Better class sessions in the library (doing things that matter)

In term 1 2018, our school library network meetings around the country focused on how you can ensure that class time in the library is spent doing things that make a difference for students. The discussions were a chance for participants to talk about what's working well, or not so well, for them. We came away with a wealth of ideas about how to make things better, which we're pleased to share with you.

We started by reflecting on some fundamental questions:

  • What do people need to know about using the library?
  • What impression do you want people to have of the library and the library staff?
  • What can library staff do to support teaching and learning, and reading engagement?
Children reading during a class session at a school library
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What does your ideal library session look like?

If teachers and students remember just 2 or 3 key things from their library class time, what would you want those things to be? What happens during your library sessions that has a positive impact on teaching and learning, or encouraging students (and teachers) to read for pleasure?

School library staff may be expected to offer a programme of ‘library skills’, research, or information literacy classes for students. Many school library staff do book talks, or they might read aloud especially to younger children. But with the best of intentions, sometimes class sessions in the library just aren't working how you'd like them to. These are some common symptoms:

  • There's confusion about who's ‘running’ the session. Is it you? Is it the teacher? Who else might be helping, for example students issuing books, or teacher aides helping students find something to read?
  • There are no shared and clear expectations about what will happen. Do you know what teachers and students expect and what’s important to them about library time? Does everyone know what you expect?
  • Instead of being a fun and productive time, library sessions have become chaotic or frustrating.

Is it time for a change in your library?

If you feel library sessions aren't working quite as well as you'd like, make a plan to introduce some changes.

  • Prioritise based on what matters most
    • Find out what is really important about library class sessions — to you and teachers and students.
    • Think about introducing some new activities, or perhaps a change in approach, that could have a big impact for your students. What do they really need to know, or be able to do?
  • Take it one step at a time
    • Pick one thing you want to work on.
    • If there's a serious problem you need to address, that might be the place to start.
    • Don’t try to change more than you can manage at one time.
  • Set clear expectations
    • Before a library session, talk with your colleagues (teachers, other library staff, or teacher aides) about what you will each do, and how you can support each other.
    • During each library session, talk with students about what you've planned. Let them know what you'll be doing and what you expect them to do too.
  • Stay positive
    • It's OK to acknowledge any problems, but do your best to stay positive and find solutions.
    • Make sure your interactions with teachers and students help build a good impression.

Help is at hand — great ideas to try

During our network meetings, participants shared many wonderful ideas about how they prepare and manage class sessions in the library. Some of their wise words of advice include:

  • try a shift in approach
  • collaborate with teaching staff to find out how they'd like you to support students in the library
  • develop a resource kit of easy, purposeful activities that you can use at short notice
  • establish a routine for library class times
  • provide teachers with library skills kits
  • develop strategies for hyped-up kids.

Try a shift in approach

One librarian related that their approach was to change the way they sell their services and talk about the library 'rules' to frame them in a positive light. Look at developing policies and offering services that work well for students and give them plenty of choice. Then communicate these new rules and offerings in a positive way to staff and students.

Collaborate with teaching staff

Collaborate with teaching staff to find out what library services you might develop and offer to best support students when they use the library. There are many examples of library-related lesson plans available online. If you're not sure where to start, search for 'school library' and terms such as 'curriculum', 'lesson', or 'research skills' to find plans and outlines you can use or adapt.

Develop a resource kit of easy, purposeful activities

When a class arrives at the library with no session planned (they're just 'hanging out'), step in and create a more purposeful activity. It's a good idea to have a few easy activities up your sleeve for occasions like this. Suggestions include:

  • Book-talk new books — try a simple format such as the one Unshelved use (why I picked it up, why I finished it, it's perfect for.../readalikes).
  • Grab books from the returns pile and ask 'Who's read this? Can you tell us a bit about it?'
  • Start a class discussion about your favourite genres.
  • Talk about reading — not only what we read but also how we read, when, and why. A visual like The rights of the reader poster (pdf, 1.6MB) can be a good starting point for discussion.
  • Try a library scavenger hunt for a fun session that gets everyone moving. Here's an example of a simple challenge (pdf, 795KB) you could customise for your library.
  • Prepare a few Kahoot! quizzes. These are great for everything from library orientation to book-related challenges when you want to inject some fun into library time. Search Kahoot! quizzes for 'school library' to find existing games you can play as-is or modify to suit your situation.

Establish a routine for library class times

Establish a routine for how library class times are run, so that everyone knows what's expected. If there's a process you always follow (such as lining up, sitting on the mat, read-aloud time etc), ensure everyone knows the routine so that sessions run smoothly.

Provide teachers with library skills kits

Give teachers support with kits to use with students about different aspects of the library. These are especially useful if there are no library staff there when classes visit the library. Ideas for useful kits include:

  • caring for books
  • understanding fiction versus non-fiction
  • choosing a genre
  • using the library catalogue
  • using and acknowledging information sources.

Develop strategies for hyped-up kids

If kids come in hyped up (on a windy day for example), start with a relaxation activity, such as reading a story or 5 minutes of meditation (one recommendation was Meditation for kids by Sada on Spotify).

A sound meter gauge or app can also help keep the volume at an appropriate level. There are many available free — just search the Google Play store or Apple's App Store for 'free sound meter'.

Thanks for sharing your ideas at our network meetings

Thank you to everyone who came to our term 1 network meetings and shared their enthusiasm, experiences both good and bad, and ideas to help others deliver library sessions that are worthwhile, fun, and that bring staff and students back for more.

Contact our facilitators if you'd like to join our network and come to our meetings:

Share your success stories

Do you have other ideas about what works well when classes come to your school library?

We'd love to hear your success stories — leave a comment on this blog post.

By Miriam Tuohy

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

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