Subject: School fundamentals
Topic: World challenges
Focus: All stages and ages
Synopsis: Can classroom reading corners be an acceptable alternative to a whole school library? Advice from Jacqueline Barnes, Northumberland SLS.
In some schools, there simply isn’t any choice when it comes to deciding on reading corners versus a school library. The reality is that many schools, especially those in the primary sector, simply don’t have the physical space to devote a room exclusively for use as a library for the whole school.
Classroom reading corners then become the only practical option for providing a range of books for pupils to explore. The obvious disadvantage is that the number – and therefore the range of books which can be offered – will be limited, again by the space available. There is unlikely to be room for library-quality shelving, so displaying books attractively (forward facing) will also be restricted.
Choosing books from a reading corner will never give children the same experience as choosing from a library. Children need regular access to a library to master and practice library skills, which will benefit them throughout their school years and beyond.
However, there are certainly some advantages to having the ‘library’ in the classroom. It is, without doubt, very convenient. Pupils can access the books easily and quickly without having to leave the classroom. Access to the books can be easily managed in small groups, pairs or individuals. Additionally, there are always adults on hand to guide the children in their choices, and it is likely that the adults are very familiar with the books available.
If classroom reading corners are the only option available, it is vital that the books are regularly refreshed so the excitement of finding something new doesn’t diminish.
Student library pluses
Schools which are able – and willing – to invest in a library offer their pupils a much greater range of leisure reading titles. This has the benefit that those pupils in a particular year group who are reading either below, or above, the levels expected are more likely to have a wider choice of books. Libraries can have ‘Quick Read’ collections for those children who need encouragement and ‘Challenging Reads’ for the avid readers. Children can choose picture books (including those for older readers), graphic novels and can also choose from a far wider range of non-fiction leisure reading topics.
There is more likely to be space for displays to promote specific areas of stock and to focus on a particular author, or to highlight books relevant to local or national events.
Reading events such as author visits, storytelling sessions, parental reading sessions and reading groups will have a greater impact if they take place in a vibrant library full of good quality books and colourful, innovative displays.
A well-resourced and well-organised library also allows children the opportunity to learn and practice information retrieval skills if they are encouraged to research their curriculum topics.
Involving the children with the school library by appointing and training pupil librarians and by asking pupils for their input about the books they would like in the library also gives them a vested interest in their school library too.
Having a well-resourced and well-managed school library does, of course, require a substantial commitment from the school, both in financial support and in staff time. As with classroom reading corners, the stock must be kept up to date with new books appearing in the library on a regular basis and worn out or unpopular books being removed from the shelves. There is also the question of space and location within the school as there is little point in having a whole school library which is not easily accessible for all the pupils.
In an ideal world, every school would have a well-resourced, inspirational, buzzing school library, accessible to all pupils. Unfortunately, at this time, most schools are having to make compromises in the delivery of education.
Reading will always be a high priority and ensuring that children have access to high quality books is, in my opinion, imperative. The environment in which the books are presented can be influential, but surely what matters most is instilling a love of reading and an appetite for exploring books.