A School Library Orientation establishes our year-long relationship with students (and teachers), so we need an engaging lesson. The typical presentation of 2-3 dozen slides, covering all aspects of library organization and rules, is NOT it! That just puts kids to sleep with details they won’t remember and wastes everyone’s valuable time. Instead, we need to minimize information and give students a purposeful hands-on experience focused on the location of materials.
ORIENT STUDENTS TO LOCATION OF MATERIALS
The main purpose of a Library Orientation is to introduce locations so students can find a particular resource. This is very different than explaining what students will find inside those resources, which is another lesson altogether! What exactly are library “Locations”?
I name areas of our School Library according to what’s on the spine labels of the materials:
- the “Dewey area” has Dewey-numbers on the spine labels
- the “Fiction area” has FIC on the spine labels
- the “Biography area” has B on the spine labels
- the “Reference area” has REF on the labels
- the “Magazine area” has MAG labels
- the “Audio area” has AR labels
- the “DVD-Video area” has VR labels
- (the Computer area explains itself)
I tell students to think about a grocery store: there are areas for Produce and Frozen Foods and Meat and Dairy; you know you can locate those types of food in those locations. Likewise, in our School Library you can locate a Dewey book in the Dewey area, or a Fiction book in the Fiction area, or a Magazine in the Magazine area, a DVD in the Video area, CDs & Playaways in the Audio area, or you can search the Online Catalog in the Computer area. It’s very clear to students that you are referring to a location in the library at which to find those types of materials.
This terminology also helps students associate search results in the Online Catalog with the location of the material in the library, without having to explain what “call number” means. I just call it a “locator.” I’m also able to create special collection groups such as Careers, Multicultural America, or Fiction Subjects without confusing students—they know it’s just another location in the library for specific materials.
Students learn that, regardless of what’s inside the resource, ‘locators‘ in the online catalog and spine labels on the materials are simply a location mechanism. Even if they visit a library that doesn’t follow our classification scheme, they can still quickly and easily find something by using the ‘locator’ to find the area with matching spine labels.
LIMIT LIBRARY ORIENTATION TO LOCATIONS
Our English/Language Arts teachers begin the year studying narrative literature, so it makes sense to invite their classes to visit the library during the first 2 weeks of school to check out Fiction books. Since that establishes the purpose of the visit, my Library Orientations focus on reading and the Fiction area of the library. I give students a method to choose a good book and then allow them plenty of time to do so. Eliminating everything else from orientation gives students a purposeful visit, and ELA teachers have become avid supporters, returning with their classes every other week for book checkout!
My Fiction area is organized by Subject— mystery, fantasy, scary, adventure, science fiction, romance, realistic fiction, and historical fiction. I don’t use the word genre because ELA Standards refer to genre as types of literature—narrative, expository, poetry, and drama. Using the term Subject to identify different kinds of stories aligns with MARC records, with LOC CIP data inside the book, and with Online Catalog Searches by Subject for the kind of story a student wants to read. Because students already associate Subjects with school, they readily understand what I mean by “Fiction organized by Subject” and that each Subject has its own special location.
Since I carefully avoid using the term genre for books in the Fiction area, ELA teachers appreciate that I don’t confuse what they are teaching students!
I customize a Library Orientation for each grade level so the lesson I have for lowest-grade-level students who are new to our school and library is different from lessons for returning students who just need something to rekindle their interest. I have an activity that introduces reading choices aligned with grade-level curriculum, so each grade level has a unique experience and I can use the same Library Orientation Lessons every year:
- ‘Newbie’ 6th graders learn the locations of Subjects in the Fiction area, how to choose a good book, and about my standardized procedure to check out their book.
- 7th graders have a Scavenger Hunt to review various locations throughout the library.
- 8th graders have a Fiction Subject ‘tech integration’ lesson using smartphones to view video book trailers to review Subject locations in the Fiction area.
ADD A DEWEY ORIENTATION FOR MATH CLASSES
By limiting the initial orientation, I can have 6g and 7g Math classes visit the library for Dewey Decimal Lessons that focus on Locations in the Dewey area of the library and to also give them a fun review of what they should know as they begin their Math decimal unit. Math teachers appreciate that we activate prior content knowledge to prepare students for new content, and they can readily see who may need extra help to catch up. This lesson is early enough in the school year that students can then begin checking out Dewey books to go along with their ELA fiction choices.
If we focus Orientation on location, not content, students are not confused about the Dewey area. I never refer to the Dewey Location as ‘non-fiction’ or ‘informational text’—those are terms for what’s inside the container—so I never have to explain why fictional poetry or folklore are in the Dewey area.
USE CONTENT LESSONS FOR WHAT’S ‘INSIDE’
Simplifying my Library Orientations to focus on location has allowed me to invite other subject teacher’s classes to visit the school library for content-oriented lessons that enhance classroom activities and encourage wider use of our library collection.
Students in other subject area classes visit the library to support classroom learning or to find information for assignments, so those lessons are about the content inside the library materials as it relates to the purpose of the visit. I use the same grocery store example to explain to students:
The containers on a grocery store shelf vary according to what’s inside, so the Dairy area of a grocery store has groups of eggs or milk or cheese or butter or yogurt. Likewise, in the Dewey area we have groups of ‘book containers’ according to the information inside: poetry, folklore, cars, countries, or animals…even imaginary beings like unicorns. This also applies to the Computer area of the library, where the school library website—our Virtual Library—has e-books and online subscription services related to the information inside.
The content inside analogy allows me to introduce books in Dewey Subject numbers and online databases related to the reason for the content area visit, and to teach students to think about how they would label a container in order to create search terms for content in the online catalog or databases.