We all agree that school is a house of learning. We also know that learning will acquire more meaning when combined with reading. I remember in my school days, books only meant textbooks. I had never seen any other books. I was told by one of my teachers that there was a library in our school and that we could get more books from there. My friends and I searched for the library but we never found it. Later, we came to know that library books were kept in the teachers’ staff room under lock and key. I asked my teachers for the books, but for reasons of safety, they were not ready to give me any books from that library. This was my first experience with a library. Many of my friends faced the same situation in their schools. Most schools are afraid to give books to children because of loss, theft, damage, etc. I always questioned the thinking behind this. If the library is meant for children to read, why are the books kept in almirahs and locked up?
During my undergraduate days, I had a very good library and I loved it. Most of my free periods were spent there. I observed the catalogues, racks, books, codes given, and appreciated that the library and librarian had been given space to explore the different angles of a library. When I remembered my days of struggling to get library books in school, I decided to become a librarian and completed my graduation in library science. I joined a school as a librarian because I was eager to see that the future generation did not struggle like me to get books to read.
I feel that the library plays an important role in childrens’ lives. It has the power of creating good human beings as people can get to read biographies and inspiring stories. When I started working in a school as a librarian, children were keen and interested in coming to the library, but they had less time to explore the library. The library had to reach the children whenever they wanted to see the books. I wished my library to be open and provide free access to children. When I joined the Library Educators Course run by Bookworm, Goa, I learnt about thematic setups, discovered childrens’ literature, wrote book reviews, learnt about age appropriate book selections, began to understand the thought process of writers, experienced group discussions, tried out activities for children, and oh! so much that could be done in the library!
My field project: classroom libraries
One of the requirements of the course was a field project. I decided to do mine on setting up classroom libraries with the intention of bringing children closer to books and to the library. A classroom library can help in learning and instil a love of reading among the children. It can also nurture peer reading. The purpose of a classroom library is to encourage the reading habit in the classroom itself, because the child spends most of the time there and the books are close at hand to use as per his/her need.
With a classroom library, teachers can find resources in the classroom itself. If the teachers are using classroom resources, children will also want to use them. Classroom libraries will help slow learners in the class. Keeping picture books, easy to read and conceptual books like Let’s Catch The Rain! Let’s Plant Trees, Raindrops, TEN, LET’S GO, etc., will make young students understand concepts more easily. Once they start reading, they will become more confident learners. We have to observe, appreciate, encourage and give them opportunities during each and every interaction. Therefore, I planned to implement my field project with my children. A classroom library should not only stock story books for children, but it should have a diverse collection that can be used for all needs and interests. This was my guiding principle.
For the classroom library project, I selected grades 3 and 4. Why these classes? I felt that this was the right age to inculcate a deeper interest in reading. These children have the skill of reading and understanding. Setting up a classroom library was quite challenging for me. My mentors and friends from the LEC guided me to interact more with the children and listen to their ideas and solutions. So I talked to the children and asked them some questions. “If I keep books in your class, what will you do with them? How are you going to use books in the class? How will you take care of them? What kinds of books would you like?” They had such brilliant answers and ideas. They suggested using classroom corners, covering books, arranging and refreshing frequently and monitoring. I was excited to see that children had ideas far ahead of their experience! I took grade 5 and 6 students to the main library to select books for the 3rd and 4th grade classroom libraries. Why did I do that? Because the older children selected the books they had enjoyed the most when they were in grades 3 and 4!
I also discussed the idea of a classroom library with the teachers because I needed them to do their bit to encourage the use of the books in the classroom.
Teachers helped and cooperated in setting up the classroom library and started using the resources I had kept in the classroom. They also started giving out these books as reference material to the children. Once the children got used to the idea, I also took my grade 3 and 4 students to the main library to make their own selection. They did this by voting for the books and 31 books of their choice were brought to the classroom library.
My first step was to give orientation to the children. Giving orientation or introduction to the children was quite challenging since they were very young. If I placed restrictions, conditions and more don’ts, I felt they wouldn’t accept it! I again took the children’s help and we agreed that the classroom library would be organized in three corners:
a) Library books – Kannada, English, Hindi and general knowledge books. Fiction and non-fiction.
b) Language books – Kannada, English, Hindi and Sanskrit. (Grammar and reference)
c) Subject books – EVS/science, mathematics, teaching material/activities (for teachers and students)
Maintaining the classroom corners was not easy but I made groups and took each group to their corner and briefed them about the books, how to maintain them, who has to care for them and keep them neat, how to borrow books, how to repair books if torn, cleaning and maintaining the shelves. All this information was given and practiced in the library period. This was the time when I would go to their class. I also did some activities in the library period in their classroom.
The library window – Theme-based book display activity
To integrate their reading with the curriculum, I also introduced theme based displays that I learnt in the LEC course and liked a lot! To connect the classroom library with the main library, theme based displays were done on topics the children were studying. For example, I took the theme of “Water” and collected all water-related books like: Boondi, Water, Kaveri, Catch the rain, Kadalu nanna odanadi (Kannada). Using these books, I talked about the water cycle which was part of their syllabus. After that, from the main library I brought these books to the classroom library.
Students made presentations about the water cycle, teachers too liked the books and used them in the classroom. That was a big learning for me. To encourage the students to delve more into the classroom library, I selected a student librarian whose job it was to keep a record of used books, issues and returns and stay in touch with me.
Impact of the classroom library project
The classroom library project that I did with my children was very valuable. They liked it very much and there was a high turnover of the books. Based on my data, I found that the use of the classroom library was higher than the main library. I learnt from this that children are more curious and attracted if the books are within sight and reach, all the time. They also felt a part of the project as they had selected the books, participated in idea generation, etc. As librarians, when we open up and talk to children, they share their feelings and thoughts more easily.
I would like to share a personal experience with a grade 4 child. When I conducted a book talk, I asked the children to sit in a semi circle and picked up Kali and the Rat Snake by Zai Whitaker. That book had been on the shelf with no child picking it up. I started to talk about the book and the character, the illustrations and Kali’s situation in school. Everyone was listening and observing closely. One child wanted to read that book immediately. He came back three days later and shared his experience of reading the book with the other children. He was moved to see that Kali had no friends, sat alone to eat his food and how the teachers treated him differently. He showed everyone the pictures he liked. His mother had also seen him reading on his own and was quite surprised because he never would sit in one place for long! The impact that a librarian can have on a reader was a big learning for me.
Parents also appreciated the classroom library concept since they saw their children bringing home books daily to read. Earlier with just one library period in a week, children had to wait for that period to bring a book home. Parents felt that because of the classroom library, their children were reading more books in the class and at home. The open library concept and easy access to books is beneficial to everyone. I think making this happen is the main role of the librarian. This is what I experienced. As librarians understand a child’s mind and cooperate with the child, the child becomes a better reader.
- The Manual for an open school library – Usha Mukunda, p 7, 12, 17, 19, 22, 31
- Setting up and running a school library-Nicola Baird – Introduction, Chapter 1, 2 & 3
- Mudaliar Commission Report 1952 – The place of the library in schools, p 89, 90 & 91
- Rosenblatt’s Theory of reading – Shobha Sinha
The author is a library educator and has worked as a school librarian at Viveka School of Excellence near Mysuru. His classroom library was set up here. Currently, he is working in Podar International School in Mandya with young children from semi-urban areas. His focus is to discover their reading interests and bring about vibrant use of the library. He can be reached at [email protected].