Recently, I spent a snowy weekend reading an interesting professional book for librarians: Teaching Life Skills in the School Library: Career, Finance, and Civic Engagement in a Changing World by Blanche Woolls and Connie Hamner Williams. I was wary as I opened it, thinking to myself, "oh great, more things to add to an already busy school day." But as I continued to read the book, which is easy to read, written in a conversational tone, and filled with practical, reasonable, engaging ideas, I began to understand that by employing our skills as leaders and our talents as teachers and collaborators, we librarians could easily incorporate ideas like these into our school library programs. In fact, comparing this book to the AASL National School Library Standards, revealed many alignments to help meet the competencies for school librarians and library programs! What stood out to me the most is recognizing how library programs that focus on student interaction and authentic leadership can set a strong foundation for students to succeed as members of their communities—now and in the future.
One place that should make all learners feel comfortable, safe, and accepted is the school library. For example, consider the difficult transition that comes with moving into middle school or junior high, which can be a true challenge for some learners. So many things are different: multiple teachers, new expectations, and, in some cases, new classmates. This transition can be eased with a strong educational environment, and the library can help build this by offering opportunities for learners to begin to maneuver within this new situation by offering things like a Geek Squad or Library Crew: activities that learners can join based on their interests and that give them a chance to connect with other learners on common ground. Think about it, these groups will not only support learners but provide help for you as well. Depending on the level of technology and support in your building, the Geek Squad can learn the programs used in school and be available to support students and teachers. In fact, they could learn new programs to be introduced and go into classrooms to support the learning there. Besides helping you if you are the one on speed dial for those tech-wary teachers, it also gives that student just finding their place an opportunity to be successful. Win, win!
A library club is another way to create a place for learners to find acceptance. The club could be used in several ways. It could be a few students who each spend one period a day in the library assisting with tasks and learning social skills at the same time. Or it could be an advisory board that gives learners opportunities to lead. These learners would meet regularly with the librarian to suggest, create, and facilitate events in the library. Once an idea is proposed, the advisory board would discuss the pros and cons and, if they thought the idea was sound, a committee would be formed to implement the details. This would include things like a preparing a budget, thinking through logistics, planning advertisements, and whatever else needs to be done to make sure the event is successful. Allowing learners to take on these responsibilities, with librarian guidance of course, provides real-life opportunities to try a number of different skills, which may help students when the time comes to think about a future career.
If we view the school library as the heart of the school and show ourselves to be leaders, then we are in a prime position to collaborate with teachers, administrators, and support staff to create a myriad of ways for our learners to participate in authentic experiences. If these ideas sound intriguing to you, be sure to get Teaching Life Skills in the School Library: Career, Finance, and Civic Engagement in a Changing World and our AASL standards and get started!
American Association of School Librarians. National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. American Library Association, 2018.
Woolls, Blanche, and Connie Hamner Williams. Teaching Life Skills in the School Library: Career, Finance, and Civic Engagement in a Changing World. Libraries Unlimited, 2019.