Parents and librarians working together
For School Librarian, Sally Flint, a great library is a living and breathing organism, filled with users’ laughter, love and thrills. Parents are an important part of the mix.
Ideal and reality
Both friend and tutor, a great library will take centre stage in the whole community. This is the ideal, but libraries are often shy introverts at the edge of the action.
So how can a library be coaxed on stage? One answer is to get parents involved. The fact is, when parents champion a library, wonderful things happen. However, this does not take place overnight. so here are eight ideas for getting the ball rolling:
1. Market your Library
In order to encourage parent involvement with a school library it is essential that people know what is on offer and how they can help. Librarians need to double up as marketing experts, advertising their wares far and wide. This includes holding library insets for parents (and staff), sharing with them how the cataloging system works, what resources are available and how they can become involved. Be sure to point out how the library is supporting school initiatives, for example by having resources in stock by a visiting Professional Development expert, or up-to-date titles on display that reflect school thinking about a topic like wellbeing.
As you start sessions with parents, be very clear about what your library mission and vision is. It is surprising how varied parental expectations can be for library provision, so it is important to be transparent about what the school’s vision a modern library looks like as you discuss their ideas.
2. Hold literacy sessions
It is really important to demonstrate your commitment to student reading. Hold sessions with your school’s literacy team, sharing with parents how they can help their children progress in reading. Remember to focus on the importance of reading aloud. It sounds obvious, but make books the centre of these sessions and create interactive activities. It is guaranteed to be successful if reading fun stories is involved!
3. Start a parent book club
Librarians frequently encourage the students to join after school book clubs or join the Carnegie Shadowing Scheme. Far fewer librarians offer opportunities for parent book clubs or book clubs for parents and their children. With clever marketing these can be both fun and successful.
4. Encourage parents as role models
In many Primary Schools parents are excellent library users, keen to role model good reading habits to their children. Be generous in the number of books that parents can borrow and anticipate their needs, putting aside titles you think they may wish to borrow. There are also, however, parents who tend to view the library staff as ‘after school babysitters’ for their young children. There is nothing more frustrating than a parent sitting playing on their phone or chatting in the library whilst their child runs wild using the library inappropriately. This needs nipping in the bud, but can sometimes be difficult to manage. Be direct, clearly and politely outlining that parents are invited to read ‘with’ their children after school. With their permission, photograph and display excellent parental role modelling and encourage children to bring their parents to read with them.
5. Invite parents to take part in celebrations
Many school libraries hold ‘book weeks’ or ‘themed author days’ to celebrate reading. Involve parents as much as possible in these occasions. For example, if there is a ‘book character dress up’, specifically ask parents to dress up too and to attend sessions held by visiting authors. Invite parents to classes to take part in book launches of student produced books. In addition, encourage, on a rotational basis, parents to come and read to the class and the children.
6. Parents as readers
Be proactive in ensuring that parents know that school libraries also belong to them. If possible create a welcoming ‘parent area’ which they can use without disturbing student learning. If budgets permit invest in titles for a ‘parent collection’.
Ask parents for book suggestions and make sure it is stocked with a variety of resources for parenting children of all ages and diverse learning needs. Ensure that your Senior Fiction is regularly changed and kept up to date, eliciting parental suggestions for titles to stock. I always housed the shortlists for the big prizes, such as the Pulitzer and was shameless about stocking the same titles that I coveted in the large book stores in the UK that I visited during the holidays!
7. Demonstrate you value children’s reading and learning
Corresponding regularly and positively with children and their parents is a real winner in terms of engaging parental involvement. Parents appreciate the librarian’s involvement and the children are flattered that you know their reading interests. Parents’ Evenings are an excellent venue to increase the libraries visibility across the school. Writing regularly in school newsletters, about competitions, student led reading initiatives and advising on developing literacy are all effective ways of engaging parents.
Knowing that I’ve helped a parent select good books for their children, (ones that the children will enjoy, not ones that the parents assume is ‘good for them’!); or realising that I’ve successfully recommended appropriate titles to help parents discuss important issues, such as loss and grief, has been hugely rewarding and exciting.
I will always remember the delight of one parent, who also happened to be an author, walking into our school library and practically jumping for joy to see all the Man-Booker shortlisted titles proudly on display. I knew then our library was reaching a broad range of users. I also fondly recall the delight of parents of reluctant readers at their children’s reignited interest and passion for books when we’ve collaborated together.
Finally . . . .
When engaged as library and reading advocates, parents can help develop their own children’s reading, while becoming more actively integrated in the school community. All that, and you have a great library too. What’s not to like?
A teacher of English, Sally is the former Head of Libraries at Bangkok Patana School. She is now a freelance library consultant, and is available for work in international schools throughout Asia, Europe and North America. Contact her for more details at firstname.lastname@example.org
FEATURE IMAGE: StephanieGuy – Pixabay
Support Images: Matt Antonioli – Unsplash, dassel – Pixabay, aniamineeva – Pixabay, Marcel Straub – Unsplash