Tools of the Trade: Local Libraries
by Kelly Virgin
Throughout the school year I have the ability to push my students across that threshold on a regular basis. We visit the school library at least monthly and since I line my classroom walls with bookshelves, they literally walk into a library every school day. However, as the end of the school year looms, I grow increasingly concerned for their literary lives over the summer. To ease my worries, and to nudge students to cross that magic threshold on their own, I take the time to introduce my students to their local library.
First and foremost, students need access to all that their local libraries have to offer, which means they need library cards. I give each of my students a library card application and through bribery, nagging, and persistence I manage to get most to complete and return the form. The youth director at our local library removes one hurdle for my students by waving the ID requirement (this is an option on the application). Students may complain about “having to fill out the form” and many ask “why do I even need a library card anyway,” but every year when we distribute the cards, there is an excitement in the air. I watch as the most vocal protestors rearrange wallets or keyrings to find safe places for their new prized possessions. You can find the Minor Library Card Application for the Chester County Library here. If you call your local library, they will most likely work out a convenient way for you send completed applications and pick up cards.
I have found simply giving my students library cards doesn’t always motivate them to go visit the library and use them on their own. So, during the last week of school, I take each of my classes on a short trip up town to tour the library. The youth director at our local library has designed a fun and interactive way for students to explore the library and familiarize themselves with its resources. Through a competitive scavenger hunt, students work quickly with partners to gather materials from all over the library that meet certain requirements: large print biography, language learning CD, YA book about sports, etc. We have learned, through trial and error, that the key to maximum engagement is a desirable prize. This year the library offered five dollars to the local ice cream shop (happily donated for the cause) to the first place winners and candy to all the runners up. Students excitedly rushed around the library with armfuls of books, independently used the resources – front desk clerk and computer catalog, and some even set aside a book or two that they wanted to check out for themselves (with their brand new library cards!).
Finally, while access to books is a strong enough motivator to draw me to the library time and time again, teenagers may need a little more enticement. Accordingly, we end each library visit with a full review of all the perks (programs, technology, volunteer hours, summer reading assessments, etc.) offered at the library. Our local library, like most, offers a whole host of summer programs designed just for teens. There is literally something for everyone, whether students are gamers, readers, movie-watchers, scientists, or outdoor enthusiasts, there is an event for them. Additionally, many students enjoy taking advantage of borrowing hot spots or DVDs to help provide entertainment on long car trips or to alleviate the potential boredom of unscheduled summer days. I have also partnered with the library to help with our district’s summer reading requirements. Each summer they offer book club type discussions about the required texts, which students can attend in lieu of taking a test when they return in the fall. Attendance at these talks has risen steadily over the years. Even if you can’t get your students to physically cross the threshold of their local library by the end of the school year, you can at least nudge them in that direction by inviting them to investigate summer offerings through an exploration of their library’s website.
How do you persuade your students to cross the magic threshold and take advantage of all the life-changing offerings at their libraries?
Kelly Virgin teaches English for the Kennett Consolidated School District and has been a PAWLP fellow since 2010. She is a proud bookworm and loves sharing her passion for reading and writing with her students. Through PAWLP, she facilitates the Strategies for Teaching Literature course in the spring and the Grammar Matters course in the summer.