The (Un)quiet Library

Our library is not particularly quiet. I’ve aimed to have my students unlearn that pejorative librarian shh; the physical space was recently renovated and rearrange to encourage more interaction. Our library isn’t often quiet and, frankly, it’s not meant to be outside of the areas specifically designated, but one of my primary goals in the library and as the librarian is to share a love and appreciation of silence with the school community.

When I first started working with the youngest students in pre-K and kindergarten, I was not entirely comfortable or confident with rhymes and fingerplays. I was brand new to school librarianship and my nerves were constantly frayed- I had never felt so seen. So I brought something that brought me ease and comfort into our time together: grounding myself in breath. A meditation teacher of mine once related during a talk that people were always telling him to calm down when he was a kid but no one showed him how to calm down. When he said that I heard myself let out one those “me too” sighs. While I aim to give away the experiences that I loved growing up in libraries, I also try to be the adult I needed when I was a kid, someone who modeled the “how tos.”

Three years into this work, elements of mindfulness practice are incorporated throughout the library space and lessons. The seats are backjacks, which can easily be used to practice meditation or to listen to a story, and we begin most Lower School classes with the singing bowl. While I didn’t recognize it when I began this practice, it occurred to me later on that the listening activity was especially effective because our students don’t move on a bell schedule. This wasn’t a regular sound for them so it brought them to the present moment and to their breath. It also created an entryway into a read aloud without an explicit instruction to turn our “listening ears” on. And it comforted me, too. To paraphrase a line heard often in trainings, the librarian sets the temperature for the library and this practice gives me (and my students) the tools to adjust what we come in with.

Having a tangible tool for our opening routine also serves as a jumpoff for honing curiosity and inquiry skills. Over the years I’ve built up a collection of singing bowls. I share these with my students and they lead to questions- from figuring out keywords to search to help decode the language and symbols that adorn some of the bowls (“I know what that symbol means,” a kindergartener told me of a new bowl. “It means happy and sad and love all at once.”) to how our emotions manifest physically.

“Let’s see if we can get the whole library quiet,” a second grader said to me as a group of upper schoolers on break had erupted into our large shared space during the younger kids’ fixed time. The media center and its librarian (me) serves our whole school population, 450 and some odd students from pre-k to 12th grade, in one large, wonderfully light filled room and occasionally the various uses of the space overlap into cacophony. We played the singing bowl and everything outside of the “voice” of the bowl dissipated without a word being said.

What do you do to create and maintain the intended energy of your library?

Further Reading

Kid-friendly Video

Common, Colbie Callait, and Sesame Street. “Belly Breathe with Elmo.” YouTube. PBS, 19 Oct. 2012. Web. 05 Jan. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mZbzDOpylA>.

Picture Books to Spark a Discussion

  1. Burton, LeVar, Susan Schaefer Bernardo, and Courtenay Fletcher. The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm. Burbank, CA: Reading Rainbow, 2014. Print.
  2. Llenas, Anna. Color Monster: A Pop-Up Book of Feelings. New York: Sterling, 2015. Print.
  3. Showers, Paul, and Aliki. The Listening Walk. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. Print.
  4. Spinelli, Eileen, and Rosie Winstead. Someday. New York: Dial for Young Readers, 2007. Print.

Benefits of Mindfulness Practice for Educators and Small Activities to Incorporate Into Your Day

  1. 5 Minute Breathing Exercise. Prod. Daringauthenticity. 5 Minute Breathing Exercise. YouTube, 12 Apr. 2011. Web. 5 Jan. 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5f5N6YFjvVc>.

This can also be replicated using a Hoberman sphere.

   2. Kamenetz, Anya. “When Teachers Take A Breath, Students Can Bloom.” NPR. NPR, 19 Aug. 2016. Web. 05 Jan. 2017. <http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/08/19/488866975/when-teachers-take-a-breath-students-can-bloom>.

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