Thursday, June 29, 2023

In praise of librarians and school libraries

At the moment, many schools throughout New Zealand are packing away library books and shoving them into classrooms or store rooms. Instead the library is being used as classrooms as school rolls grow. At the same time, New Zealand children's literacy rates are dropping considerably. There has to be a correlation.

When I was a teacher, I'd often find lonely children sitting by themselves while I was on playground duty. They were either too shy, awkward, or new to the school to make friends. Or they were on the 'out' of a group of friends. I'd steer them to the library so they could enjoy the world of books. Libraries in schools are a haven for those socially shy children.

They're also life-saving for children who are going through a traumatic time. I remember when my parents broke up, and feeling devastated. Because our parents didn't take us often to public libraries to borrow books and we didn't have a lot of books in the house, school libraries were gold. I buried myself into books and took myself off into worlds afar. It helped me deal with over-whelming feelings. 

Libraries in schools serve children (and teachers) in so many ways. They help children find books for their projects. Lessons in a school library teach children how to research and use the computers to find information. The books teach children skills, to problem solve, feel empathy, increase their vocabulary, and learn how other cultures do things. They expand children's imagination and increase their creativity. And the books inside the library are pitched exactly for their age group. 

Authors, illustrators and publishers also miss out whenever a library shuts down. They produce books for that target age group. Reduced sales means in the long term fewer books will be published in New Zealand.

Over recent years, one third of school libraries have disappeared, and many schools now don't have a dedicated librarian. If a school through no choice or because they don't realise the value of libraries use that building for another classroom, they are sending a message to children that reading doesn't matter. They've also lost the expertise of a librarian who will help children find the next book in a series, or a similar type of book they've just enjoyed, and help those who are reluctant readers.

So, bring back those libraries and their librarians! Value that space and those experts in your school. 

Governments, give funding to schools so that they can expand into new buildings and not take away their libraries. Teachers, utilise your time in your school library to teach research skills, read aloud a favourite book, and familarise your students with the wonders inside (I know that most of you do that). Parents, encourage your children to talk about the books they've taken home from their library. Take turns reading passages when they're tucked into bed. Children/students, make use of that wonderful space in your school, find the treasures inside, and take your superpower (your imagination) on sublime adventures. 

If your library has already disappeared... petition for it to come back! It's the first step to help improving our children's literacy.

best wishes

Maria Gill


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