Some young people live with their head in a book; transported to different worlds, fighting dragons, kayaking down the Amazon or learning how to breathe again after their first broken heart. Some become habitual memory sponges for the eating habits of a narwhal or short-tailed chinchilla. It thrills me that school libraries have incredibly successful book loan schemes and reading clubs. However, we must never neglect those who use the library as a comforting cover story or a security blanket. School libraries are so much more than books on shelves.
At lunchtimes they are a go-to area for those who may not be drawn to the football or hockey pitch and those who may or may not have the confidence to walk into a science club or debating society. Many students come alone, so the welcome needs to be warm but not overpowering. Having weekly themes and printed quizzes (with a supply of pencils and chocolate for prizes) available by the door enables a purpose for each student to walk in and feel occupied. Then once they are in, a supply of reassuringly consistent and also fresh, engaging activities await them.
A weekly chess club, hosted by friendly sixth formers, grows in its popularity, but a selection of board games based on luck rather than skill is more inclusive. Maybe started by the librarian yet often easy to leave unsupervised once individuals have joined and exchange is underway. Other constantly accessible ideas include puzzle books, monthly prize-winning activity sheets known as the ‘I’m Smarter Than You and I Like Chocolate’ quiz, advanced colouring books and pencils, a ‘Quick Pick’ section with ‘Where’s Wally?’ books, the ‘Guinness Book of Records’, the ever-popular ‘1001 Cars to Drive Before You Die’ and ‘Beano’ annuals. All of these offerings are conversation starters and the librarian can help to nurture this and involve others. I am constantly surprised and delighted where young minds can wander to and the challenges their inquisitiveness can overcome. They have nothing to prove to a librarian. No tests to complete. Everyone is equal. Although it is a ‘No Phone Zone’, there are no ‘Silence’ signs in our library.
School libraries are so much more than books on shelves
Very soon, the same faces will appear and participate in events such as candleholder making for Diwali, ‘Cake and Classics’ and team quizzes. Teaching and support staff and students of all ages are encouraged to come along to every event. Once more, barriers are broken down, friendships are made and confident young people emerge. Having two long-term senior library assistants and a team of younger ones serving for a term each, it becomes a badge of honour. These quiet students are soon creating and hosting quizzes. They are presenting awards to others and come September, the circle starts once again.
So yes, we have books. They are in plentiful supply and kept right up to date with exciting new publications arriving on a regular basis. We also have a haven for all students, habitual readers or not, where they comfortably mix with all year groups and staff. Where the atmosphere is very much inclusive and minds and spirits are constantly enlightened.