‘The Importance of K-12 libraries in Alaska’ by Tana Martin, Librarian/Media Specialist at Tanana Middle School

“We love kids. We love books. We love to serve.” This was a recent consensus made by the combined library staff in Fairbanks North Star Borough School District as to why we work in a school library. And that, my friends, is why K-12 school libraries are important. Kids need love. Kids need books. Kids need help. 

Tanana Middle, Fairbanks – Just Dance Fridays during lunch: Lunch in the library is a Tanana staple. The crowd varies daily from 30-70 students. Just Dance Fridays are icing on the cake. It’s a time to get the wiggles out, and be comfortable in their own skin. (Photo courtesy of Tana Martin @runnergirlT)

While every library is different, every library should feel the same. It feels inviting. It feels comfortable. It feels safe. The culture of the library is one of the ways we show kids we love them. We create an environment where they want to be. (Even if they hate reading.) Before school, after school, during lunch, anytime–we provide a retreat. A library is a place where kids feel supported and nurtured. Kids need love.

Kids-books. Books-kids. Oftentimes it just takes that one book to spark a lifetime of reading.  Libraries exist to make that connection. A library enables students to read anything they can get their hands on…for free!! And be encouraged to come back tomorrow and check out some more!! Every librarian’s secret dream is to find just the right book for every kid. It’s an impossible dream, but don’t tell us that. Secretly we plot strategic ways to convince a student to sample a different book genre. We agonize over our budgets to make sure we get as many books as possible. We take our job seriously because kids need books.

Alpenglow Elementary, Eagle River: “Starbooks” Book Tasting: My #OneWin today was definitely the “Starbooks” Book Tasting with fourth graders. Can’t wait to do it the rest of the week with second and third graders as well. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Bunag @LibraryBunag)

Kids need a resource—not always teacher…a resource. They need someone who is willing to drop everything & help when they say, “Hey, I was looking for…..” or “I was wondering how to….” A librarian has the complete freedom to know nothing about a subject and yet dive right in to try to figure it out. Every librarian is a resource. Every librarian loves to help. A librarian doesn’t have to be an expert in the subject. A librarian is an expert in searching. It is liberating for kids to witness an adult admit to complete cluelessness and enthusiastically explore to discover the answer. For example, coding is a popular new activity in libraries. A multitude of completely clueless librarians have bravely begun to learn alongside their students while hosting Hour of Code and CS First programs. I’m sure many librarians are being pushed way outside their comfort zone to facilitate coding, but they enthusiastically carry on, because they know coding is an important foundational skill for kids to learn. Kids need help.

Valdez High, Valdez: Alaska Week of Code #AlaskaWeekOfCode @hourofcode has begun! 2019 focus-Create a PSA from @icodeinschool #CodestersHoC. PSA’s are connected to curriculum. Topics include reducing carbon footprint, Sci fair projects, enviro sci, etc. #WhyILibrary @AlaskaAsl #AkLearns #ValdezBucs @ValdezSchools (Picture courtesy of Pamela Verfaillie @VHSAkLibrary)

You may picture a typical frowning librarian wearing a cardigan & spectacles and whispering, “Shhhhhh” Not anymore. No longer are we simply the quiet “guardians of the books.” We are so so much more. But the same foundations of a library from the past exist today. Here in Alaska, where many rural communities lack public spaces, libraries serve as a particularly important place for kids. A place to be safe. A place to explore their interests.

Libraries love kids. Libraries provide books. Libraries provide help.