Thursday, May 8, 2014

No Limits

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Nerdy Book Club, but a post I read last week did cause me to feel ashamed. It was this post from May 2nd.  Sara Kieffer Kizzier, a reading recovery teacher from Iowa talks about her "take-a-book, leave-a-book" program for struggling readers with no books in their homes.  While, I certainly applaud her efforts, her words about the school library caused a lump to form in my throat:

"As a teacher who works with struggling readers I had first-hand experience with children who had no books at home.  They could borrow one book at a time from our school library, but they could only visit our library once every six days.  If they lost the book or forgot to return it….well, to mangle a famous Seinfeld episode quote, “NO BOOK FOR YOU!”

Should school libraries (or libraries in general) be guardians of books, denying access to children who through the process of being children lose or damage a book?  Are we sending a message to our poorest students that books, reading, literacy and success in life are inaccessible to them because they cannot afford to pay a book fine?

Sadly, I was one of those librarians for the first ten years of my career.  Even sadder, I wasn't taught that way.  My library professor proclaimed that we should throw out circulation limits and fines.  And, behind her back, we called her crazy.  A place where students can take as many books as they want and lose them, tear them up, draw in them, get food on them, etc.  How IRRESPONSIBLE!

Fortunately, I have broken free from such a system.  Not sure where the epiphany happened. As with any change, this happened a little at a time, not all at once.  Through the years, I have steadily increased the amount of books students could check out. From two to five.  This school year, as I read professional books about reading and met Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer and Reading In the Wild, I thought to myself, why limit book checkout to five?  One day a student asked me if they could check out six books. I said yes.  Then they asked to checkout seven. I said yes.  Now I say on a daily basis, "You can check out as many as you want."  I am no longer the gatekeeper to reading; I'm the welcome wagon.

The results?  Amazing.  Things like this:

These statistics come from a second grader's patron status page.  She has already checked out more than 3 times the books she checked out last year.

There are still library fines, but they never keep a student from checking out another book.  And if they can't afford to pay them?  We ask for book donations and I'm setting up a service program that students can participate in to eliminate those fines.

The librarian of my recent past felt shame at Ms. Kizzier's comment.  The librarian of my future: shame free.

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