Let International School Library Month inspire you

In October, school libraries around the world celebrate their work or find inspiration in the theme set by The International Association of School Librarianship (IASL). This year’s theme is 'Connecting communities and cultures'. In this post, I want to share three things to think about with that theme in mind.

Firstly though, don’t worry if you haven't prepared anything for School Library Month. Your school might celebrate the library in other ways, or at other times during the year, such as running a Book Week, holding a book fair, or celebrating World Literacy Day.

School Library Month is not about having weeks of activities lined up. There might be just one thing you do this month to focus on connecting communities and cultures within your school. The key is to get started — and what better time to do that than during School Library Month!

International School Library Month logo © International Association of School Librarianship

1. Get to know your community

The mix of ethnicities, languages, customs, traditions, and religions that make up your school community is unique. The knowledge, experiences, and expectations that people bring to your school community make it unlike any other.

Here are some ways you can find out more about your community.

  • Use our School community profile form to help you gather information.
  • Talk to your students! Ask them to tell you about themselves and their families, what they like about school and your library. What do they think is missing?
  • Make contact with your public library. Their person responsible for multicultural or ethnic community outreach may be able to share insights with you.

2. Reflect your community

The way your library looks, the things your library has, and what happens in your library, affects whether people feel as though they belong. When staff, students, parents, or whānau come into the library, what makes them feel at home?

You might use these questions to see how well your library reflects the school community and cultures.

  • Do you have a diverse collection that reflects your students’ lives, their family, their needs, and aspirations?
  • Do you have displays that showcase various cultures, places, or points of view?
  • Does your library have bilingual — or perhaps multilingual — signage?
  • Do you encourage students to share their own stories, art, and other creations? You might need to make time and space available for this in the library.

3. Engage with the community

Libraries that are truly inclusive don’t just reflect their community. They welcome everybody in and find ways to work together to shape the library space, services, or programmes.

What can you do to reduce or remove barriers so that learning and creating engaged readers involves the whole school community?

You can reach out to your community and ask for their support, using the school's newsletter, website, or your library's online presence.

  • There will be people in your school community who'd love to share their passion and expertise. How might you form collaborations that support learners, parents, and whānau?
  • Invite students, parents, and whānau into the library to talk about their home celebrations, traditions, and cultural events. Invite community leaders, authors, illustrators, poets, or other positive role models into the library as guest speakers or storytellers.
  • Do you lend library books and resources to the family and whānau of your students? Are there books bought with parents in mind? And can preschool siblings borrow from your library? Our website has more information about involving family, whānau, and community in creating engaged readers.
  • Can you organise activities or events that support literacy, or mark cultural events within your community? For example, Te Wiki o te Reo Māori or Pacific language weeks — this week is Niuean Language Week. And October includes Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights (October 19th), and Halloween (October 31st). Or you could choose something important to your community right now, and celebrate that together.

Thinking beyond School Library Month

You might like to think of this month as the beginning of a renewed focus on making connections between the library and your school's community and cultures.

The questions above — more of a starter kit than a comprehensive list — could be used to help you reflect on what's going well in your library, find where there's scope to do more, and begin making improvements. When you look back in a year, you'll be able to see the impact of any changes you've made and celebrate those successes.

Later this term, we'll publish our updated web pages about creating inclusive libraries, with more advice about supporting different cultures and groups within your school community. Watch this space!

By Miriam Tuohy

Miriam is the Senior Specialist (School Library Development) for Services to Schools.

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