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Building Community in a Bigger Space – The Library

By Chris Kehan

For the past four years, setting up my classroom has been different than it was for the previous nineteen years.  Having taught in the regular education classroom for those nineteen years, I made the leap into library media specialist.  While I still see myself as a classroom teacher, my classroom just grew in size and so did my number of students.  Creating a space where students, teachers, and parents feel welcome and safe to take risks is extremely important for librarians.  Most libraries are situated in the center of the school; hence it’s the hub of activity.  “Entrance through our doors admits one to infinite worlds, magical kingdoms, and the treasure trove of knowledge created by our world’s best thinkers, artists, and scientists.” (Grimes, 2006)

Such a place as Grimes describes doesn’t only take place in September, it needs to be maintained throughout the year.  One of the pleasures I have in teaching in the library (that I had in the regular classroom) is to share my passion for reading.  I wear my reading heart on my sleeve every day.  My students know I am a reader because I share what I’ve read over the summer, as well as what I read throughout the year.  My assistant shares what she’s read too, and our students know they can come to us for a good recommendation.  Putting up a bulletin board that features the teachers and staff in your building with the cover of the book he/she read over the summer is a great way to show everyone is a reader.  “What books, how, and to whom we choose to present them determine who enters the kingdom.” (Grimes, 2006)  Displaying our new books prominently throughout the library entices readers of all ages to check out those books.  Using Animoto ( to create videos of the new arrivals gets the children excited to read.  Oohs and aahs can be heard as the book covers appear on the screen to upbeat music.  Reading aloud with animation and voices helps to bring books and reading to life for my students.

Choice is a big factor in book selection.  When readers have autonomy over what they read, they will read for pleasure and interest versus reading for an assignment.  Getting my students to understand themselves as readers and thinkers, helps to guide them in the books they choose.  Knowing the collection is just as important because it helps me to give direction to those children who are discovering themselves as readers.  I love when I can provide five or six titles/authors to my students, and they ultimately decide to choose one to take home.  I know it’s been successful when they return within a week or two to get another one by the same author or within the same series.  Often they return with a smile and say, “That was really good, do you have another one like that?”

Creating opportunities for children to talk about books is also important to librarians and classroom teachers.  “To create a community of readers in our libraries, we need to provide the models and the arenas for conversations to take place through the creation of book clubs, blogs, and scaffolded dialogues.” (Grimes, 2006)  One way to do this is to host book clubs.  My fourth grade team does parent-student book clubs four times within the year, and they are held in the morning (before the official school day begins) in the library.  The team and I collaborate on what books will be read and how we can facilitate the conversation among the students and their parents.  We also use each opportunity to booktalk the next book we will be reading so as to entice the parents and children to continue with this wonderful venue.  Another way to promote book clubs is to invite students to join an author book club.  If your library hosts author visits, then the children can be invited to join you for a morning or lunchtime book club and read one of his/her books prior to the visit.  The book club can meet weekly or bi-weekly so the momentum is maintained and the book is read in a timely manner before the visit.  If a bi-weekly schedule is set up then a blog ( can be created to keep the lines of communication open on the weeks the book club doesn’t meet.

In order for the library to be an open book to the community-at-large, it is important to have a website or newsletter informing parents, children, and teachers of the happenings going on in the library.  If a library has a website, then links to newsletters, book lists, author sites, research websites, and policies can be posted regularly.  Creating bookmarks for students to take home as they check-out books can inform parents of the website’s URL address.  Refreshing the site on a regular basis will keep parents, students, and teachers coming back to learn more about the library and all it has to offer.

In September, open your doors to the possibilities of creating a space where people who visit want to come back again and again.  Keep those doors open throughout the year, and those who enter will want to stay.  Consider these questions as you work to create a space where your students, parents, and colleagues want to enter and stay a while:

  • What opportunities do you provide where your students can talk about books, authors, and interests?
  • How can you publicize/share the wonderful literature (fiction, nonfiction, and poetry) available to you and your students?
  • How will you help your students to discover the readers that they are?
  • How do you transform apathetic readers into a community of engaged, thoughtful readers?
  • How can you invite parents into the literate lives of their children?
  • How will you inform students and parents of the wonderful things happening in your classrooms on a regular basis?

Grimes, Sharon.  Reading Is Our Business: How Libraries Can Foster Reading Comprehension. Chicago: American Library Association, 2006.  Print


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