Volunteer’s experience at a school library

By Blanche Chase
Blanche is an archival researcher at Available Now!, a library Technical Services Assistant at Sierra Club, and a volunteer with the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library

The following article was published in the BayNet Fall 2012 Newsletter.

In January 2012, one of the pages at my local branch library put together a small group of library technical services assistants to volunteer at a nearby public elementary school. The school had re-opened after a two-year renovation and our one-day “crowd sourcing” was to begin the automation process – copy cataloging, adding new spine labels, barcodes to expedite the checkout process and adding the library’s collection into the school district’s online catalog.

Criss Cross Applesauce I had some time while looking for a library job of my own, so I offered to continue. Sitting in the back of the room while classes came into the library throughout the day, I had an opportunity to observe education in action. Some days student behavior was challenging but every day in the library was inspiring.

The teacher-librarian might select one book and read it to all five grades that visited that day. With each class, a different character or aspect of the story would be pointed out or a new word discussed. The students always had something to add to the discussion, relevant or not. Around St. Patrick’s Day she read them a story about a marching band, adding something specific to their neighborhood about San Francisco’s parade.

Near the anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge she read a story about the building of the bridge and told them that her grandfather had been among the engineers who had worked on it. She let them hold a bolt from the bridge that had fascinated her when she was a child. Every book presented a chance to share something new and relevant – linking books to their experience.

One Tuesday the third grade class entered the library and sat criss-cross applesauce on the colorful rug in front of her. Ms. C. held up an open book and asked the students “What’s the name of this page?” And they shouted “Title Page!” She went on, “What does the illustrator do?” Hands shot up. “He draws the pictures!”

She opened to the back of the book and asked, “What do we call these pages?” In unison they responded, “Index!” All the more astounding after hearing David Silver’s aside about USF students using Google rather than a cookbook’s index to find a recipe.

Another afternoon Ms. C. mentioned that she had been to the Main to hear a presentation by one of their favorite illustrators, Jerry Pinkney. They excitedly crowded around her cell phone and she showed them photos of him inscribing a book to their school! They were proud and delighted; their enthusiasm was genuine and infectious.

On one of the last days of school, it was my turn to read to the third graders. They rejected the more “serious” titles I’d selected and instead wanted to hear from Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space.

Choosing one of the noisy boys to read the first page, I stood beside him in case he needed help. After a paragraph, he chose his friend to read next, gently pushing me out of the way so he could be the one to help if needed. This went on for the rest of their library visit- one student reading, one offering help with troublesome words. They listened to each other; almost everyone wanted a turn reading to the class.

Ms. C. is a responsive teacher-librarian who actively encourages students to walk their own paths to lifelong learning. She introduced me to model library standards and talked about her plan for collection development. I looked over her shoulder as she (quickly) spent her annual library budget, incorporating teacher requests and recommendations.

I had a wonderful time at school eavesdropping on childhood, even seeing some of the same titles I remember from my own early trips to the library. Throughout the school year, I saw these young students become increasingly able to access and use information, linking their lessons to the book being read. Some have trouble paying attention but most love to read and be read to; they want to be heard, they want to contribute. I saw how engaged the teachers are with the library, how reverent young children can be with their books – a wonderful reminder that “books are our friends.”

We may reprise the Flash Mob idea for a couple of days this fall (2012) to complete the non-fiction collection. Care to join us?