A girl in a library looking at her online library catalogue

The library – a safe space for everyone

Every school librarian knows that, for many students, the library space is so much more than a repository for books. Today, more than ever, students need a welcoming and adaptable library space which is, at times, a refuge from the everyday pressures they face. We spoke with former school librarian, and current Accessit Library Product Representative, Bonnie Barr, about her experience in creating a welcoming and accessible space for everyone.

“Having moved from a public library background to a school setting, the library as a “place” wasn’t a new concept for me. What was new was the different demographic using the library, and what the space would mean for them. At the public library we had users of all ages, and they were more often than not strangers to each other. In the school setting, this was not the case. The school library catered to people in their most vulnerable stages of growing, therefore a different approach was required.”

“Create a climate where all students feel safe and secure.”

“Vastly different to my public library experience, was the subtle bullying that happens in schools, often unchecked. In our quiet reading room there was a blanket no talking rule. There was plenty of other space in the library to chat, play games etc. but this space was for silent reading only. This space provided crucial respite for students who needed a safe place to be alone. These students knew that if anyone came in there with the intention of subtle bullying, they would be asked to leave immediately under the “no talking” rule. Most importantly, this would happen without drawing attention to the bullied student, and without them having to engage in any confrontation.”

“Use flexible furnishings so that spaces can be adapted to meet the teaching and learning needs of students and staff.”

“We also prioritised building a strong relationship with the Special Education department. We had scheduled lessons with a group who would come over to use the library. Opening the library doors to these students gave us the opportunity to ensure the library was meeting the accessibility requirements of all our students. Ample space for wheelchairs, even surfaces, and heights of tables and counters were all considered and adjusted. Probably the most important outcome of building relationships with these students as individuals, was that they felt confident to come in and hang out.”

“For students, an effective school library values their input, and actively involves them in developing and sometimes leading library and reading initiatives.”

“Having student librarians is a great way to give students ownership over the library space. Often the library attracts those who aren’t comfortable applying for other kinds of roles in the school. I saw a noticeable increase in self-confidence in my librarians from interacting with students they wouldn’t normally talk to. Additionally, seeing them blossom with the responsibility of helping to run library initiatives was such a rewarding feeling. I was often asked to be a reference for my librarians when applying for anything from jobs to scholarships or other opportunities. It really made me realise how much they valued the opportunity, and knew what an important role they played. On a personal level, I realised that for some students I was the only person they might socially interact with that day. It became even more important for me to connect with these students on a personal level and find common ground.

The library has the potential to be an accommodating space for everyone regardless of their physical abilities, as well as a safe space for those who seek a place to belong. This can have a lasting and positive impact on the lives of the students, but also on the librarians themselves.”

Here at Accessit Library, many of our staff have worked in school libraries and understand the challenges you and your students face. This is why we have designed Accessit with your students in mind – and we think you can tell the difference.

Header quotes from: Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa National Library of New Zealand. (2018, October). School Library Development Framework. Retrieved from: https://natlib.govt.nz/