ideas. Not everything they want may be practical or even possible, but remember that those things that do work may just be the ticket to encourage more students to come into the library.
Keep a list of materials students want. They can make lots of recommendations about titles they want to read. This may take the form of additional copies of titles already available, but there may also be things that are missing from the shelves that they want to read. These recommendations can be useful when discussing increases in the budget or when looking for possible donations to build the collection. Consider how students' advocating for funding could be way more powerful than that of the librarian alone.
When things change consider keeping track of how those changes impact students. Keep a list of student requests that have gone unmet. When the opportunity comes to discuss changes, bring that list of items. Let the students' voices be heard in the conversation. If you can frame the conversation in terms of the needs of the students, you may have a stronger element of support.
Consider how to involve students in the decision-making process in the library. Many school libraries have an advisory council that offers suggestions and recommendations when it comes to policies and procedures. Consider getting input from students, too. They may have ideas or suggestions that others haven't thought about. Different perspectives are so important—including the student's perspective. Even if you don't have an advisory committee, keep track of things students ask for and ask about. Even conversations while they are using the library can be important ways to get input and suggestions.
Every school library should be striving to move forward. Letting the students be a part of that movement—even guiding and leading that move forward—can be so powerful. The school library is for everyone in the school—it is OUR school library. It belongs to everyone in the school—most importantly the students!