Is Your Library a Reading Bully? Part 1

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By Eddie~S (Bully Free Zone Uploaded by Doktory) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia says bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively impose domination over others. I like that definition for a couple of reasons: One, it adequately describes the negative practices established by some school library programs. Two, it describes the positive practices employed by some school libraries. In both instances the behavior is the same. The only difference is that the outcomes are aligned with different core beliefs. Either way, students and teachers are negatively impacted.

I’ve identified a few key behaviors that I believe are indicative of the Library Bully. These behaviors are often manifested in the two areas most considered to be pillars of our profession: Access and skills instruction.

Do you restrict access to certain materials or certain age ranges? If so, then we might be forcing children to select something they would rather not read. And how one does that matters, too. Is it done verbally and part of the spiel when the kids enter, or are lines taped on the floor or shelves? Or do you verbally discourage and dissuade students from checking out that tome that you know is too difficult. There are alternatives. We often suggest, with great force, that students also check out this title or that one. I’ve even gone as far as locating the book and putting it in the child’s hands on top of that large volume. And so it goes. Even our best intentions can have a bullying effect on our students.

Administrative procedures meant to teach responsibility and protect scarce resources are often times the bully. Does your library assess fines for overdue material and limit checkouts when those go unpaid? How about when materials are missing? These practices do more to limit access than they do to protect resources. What’s worse, a child with a book somewhere under his bed or a child with no print in their life? The world has changed. Families are mobile and often move districts without notice—in the middle of the night. Our admonition to circulate books is not unlike a parent’s admonition to love their children. We can do better.

How about the hours we are open? Teacher and parent checkouts? Accelerated Reader? Fountas & Pinnell or other leveling systems? These are but a few of our common practices that can be used to determine what our patrons are “allowed” to read. Libraries have often been places where readers can wonder and explore and it is up to all of us to continue to advocate for that basic freedom to continue.

How bullyproof is your program in terms of student access? What other potential hazards have you identified?

Next up: Part 2 – Library Bullying & Skills Instruction

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