(originally published at Daily Dose of Decadence on October 8, 2011. Written by Mrs.ReaderPants.)
It’s 8AM, and I hear them coming. Their pounding footsteps rattle the stairs, and their excited voices fill the empty hallway. While school doesn’t officially start for forty more minutes, our library will be hopping this morning, just as it is every morning before school. The library doors swing open, and here they come! My morning library babies. Smiling, talking, laughing, excited to be at school. Excited to be in the library.
Morning library kids come in for all kinds of reasons. Some are completing school projects on library computers. Some are there to checkout new books because they already read the ones they got yesterday. They are there to read magazines, buy poster board, or login to Goodreads. Many simply want to hang out with their library-loving friends and avoid sitting in the noisy cafeteria until school starts. Others just want to talk to my aide or me, knowing we will listen to whatever they have to say. Whatever their reason for coming in, my morning library kids are a special group. From the tiniest sixth grader to the tallest eighth grader, they are a motley group from different grade levels and different backgrounds. They are boys and girls. Boisterous and quiet. Honors students and special ed. Yet despite their vast differences, our morning library time has developed its own unique culture. I once commented that they are like a family, and the kids agreed.
While mornings, lunches, and after-school are our busiest times of day, we know many students are also asking their teachers to send them. In addition to our scheduled classes and the computer lab, we also see anywhere from 10-30 additional students, sent by their teachers, each class period. The teachers repeatedly tell me that their students are constantly asking if they can go to the library during class. Clearly, the library is the place to be.
As a middle school librarian, I like to compare myself with Oprah Winfrey. When Oprah started her book club in 1996, people who never really read much at all suddenly became obsessed with the books she recommended. When Oprah raved about a book, people bought it, read it, passed it on. Like Oprah, I have huge power within my school to influence my students’ perception of reading. It never takes long for my newer students to figure out that if they need a book recommendation, my aide and I are the ones to see. Teachers routinely send us students who don’t like reading, in the hopes that we can find something they will want to read. Like Oprah, it seems my aide and I have this magical power to get our students excited about books. As soon as we say we loved a book, students are clamoring to get their hands on it.
But here’s the thing—we have no magic. Instead, we have real smiles, a sincere love for our kids, and an enormous dose of enthusiasm for the books we read and love. I have the world’s most amazing library aide, who loves reading almost as much as she loves working in the library. We both read the books in our library constantly, and we passionately talk up reading and books every single chance we get. We know our books well, and we take the time to get to know our students. We go out of our way to learn their names, to ask them questions, to notice when we don’t see them for a few days. We connect with our kids on a personal level, and constantly remind them that we really do care about them.
So while our audience is on a far-smaller scale than Oprah’s, I know how Oprah must have felt when the books she loved became favorites of readers worldwide. Oprah’s Book Club could never have been so successful without her genuine passion for her booklist. Enthusiasm is contagious, and it is vital for today’s teens to see the adults in their lives truly excited about reading. In my library, I know my aide and I inspire our students to fall in love with reading, to wonder what all the fuss is about. When I really loved a certain book and talk it up with a few classes, that book stays checked out for months.
The kids come to the library every chance they get, to the point where our library lunch passes are always totally gone by second period each day. One student recently went so far as to “buy” a lunch pass from another student by purchasing him cookies at lunch. Many students have told us that they never liked to read until they came to our school. Our students’ fervor for reading quickly catches on with other students, and our library has become “the place to be” on our campus. Looking around our crazy, crowded, sometimes-quite-noisy library, my aide and I know we built that community. We made that happen.