Libraries have to be attractive places if you want children to use them on their own. Jonathan Rooke has some tips for brightness among the books. A school library is a place for readers, not just for books. How can teachers with responsibility for the library make it attractive and inviting so that children will want to go on their own initiative, not just when their teacher tells them? And how can this be done on an ever-shrinking budget?
Here are some ideas on how you can make your library exciting without havinq to break the bank.
Children will want to spend time in a comfortable place. A few thoughtfully positioned spotlights will turn dingy, unwelcoming areas into places to curl up in with a book and a friend. A corner with some bean bags and cushions, an old armchair with a colourful blanket thrown over it and an attractive rug on the floor will make an ideal area for children to gather together to hear a story or do some group reading. Plants always make a place more comfortable.
A children's library should always be colourful. You can get book publicity posters from local book stores or from publishers. (It is best to have the books in stock, as children will tend to ask for them.) Pupil-made posters always generate interest.
Photographs of school activities (for example, Tudor day, nativity play) and cuttings from the local newspaper documenting special events in the school's life can help give the feel of the library belonging to the children. Mobiles telling others about books read, an author or where to find books in the library (See Gwen Gawith Library Alive 1983) can brighten the place up. A calendar is often in demand.
A picture frame could hold a new poem each week written by a child. They could then be stuck into a special book kept in the library.
A "kids only" noticeboard for footballnetball reports, jumble sale posters, notices about lost pencil cases. There could also be a general noticeboard for the publicity material that always seems to be arriving in the post.
Cuttings from newspapers displayed on the wall, will always be appreciated - especially from the sports pages.
Children will be fascinated by different maps on the wall, especially if they have lift-up questions and answers attached. Which country borders the US in the south? Which three streets do you need to take to get from the school to the shop?
An enlarged timetable with questions will provide both a challenge and a great deal of fun. What time does the last train from Waterloo arrive in Farnham? How many stations does it stop at along the way? There could be some travel brochures nearby.
Display areas bring life, colour and interest. There can be thematic displays of Victorian books, fantasy books, books by a particular author, books reviewed by the children, children's work done around a class reading book, how a book is made, poetry books and so on. In fact, displays should be about whatever stimulates the children's interest and should be changed frequently. Artefacts and photographs can accompany these displays.
New books could be attractively displayed for a week before children are allowed to take them away and devour them. If they are on a low shelf or on a table, children have a chance to browse and talk about them. Some author information would be useful here.
Book-related word searches and quizzes - 10 questions about Quentin Blake, a sequencing activity or a colouring activity. Questionnaires to do with relevant issues such as : How can the playground be improved? or What sort of reader am I?
Books children write themselves can be put into the library. Poetry books, information books and tubs of books made during Book Week will all be welcomed and pored over. There could be an A4 file with clear plastic pockets for children's book reviews and a similar file for good handwriting.
A few book tapes, a cassette player and a couple of headphones will provide a popular listening area. Resource centres will provide tapes of BBC broadcasts for the price of a cassette. Children will love to listen to other pupils' tape books made in the class.
An old computer and printer will let the children type in work started in class or to compose their own notes and other writing.
If there's room, you could provide a writing desk with a variety of card, paper and envelopes, as well as scissors, glue and a selection of colouring crayons to encourage children to write letters.
A library should have regular times when people get together. Weekly story reading sessions are a possibility and children could share a great story during dinnertime. Think about occasional poetry reading sessions or a "readers' circle" when children come to talk about books they have read. Children might give talks about their hobbies or a workshop could be run on, for instance, making Christmas cards. Videos might occasionally be shown. What better place for the occasional meeting of the debating society.
Old books could be sold for 5p at a book swap, the profit going to a worthy cause. The point is not to make money but to circulate books.
A small school book shop could be held each week for pupils and parents. The pupils could run it while teachers and other adults oversee the management of the money.
Each school will have its own particular needs - but a questionnaire, a library committee of staff, pupils and parents and a little goodwill from the headteacher will really breathe some life into the school library.
Jonathan Rooke is language and library co-ordinator for Waverley Abbey Church of England Junior School, Farnham, Surrey