Today I made some cheesecake brownies. It's been a while since I made them, but I stumbled across the recipe and it instantly took me back to high school. At our small high school, there was only one German language teacher—Mrs. Abrams. While I'd like to say I learned a lot of German in the four years I spent with her, I can't say that I did (my fault; not hers). But, I did learn a lot about caring for students.
You see, some days Mrs. A. knew we needed to talk about a problem or issue we were having in school. While we thought we were just talking her out of whatever lessons she had planned by getting her distracted, I think now that she didn't care about that. She knew exactly what she was doing. She knew she would get to the content eventually, but sometimes it was more important to focus on us and whatever problem was consuming us. In the end, I think she knew she had to deal with that first or the content would have never stuck.
So how do our libraries become that kind of place for our students? How do we make sure our students find that sense of belonging in the library? First, it's in the language we use. I've written before about it being OUR library. But, words matter, and it's worth repeating. It isn't my library, but rather OUR library.
It's also making sure we have spaces for a variety of activities beyond just instruction. Finding places where students can come (before school, after school, during lunch, or whenever they have time) to just explore. Puzzle, puppets, Legos, makerspaces, books, magazines, etc. are all ways students can escape for a bit. Comfortable and flexible seating can make the library more comfortable for students, too.
Are there other things (technology, resources, etc.) that the library can provide for students? Are our collections representative of our students? Can they find themselves? Can they learn about others? Does our collection provide them with books that they can escape into? Readers' advisory can sometimes be a great way to have a conversation with students.
There is so much potential in thinking of the library as a place where students want to come, where they feel safe, and where they feel supported. Helping create this feeling in the library can help make students lifelong library supporters. Some of these ideas can be implemented with very little to no money. It's all about the community that you build in the library.
Recently when working with a class of undergraduates, I asked them what they remembered about their school libraries. The answers varied, but very few of the memories were about the lessons they had or a workshop they did. Instead, their memories were about their interactions with the librarian and the events and things that made the library special.
We had lots of celebrations in my German class, and often Mrs. A would bring cheesecake brownies. She gave us the recipe before we graduated. I'll never forget those years in her classroom, and the brownies take me back there. Our students today need those spaces where they feel safe, feel valued, and feel needed. Mrs. A's room was one of those places for me all those years ago. Let's make our libraries that place for today's students.