I’m a school librarian, so I spent much of last week coordinating — ta-da — library orientations.

My goal is to familiarize students with the library, of course. But this year, I also decided that if the students felt comfortable coming back to the library on their own, I would feel a modicum of success.

I was not concerned that I had no real way to actually measure the return rate. If students left looking less grumpy than they had when they arrived for orientation, I’d call it a win. They were more likely to come back than they had been initially.

Their grumpiness, I should say, is understandable. Library orientations can be boring. I labor mightily to make mine interesting, but the verdict is still out.

Not surprisingly, the students who were most engaged were those who know how to “do school.” They are comfortable raising their hands and speaking in front of others. When I show them the rubber ducks I give out as “door prizes,” and casually mention how I could catalog them using the Dewey Decimal system (“Monkey duck goes in the 500s”) they are not afraid to smirk at my joke.

It’s harder for those who are not academically inclined. They may fear the library. They may think it is only a place for their classmates who are on the honor roll.

These are the students I really want to reach. They have talents and interests that the library can help them expand. Libraries, I should say. The college-bound will continue to use their school libraries as they go forward. I want those who are going into the trades, the military or the workforce to know that libraries are their lifelong friends.

As they were for my father. Dad was a smart guy, and a smart aleck. He was not a great student, but he was a voracious reader and library patron. As a teen, Dad kept a paperback stuffed in his back pocket so he could read during breaks at his high school job as a department store stock clerk.

When he went out to California as a young man (trying to find himself, though they didn’t use that term in the 1950s) one of the first things he did was get a card at the San Bernardino public library.

Dad went on to successfully run his own small business, and to take his oldest daughter to the public library every week. Sometimes, though, I see him as a teenager, slumped in a chair in front of me, looking at me as if I were growing a unicorn’s horn between my eyebrows.

Thanks, Dad. You make me a better teacher.

So here’s  my message. The library is a quiet place. Not silent, but a place you can be alone with a book, a magazine or your thoughts.

You can work on projects here, like coloring a large poster, with other students. Maybe you’ll make a friend. You will definitely feel like part of a community.

You can work at the library, and get credit for it. It’s like a real job, except the pay comes in the form of praise and gratitude from the librarians, and the occasional cookie.

Maybe you need to use one of our computers. Maybe you just need to print something out.

You can take out any book in the library. No one cares if you are in high school but prefer middle school fiction. You can borrow an audiobook. We also have “quick picks,” books that are aimed at teenagers but are short and action-packed. Look at our expansive graphic novel collection.

We tour the library. I figure if I can get them all the way to the back, the fear factor will shrink. There are other students back there, not necessarily being studious, hastily pocketing their cell phones as they see me approach. There are classmates working on a jigsaw puzzle and chatting softly. Here’s where you check out books, I say. Here are my colleagues, ready to help you.

Of course I love it when I encounter an enthusiastic student who can’t wait to come to the library. I think of Sheldon Cooper, in an episode of “Young Sheldon,” who has to dodge much taller students in the hallways and even duck between their legs to reach his Holy Grail: “The library. Home to the original information superhighway, the Dewey Decimal system.”

But I’ll more than settle for the students who returned to the library later in the day, following their orientations. There were only a few, but I noticed them. I dare to hope they heard my simple message: The library is a place for you.

 

Liz Soares welcomes e-mail at [email protected].


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