Are they enough to encourage todays children to read. Even with the best will in the world, a primary school library can often look like a classroom with a selection of often well-loved and sometimes out of date books on the shelves. That’s if there’s a library for the pupils at all.
To encourage children to read for pleasure, I would argue that the environment created by the library is just as important as the book selection on offer.
When we read for pleasure as adults, we rarely sit at a table on a hard chair to enjoy our chosen literature. We are much more likely to snuggle up on the sofa with a blanket and a cushion and escape to whatever world our book takes us. Why should we allow it to be any different for children?
Of course, any access to books for pupils to enjoy is better than none, but I firmly believe that all hard chairs and tables should be taken out of the whole school library and left where they belong - in the classroom. A library isn’t – or shouldn’t be – another place children experience lesson-based learning. It should be a place that children visit to experience something out of the regular school day. A beautiful room that is different to anywhere else, that provides somewhere to escape to with a book and has an enjoyable environment to do so.
In some of the more poverty stricken areas, home life is not always stable, houses not owned or even guaranteed as councils regularly re-home families to new locations. With the increased expectation that children will share bedrooms with siblings, having a space where a child can feel secure and comfortable, and look forward to visiting makes the association with reading and pleasure all the stronger.
So, what of the many schools where space is scarce and a room needs to have a dual purpose - possibly as both an intervention space for small groups to support pupil reading as well as a functional library. What then? I would always recommend having a physical divide in the room – such as a row of bookcases or a shelving unit to separate the two functions. On one side small groups of tables and chairs for interventions and one to ones, and on the other the soft furnishings and cushions. So both can exist in the same room but are two distinct areas clearly serving different purposes.
But what about teacher / adult / governor meetings? Frankly find somewhere else to meet! Let the children have a magical space to enjoy books without having to cater for the odd occasion that the adults want to use it.
Maybe more primary school libraries could be designed with this in mind?
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