The library: beating heart of the school
The school library is a refuge and a place of discovery, says author Alan Gibbons
Do you love your library? Tell us why at email@example.com and join our Love Your Library celebration, kicked off by Julia Donaldson
- guardian.co.uk, Friday 22 March 2013 09.00 GMT
An awful lot has been written about public libraries, how they are at the centre of our communities, how they offer free books, how they provide free internet access and many other services. You know what, it is all true, but there is another temple of the book which is sometimes forgotten and that is the school library.
A good library is at the heart of the school. The best ones I visit are bright and airy and packed from early morning with youngsters poring over books and magazines, getting help with their reading, taking part in book award shadowing groups, tapping away at the computers, doing homework, playing Warhammer and chess. Pupil librarians gain invaluable experience helping the library manager. Some school libraries are so busy that there is a shift system at lunchtime.
For whatever reason, many youngsters don’t get to their public library. Maybe family life is too busy. Maybe they haven’t yet got the reading habit. The school library is the ideal place for them. It creates readers. It also offers a refuge to youngsters who want an alternative to the playground or the school canteen.
The school library works best when, the moment you step into the foyer, there are books on display, posters of favourite authors, photo displays of mystery readers or staff, students and members of the community seen reading in unusual places. There are posters of members of the school community digitally transported to their reading world. Mrs Harris is fighting dragons. Mr Johnson is scoring the winner at the Nou Camp. Jack in Y9 is travelling through time while Aisha in Y10 is solving a gruesome murder. There are TV screens with rolling book recommendations. If you like Bond, read Higson, Horowitz or Muchamore. If you like Jackie Wilson, read Hopkins or Cassidy. Everybody is given signposts on her or his reading journey. What’s more, all roads lead to the library.
There are reading and writing groups and anthologies of reviews, poems, book covers, fiction and non-fiction. The students are immersed in classic and modern fiction. The librarian helps them browse and recommends the latest cool reads. . It is the temple of information, research and narrative. Most of all, it is the place where relationships are formed, recommendations are made and a reading culture is created. A good school library supplements the prescribed curriculum with that other curriculum, the hidden, secret world of your own favourite books, comics, DVDs and websites.
In the words of a motto written on the wall of the ancient library of Alexandria: “The place of the cure of the soul”
Alan Gibbons is a full time writer and organiser of the Campaign for the Book. His latest book, Raining Fire, is published by Orion Indigo.