I am currently involved with a family literacy program.* It meets for six weeks, during which time families and their grade-school children come to a nearby school’s well-stocked library where we spend two hours together eating healthy food, reading good books and discussing how those books pertain to our very own lives. There is no “teaching” going on, just delightful conversation.
One goal of the program is to instill the love of books and the love of reading. Another is to help familiescarry on conversations around books in the home. The kind of conversation that we encourage is not focused on typical comprehension things like a book’s plot and character development, but rather on how a story or book impacts the reader personally, approaching comprehension in a way that focuses upon each individual’s humanity. The contributions and benefits in these types of conversations are unique to each family’s and child’s life and experiences.
An interesting side note is that the school library in which we meet does not have a full-time librarian, which is obvious because the library doesn’t have a personality. No one has put a uniquely personal stamp on the place. It’s not like every classroom in the school building that reflects its teacher’s human personality. The warmth and welcome of the typical classroom is absent in this library, which is unfortunate.
A good school library staffed by a friendly librarian is in effect the very largest classroom in any school and every student should be able to spend relaxed time in this richly stocked haven for readers, busy creating their own literacy histories. Unstaffed libraries result in exactly opposite of the spirit that librarian expertise is designed to engender. Sadly, the families in the program I’m involved with are focusing on each other’s humanity in a place that feels more like a sterile storehouse of books rather than the welcoming home of a dedicated librarian who can serve as a guide and cheerleader for children and their incipient relationship with books.
The research is clear that the active participation of qualified school librarians is one of the few clear correlates of improved gains in reading, while the absence of these wonderful staff members is associated with declines or minimal gains in literacy development.
Yet, every year, due to shrinking budgets, more and more school libraries sit dark and silent, without a well-trained librarian, leaving classroom teachers to enter, turn on the lights and go about the important work of merely getting each child something to read. In fact, since 2000, more than 10,000 school librarians have been removed from their positions, converting libraries to humanity free-book repositories. It’s a sad situation for a potentially wonderful place for children to learn about their own humanity.
*The Prime Time program is brought to local schools by Kentucky Humanities.