Still, there’s a lot of fun to be had in the gaps between ideas.
That’s what they’re made for! Now I want you to go out there
and enjoy yourself, and yes, enjoy your philosophy of life, too.
They don’t come along every day. Look out! There’s a big one…
John Ashbery, My Philosophy of Life
As soon as my working papers were signed, I began as a page in the children’s department of my town’s library (I remained in their books in some role until I moved to Georgia in July 2014). On Wednesday nights the librarian on the desk would let me read once I’d gotten the books shelved and the shelves edged. For about a year I read the same book every night from 8-9. It was The Favorite Poem Project by Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz and I began to build my personal canon. John Ashbery was among the poets in Wednesday book. In the intervening years, I’ve come back to his poems again and again, often when a phrase pops in my thoughts in his words, not mine. I found myself going to another favorite, My Philosophy of Life, a few weeks back when a colleague addressed a group email to the “elementary library braintrust.” The request was simple, “ideas, insights, and thoughts” on developing their school’s K-2 library collection and curriculum. Where to start? What was our own experience?” I balked. First: Why would anyone think I had wisdom to share? Then: Could I write what was true? The email response I sent is below (modified slightly):
“I’m going to out myself here- I don’t do formal lessons with my pre-K3 through 2nd grade. All my fixed classes for pre-k3-4th grade are 30 minutes total and I am unwilling to give up check-out each week. My first year I aligned all my storytimes with what they were studying in class and kept a fastidious spreadsheet of my lessons. The same for the years thereafter. As I began to put together my whole school curriculum and scope and sequence, I came to the philosophy I have now for my lower school classes: no formal lessons- my only goal is instill a love of learning and reading, a love that serve as the solid foundation to build the skills and tools and ethics to harness their curiosity in middle and upper school. The library is where my students experience choice and I feel strongly (though I’ve never voiced it until now) that that is my (the library’s) primary purpose and concept for them to engage with. It is a “class” where they do not get grades and they can learn about whatever they would like. For the little ones, this is where they get to choose and I want there to be as much joy in this as possible. On December 1st, my 3 year old class checked out books for the first time and hugged them for the walk down the hill to their building. One among them updates me on the state of her library book every time I see her (“I am taking good care of it.”). This photo below: this is my philosophy of lower school lessons.
Initially I typed this draft as a reply-all, because I would like to engage in a larger conversation about this. But then, my pride jumped it in- I don’t have my words down on this, on what I believe. I would say though that my background is children’s services in a large suburban public library (14 years) and college academic book publishing (8 years). While I completed an additional “media specialist” certificate since I started as a school librarian, I’ve never been a classroom teacher (the AP Research seminar and a middle school “library” elective are the first graded I’ve taught/wrote syllabi for). I kept this in my drafts for a week and then finally thought, Well, not sending it isn’t going to make how I feel untrue and it will give me a weird feeling of shame. Reassurance, a solid “me, too,” often what I’m looking for. This sense of hands flailing AM I DOING THIS RIGHT (this is the best visual I have of what I’m feeling as the oldest person in the room at any given moment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJ0i5Ede8V4)
I’d be interested in the responses you’ve gotten. I wonder too if some of what you need is what I need too: to be gentle with myself and my expectations of how to measure success. To me, when I read your note, I simply thought of how great it was to have the services and the desire to be more and better rather than that the number of books was appalling. This is always easier said to someone else than done for myself.”
I am so happy we do not give grades in our JK-4 library. Aside from the usual exuberance of JK and K students, we rarely have discipline issues. After all, who doesn’t love listening to stories and choosing books? Our Grade 1-4 students do learn the organization of the library and we collaborate with classroom teachers for research, but Lower School kids see that as an exciting activity, not “work.”
I LOVE this! One-size library instruction does not fit all. Thank you for putting this out there and having this conversation!