My classroom is a library. You can’t miss this from the moment you step in the door. There are books everywhere. One child observed the other day, “No matter where I am sitting, I can see books.” This is intentional. I want our classroom to be a place where students immerse themselves in stories, in information, in any text that is going to enrich their learning and their thinking.
If you are a student in our classroom, you are a part of our reading community and you really know what all of these books mean. These books are yours. You have complete access. Everywhere you look, you see possibilities, opportunities, stories you love and stories you want to love. “It’s pretty easy to be a reader in this room,” a student told me recently. Yes. The books are here. The time to read them is made. The excitement is consistent. But it doesn’t happen by pure osmosis. We work on being readers. And sometimes the work is hard. But we become readers, surrounded by books.
I read Pernille Ripp‘s recent post about classroom libraries this morning: On the Need for Classroom Libraries for All Ages. She makes excellent points about the difference a classroom library makes for her Grade 7 students. It made me want to celebrate my classroom library because I believe pretty passionately in its existence. But some of the comments also compelled me to want to address how vital classroom libraries are – not in place of a school library, but as a complement. I wish, really, that the conversation wasn’t necessary but I know from comments I have heard over the years that some people believe that classroom libraries aren’t overly important. Or that they actually interfere or compete with a school library. The arguments include statements like these: classroom libraries are not all that well stocked, the books aren’t selected by a qualified Teacher Librarian, teachers don’t know how to weed, there isn’t enough diversity. Or the big concern: classroom libraries will mean less interest in the school library making school libraries unnecessary.
I would argue that the very people who have extensive, well-loved classroom libraries, are the very people who know there are never enough books and never enough expertise. We are the champions of well-funded school libraries. We revere our Teacher Librarians and seek out their recommendations and knowledge often, We ensure that our students get frequent time in the school library. We take out bins and bins of books and bring them into our classroom collections. We can’t imagine a school without a library. Just like we can’t imagine a classroom without a library. Just like we can’t imagine a reader without a book.
Classroom libraries mean each child is steps away from a book at all times. These libraries mean that we can get up when our mood switches – put down our novel and pick up a book of poems. We can immerse ourselves in a nonfiction text and come up for air five minutes before the bell rings to read a picture book. We can pass the book to the child next to us without any signing in, signing out time spent.
Classroom libraries are like a living, breathing, ever-changing creature. They reflect the interests, the questions and the passions of the readers in the room. Highlighted books will include favourite authors or illustrators, themes of study, books to inspire writing on a particular theme. In my classroom, we have a recently read shelf for both fiction and nonfiction books. If we read it, they can find it and quick. Often children want to visit those stories we have shared together again and again. A classroom library is an extension of its readers. It is their mirror. The bright shiny button on their favourite jacket. The delicious cookie in the jar almost, but not quite, out of reach.
There is an intimacy to a classroom. As teachers, we know our students. If we also know our books and have plenty to choose from, we can make those essential matches happen. My daughter wisely pointed out: “The teacher who owns the books knows you and so they know which book to recommend to you.” Of course, librarians know students too. Often very well. But remember this is not an argument for one library over the other. We are celebrating readers and access to books here.
I also think that those not in full support of classroom libraries, may not understand how workshop classrooms work. They may assume that reading happens during a silent reading block and then again in a reading period where the teacher supplies the material – a novel, an article, a reader. During silent reading, it is assumed, that students can easily be reading a book that they have taken out from a school library. During the reading lesson, students will be provided with reading material. While yes, this might be the case in some classrooms, it is not the way a Reading Workshop classroom works. During reading conferences, we leap up and make book recommendations, we help students select titles, we provide time to “book shop” in the collection. Peers recommend books to each other. We book talk titles and students make lists of what to read in the future. There is time to buddy read. There is permission to get up and abandon a book. All of this means books need to be available and organized – accessible in the moment for readers on an important reading journey.
This is hardly the first time I have talked about classroom libraries and it is unlikely to be the last. My classroom library is always changing because it needs to meet the needs of the students who use it. I keep writing about it and reading avidly all the while, because I want to offer my students the very best literacy experiences I can provide.
Today, I celebrate classroom libraries. I celebrate teachers who invest time, money and love into creating reading environments for the readers in their rooms. I know these teachers know books, know kids and keep reading and learning so that they can always learn more. I celebrate those that invest in classroom libraries because they know how important that one book might be for that one child and that means many books for the many children who will pass through a room. I also celebrate the children who have classrooms that honour them as readers. Classroom libraries mean something. Something big.
If you, like me, are in the mood to celebrate classroom libraries, I include links to some of these other posts here.
I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.
Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.
This is also a celebration post.
Thank you to Ruth Ayres and the #celebratelu community!
Being part of a community that regularly shares gratitude and celebrations truly transforms my weeks.