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Library Lifeline part 17: How - and why - should I arrange class visits with my local library?

15 Dec 2023

adult reading in library

Welcome to our series Library Lifeline, written in association with the School Library Association. This series is designed to support anyone working in a school library by answering their questions directly. If you have a question that you’d like to ask our ‘agony aunt’ – the SLA’s Member Development Librarian, Dawn Woods – then please email us  and your question may be the focus of a future blog!

If you have been considering partnering with your public library to arrange classroom visits but are unsure about the benefits or how to go about it, read this blog for all the encouragement you’ll need!

I’ve heard that taking pupils to the local library for class visits is very beneficial but I already have a decent school library. Is it worth looking further into this?

Year 5 teacher

Public libraries hold a wealth of information

The school library is an amazing hub from which to nurture a love of reading, but linking in with all that your public library has to offer, will help sustain this practice for your pupils.

The celebration of libraries doesn’t end when Libraries Week does, in fact, it is more important than ever to work with your public library and support your pupils to enjoy a broadened repertoire of choice when it comes to their reading material.

Not only do libraries hold a wealth of information, the act of borrowing from libraries is green as well as cost-effective as most people cannot afford to purchase every book they need to consult.

Furthermore, the role of libraries in helping pupils develop a love of reading so that they have better chances and opportunities in life, is more vital than ever, as shown by National Literacy Trust research which reports the lowest level of reading enjoyment since starting to ask children and young people about this in 2005.

Local library visits have the potential to strengthen children's confidence around books and library usership and supports them to further develop their reader identities alongside their enjoyment of reading.

If you know you’d like to strengthen the relationship between your school and the local library but aren’t sure where to start, here are some good starting questions for you, as well as points to consider.

Visit your local public library

Children can also start to appreciate the need for classified organisation with a bigger collection. They won’t have the familiarity of knowing which shelf to automatically go to for their reading and will need to work through the logical steps of tracking down what they are after. The confidence of knowing how to locate books removes the barrier to visiting a library because of feeling overwhelmed by not knowing where to look for favourite reading titles. You can use regular visits to the library to build library skills with pupils.

This is taken a step further if both you in school and the public library are using the Dewey system to organise your collections, as pupils can see the familiar numbering system and know they can locate books.

Inviting the library into school

If visiting the public library is totally out of the question, invite a member of the library staff into school. It is easier for one staff member to travel than a class of 30 children plus adult helpers. As long as librarians have capacity, they will be delighted to talk to children about the library and books and reading.

You could also invite in parents so they can have any worries about borrowing books alleviated by the library staff themselves. The parents may feel inspired to join the library too. This is also an opportunity to have membership sign-ups take place in the school location. It takes some communication with the library beforehand, but they will appreciate the chance to engage parents and children further with their offer.

Many schools invite a talk from library staff around early summer before the Summer Reading Challenge, however a talk before then is equally as valuable.

A variety of libraries

Libraries run on cooperation so partnering with your local library is both educational and enjoyable for children. There are also other types of libraries which are worth visiting. Despite your children being primary age, a visit to your local university can be aspirational and they may have special collections which tie in with a class project.

Specialist libraries too will have unique collections, dependent on where you are geographically. For example, RHS Wisley or Kew Gardens have collections on plant books and can be incorporated with a visit to the establishment itself. Caird Library and Archive at the National Maritime Museum holds12,000 books on maritime history, navigation, piracy, shipwrecks and the two World Wars. Your local cathedral may have a library for example Hereford Cathedral has a chained library. All of these can enhance a class topic as well as being of general interest to children and adults alike, and in some cases can spark a lifelong passion for a particular subject.

There is a wealth of information in libraries and schools can tap into this, so do maximise the opportunity.

Have a look at your public library webpage and they will have contact details for you to start arranging visits and talks. Communication is key. Be clear with your library once you have made contact about your and their expectations surrounding visits. This way both parties know what to expect on the day and any sessions will run smoothly, allowing everyone to gain the most out of the time invested in creating a healthy and useful connection with the local library.

Useful reading

Reading for Pleasure: A research overview Children and Young People's Reading in 2023
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