Tips & Advice
This Is What Being an Elementary School Librarian Means to Me Today
by Tanya Turek
In one way or another, I have worked in the world of kids’ books for more than two decades now — yet, it wasn’t until I began my job as a librarian four years ago that I truly realized how much books connect and create community. As an elementary school librarian, I am the one person on campus who interacts with every student in every class on a weekly — and for many, daily — basis. My hours are spent cultivating connections with my 600 students, learning their reading levels and interests, putting the right book in their hands and creating a warm, welcoming, and, yes, noisy space where they feel safe and know they belong.
Children’s books and literacy are my passions and I am grateful for every day that I get to share this love with kids. I could spend my days tracking down lost books, collecting fines, running reports, and teaching the Dewey Decimal System, but that would drastically cut into the time I have to share my love for books and the marvels of reading, see the excitement in the faces of my students when I describe a book I just read, and show them the next, newest book in a series they are reading.
Less than half of the third, fourth, and fifth graders at my school are reading at grade level, and working with kids who struggle with reading was a new experience for me when I became a librarian. During my many years as a children’s bookseller, I found myself interacting most often with kids (and adults) who were book lovers and only occasionally encountering reluctant readers. On a more personal level, growing up in a house filled with books, my three kids naturally gravitated towards them and had little choice but to become readers.
I have learned a lot from engaging with students who struggle to learn read. From the hurdles English language learners face to the dynamics of language acquisition and building vocabulary, I am experiencing kids’ books — and kids themselves — in a whole new way. Where I used to read every new kids’ book that caught my eye, both for review on my website and to share with customers, I’ve found that many new releases are not accessible to my students. I now work to bring high interest, low-level books, especially with diverse characters and authors, to the shelves of my library. Now I spend my days helping students find books, listening to them tell me about the books they are reading, and reading the mini-book reports I reward (bribe) students for writing.
I aim to instill an understanding of the value of literacy as well as a love of reading for pleasure — but I work to give my students experiences they may not have at home too. Many of the LEGOs and other educational toys and games that my own three children played with have migrated to my library. Recesses are spent teaching first graders to play Go Fish, working on puzzles with fourth graders, praising creations built with LEGOs, wooden blocks, and other architectural toys, and making cootie catchers or origami hats with second graders.
I have learned that just getting the best books for my students on the shelves is only half my job. Building a culture of literacy by way of creating a space where books and reading partner with collaborative play and community is what being a librarian — and book lover — means to me today.
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