Student Role in Virtual Libraries by Clare Landrigan
You know that saying … if you build it, they will come? For me, this saying has manifested in ways I could have never imagined with the virtual bookroom I created last April. Since then, this virtual space filled with hyperlinks has connected me to educators and students across the world. It has inspired students to recommend books to other readers, curate text sets for peers they may never meet in person, and design ways to browse, sample and choose books. This idea started because of the need for access to books in a time when even public libraries were closed, yet it has grown into so much more. Similar to Susan Neuman’s research on access, “Some schools are book deserts not due to the volume, but due to the fact that children don’t have access to the books” (2016), the virtual bookroom is about more than volume, it has transformed into a space for kids to have choice, voice, and agency around text curation and selection.
This happened because of teachers. Teachers who know it is critical for students to develop the habits and behaviors of a reader. Teachers who provide each student the opportunity to discover their reading identity. Teachers who know that a classroom library is more than a physical space, it is the heart and soul of our reading community. Teachers who invite their students into their virtual library and create it with them because they know, as Dr. Gholdy Muhammad reminds us that, “Students must see themselves in the texts, including their cultures, identities, interests, experiences, desires and future selves.” (2020) And this is when the magic happened!
It started when students (via their teachers) began making requests for the virtual bookroom. Do you have books about bees? Can you get us some funny books? Do you have graphic novels? Can you find books about sports, crafts, hobbies, and pets? The requests kept coming in and, at first, I tried to keep up and then I thought about what I would do if I were physically in the classroom with these students … I would put them to work!
In the classroom, I always invite students to help design the library space, organize the books, and help choose the topics, authors and genres they are interested in reading. Since the students will be the ones using the library, it is important they are a part of creating it. The more invested they are in the classroom library the more they read. At the beginning of the year, the classroom library typically has many open shelves and empty baskets, an invitation to the students. This same idea works virtually.
Once you get to know your readers through surveys and conferences, you can visit the free virtual bookroom to find the texts they are requesting and as well as work with your school and public librarian to find some of these beloved titles virtually. There is nothing more powerful than telling a student I heard you and then handing them a stack of books. Here are some ways teachers are organizing virtual independent reading collections for students:
Some readers can’t readily tell you want they like, want, or need. They choose texts based on browsing, searching, and previewing. Our current situation has made it difficult for readers in both in-person and remote settings to find books this way. How can they book shop in the midst of a pandemic? Once again, students to the rescue!
Some created virtual book talk sites for their peers on Padlet and Flipgrid, while others made “If You Like … Then Try …” sites for their peers on Padlet and Flipgrid. One class made virtual browsing shelves based on peer favorites. They used their Bitmoji classroom to create them, but you could use any digital platform.
Teachers and I followed the students’ lead and used the free virtual bookroom to create browsing baskets based on theme, genre, series, topic and author. Kids could shop and then fill out a Google form, a survey or use conferring time to select books. This allows students to browse and shop without spreading germs!
We are using this same system for the books we physically send home as well. Once students browse and choose the texts they are interested in, we create the bags and send them home. We are trying to set students up for a few weeks of reading whenever possible.
Many classrooms are gearing up for book clubs and once again student choice and response is so important. Students browse, shop and choose virtually. Some clubs read the book virtually while some schools send the physical book home for students to read. Students helped us experiment with virtual ways to book browse and here are a few ideas using Padlet that seem to be working well:
Theme Book Clubs Organized by Students – Peers Sign Up and They are Off and Reading!
Students Recommend Books They Want To Read in a Club – Peers Preview the Back of the Book, Listen to a Review and Sign Up!
Students Suggest an Inquiry Club – Interested Peers Join in the Fun!
None of us can wait until we are back in classroom libraries pouring over books with students. In the meantime, students are showing me that doing this work virtually matters. They are connecting to books, authors, topics, and peers virtually. They are creating a reading life that is not something I ever envisioned, but is nevertheless authentic, meaningful, and purposeful. Even virtually, in the life of a reader, the right book at the right time makes all the difference. I love that students are taking the lead in making this happen in so many classrooms.
Clare Landrigan is a staff developer who is still a teacher at heart. She leads a private staff development business and spends her days partnering with school systems to implement best practices in the field of literacy and is on the board of The Book Love Foundation. She believes that effective professional development includes side by side teaching; analysis of student work; mutual trust; respect; and a good dose of laughter. She is the co-author of, It’s All About the Books published by Heinemann and Assessment in Perspective, published by Stenhouse. She blogs about books and the art of teaching on her website www.clarelandrigan.com