An Expanded View of “School Library Orientation”

An Expanded View of “Library Orientation” - School Librarians can make every library visit powerful if we remember that EVERY subject-area's “first” library visit of the school year is a “library orientation” for THEM! Here's how I do unique orientation lessons with 6 different subjects. #NoSweatLibrary #schoollibrary #libraryorientation #ELA #socialstudies #deweydecimals #math #onlineresources #science #visualarts #worldlanguagesWe School Librarians sense the importance of our students’ first library visit, so each year as the beginning of school approaches, “library orientation” becomes a hot topic on library listservs, social media, and blogs. Folks request ideas, asking, “What can I do differently this year?”

A couple years after I simplified and customized my school library orientations with English Language Arts classes, I came to an astounding realization:

EVERY subject-area’s “first” library visit of the school year is a “library orientation” for THEM!

I’m suggesting that you don’t need to keep trying new things every year with the same subject class. Rather, expand your view of what “library orientation” means and have an “orientation” lesson with every single grade level and subject area in your building!

Allow me share how I developed a series of “library orientations” that brought 6th grade ELA, Social Studies, Math, Science, and Elective classes into the library at various intervals during the first several weeks of school. Once you try this, I know you’ll love it, and your subject area teachers feel pretty special having their very own unique library orientation customized to their content. (Even as an elementary librarian, we can focus each class’s visit on new library materials or features, so it’s a like another orientation.)


I’ve written about how I simplified my 6th grade library orientation, so students aren’t overwhelmed with too much new information. Keep in mind that for lowest-grade-level, new-to-the-school students, our school library is completely new to them, and our lesson is “fresh” for them, even if we’ve done it a dozen times! Because each new year is a totally new group of students, I’m as enthusiastic about this lesson as I was the first time.

Our ELA classes begin the year studying narrative text, so we focus on how to choose one good book from the new-to-them Fiction area. My lesson is followed by plenty of time to browse the Fiction area of this “new” library, after which we have extended silent reading while I do a quiet invited checkout. This standard procedure establishes a reading culture for ELA’s every-other-week library visits for the rest of the school year.


After the ELA visit, we can bring in other 6th grade subject-area classes and offer them a “library orientation” customized to their particular content. I’ve written about my Special Collections for Social Studies, so I invite 6th grade Social Studies classes to visit a couple weeks after ELA to learn more about their “new” school library: the GlobeTrekkers collection of Fiction & Dewey books that support their study of World Cultures.

The first part of the lesson is book returns and library expectations, continuing students’ introduction to their “new” school library. Then I introduce Content Area Reading and why it is important.

Educators have learned that reading comprehension isn’t so much about word recognition as it is about conceptual understanding in context. That is, students become better readers as they accrue background knowledge of various topics, so the more they read, the more they know.

Yes, Dr. Seuss instinctively told us this years ago in his book
“I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!” and it just took brain researchers a while to confirm that.

Now I don’t tell all this to kids…I just tell them that the more GlobeTrekkers books they read, the better they’ll do in Social Studies and get better grades!

Photo of the GlobeTrekkers Special Collection for 6g Social StudiesI show them how to identify GlobeTrekker books in the search results from our online book catalog, and when they hear they can check out a GlobeTrekker Dewey book and, if needed, a fiction selection for their ELA class they are excited to begin browsing. We follow the same procedure—silent reading & invited checkout—which reinforces with Social Studies the reading culture that was established with ELA.


I’ve also written how it makes sense to do our Dewey lesson with math classes and focus on locating decimal numbers on the bookshelves. When 6th grade Math classes enter the library, students are so puzzled about what they are doing here…with their math class? That, in itself, sustains engagement for students—who apparently have never done anything like this before.

Keeping the lesson about numbers makes it easy for students to relate the Dewey number they see in a book search to a location on a shelf, regardless of the topical content of the book. After the lesson there is plenty of time for students to browse for a couple of new books, either Fiction or Dewey, and the 6th grade boys are especially eager to find their favorite informational books in this “new” school library: aliens, cars, sports, and drawing, as well as the Guinness and Believe-It-Or-Not books. Then we follow our standard procedure, which reinforces with Math the reading culture we established with ELA and Social Studies.

Notice how we progressively give “newbies” what they need to effectively use their “new” school library, how we establish our school’s reading culture with silent sustained reading (we call ours DEAR—Drop Everything And Read), and how we gradually build up the number and type of books students can check out. All this ensures they are not overwhelmed with too much new information or too many books to keep track of during the early weeks of their new school experience.


By now our 6th grade Science classes are into their unit on Energy that ends the 1st grading period with a project on alternative energy resources. The timing is perfect for an introduction to our middle school online subscription services, which are completely different from those in elementary school.

Most “newbies” come to us from feeder elementaries, but many are new-to-district students. Thus, I begin this “online library orientation” with Digital Citizenship and direct students to our online library resources webpage to prepare for the WebQuest lesson.

I’ve written about my guided WebQuest that introduces just 3 subscription services to 6th graders—an encyclopedia, a periodical database, a topical reference e-book—with each segment looking only at the specific features of a service they’ll need for the project.

This is a full-period lesson, and each segment has students reading for content information and citing sources as they fill in the WebQuest worksheet (or HyperDoc). Students come away well-prepared to research their project, and I also provide a cart of books for the classroom to supplement the online tools.

To illustrate how favorably teachers respond to customized lessons, shortly after this, 6g Social Studies has an “online orientation” WebQuest using our countries of the world databases. Students gather country data into a spreadsheet app for comparison, and then learn to automatically generate a graph.


By this time we are well into the school year, yet I’m not done. Remember: any subject-area class that visits the library for the first time gets a “library orientation.” So, I begin the 2nd grading period with “online orientations,” customized for 6g Art and 6g Spanish.

Both these lesson visits feature our online email service, with a focus on Cloud Computing & Netiquette. It’s a guided lesson, similar to the WebQuest, that examines 3 features of the service: email, blogging, and discussion forums. I always let the other 6g teachers know when I do this popular lesson, so they can begin using the service for their own courses.


I’ve written, too, that making ELA and Math orientations about location allows me to bring other subject areas into the library for content-specific lessons. In this case, 6g Science returns during their Classification & Organization unit to explore the 590 Animals section of Dewey, whose disciplinary organization mirrors that of science. This “content orientation” focuses on the parts of informational books so students can dig into such books to extract what they need.


Lest you think I ignore our 7th and 8th graders, here’s a list of the “library orientations” I’m providing for them during this same time period:

  • 7g & 8g ELA – Fiction books
  • 8g History – the American colonies
  • 7g Math – adding/subtracting decimals & Dewey books
  • 7g TX History – First Texans cooperative learning
  • 7/8 Theater – multicultural folktales to create one-act plays
  • 7g TX History – explorers WebQuest
  • 8g Spanish – weather report & intro to video broadcasting
  • 8g Health, 8g Careers – books, ebooks, online services & websites

I know you may not think of these in terms of “orientations,” but when we view each library visit as an entirely new experience for that group of students in that subject class, all our lessons become “library orientations.”


I’ve discovered it doesn’t matter how good a librarian students have had before they arrive in our school. These “library orientation” lessons are always powerful because they are bite-sized pieces, scaffolded over time, helping students gradually learn—and remember—how to use every aspect of our library services.

To make successful, carefully crafted lessons, we must have a comprehensive view of each grade level’s total library experience, for both subject-area curricula and the library curriculum. I created my Curriculum Matrix for just this reason, keep it updated, and use it constantly.

Our attitude toward “library orientation” is a reflection of our mindset about our entire School Library Program. We want every student experience with us to be a memorable one, offering meaningful lessons that never get old.

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