August 17

Reader’s Choice: Creating a Student-Centered Library

No one goes to the library to be prescribed a book. Allowing students to choose their own books helps create ownership – they are more likely to read them. When students ask for recommendations, I always point out at least five titles or a number of authors.

This doesn’t mean that I am not quick to suggest my favourite recent reads or new additions to the collection but time and again I see un-cracked books returned because the student took the book without buy-in.

Idea: I’ve been known to pull under-appreciated gems and add them to my shelving cart, where students sometimes gravitate to find popular books.


The time to get a new book is when you’ve finished the last one, not at 1:25 on Wednesdays. Ensure that the Learning Commons has frequent but not necessarily lengthy open-book exchange periods. Students will soon learn that the time is to be used wisely and it encourages students to look critically at their selections.

Avoid regularly scheduling upper intermediate classes for a whole class book exchange. The belief that it’s the only time they come to the library’ just doesn’t wash – if you build a collection with books they want – they will come.

The students that truly resist are likely not cracking the books they are forced to take out anyway – other, more individualized strategies are needed there.


Even though Melvil and I have basically broken up, Dewey did have one thing right…library books should not be levelled. Dewey’s system is the great equalizer – where students that struggle with reading would take out their non-fiction right beside everyone else.

One reader might benefit from the illustrations, another from the captions and a third from all the text cover to cover. Having said that, I do have a ‘Yellow Sticker’ section with beginner chapter books. We just don’t call them ‘Early Chapter books’ – they are simply the yellow sticker books. Yes, the students know, but it is less stigma.

Idea: Text Features are a must with any non-fiction. For more on this see my SlideShare on Elementary Non-Fiction Collection


There seems to be too much focus on helping students find that one ‘just right’ book. Rather, view the Reader as being on a continuum.

A developmental, trial and error process whereby books are sampled, a little absorbed, and exchanged – upgraded – to books that will hold attention longer. There is actually, no error in this process – each attempt brings the Reader more able to make critical choices and problem solve, and more able to narrow down the kinds of books that will hold interest.


You can bring in all the comfy seating, lowered shelving, open exchange you like but if the collection is not over-the-top high interest, the Readers will not come. Of course we all strive to develop a collection that reflects the diversity of today’s students but beyond that, what are the driving interests in your school community?

When I took over the library I could have been forgiven for thinking that the students were avid figure skaters, loved horses and were fascinated by Grimm’s Fairy Tales. In truth, they are none of these things. In our library, hockey, origami, humorous angst and Fantasy rule.

The non-fiction doesn’t have to cover everything. It can’t. It just has to be continually morphing to mirror the student’s interests. Build a collection where students are reading for information but perhaps more importantly, reading for fun.

Once you’ve tried it, you’ll never go back. Bye-Bye, Dewey. Hello, Chapters. I only have my intermediate fiction sorted by genre and it has made the world of difference. Circulation of novels went up, uncirculated books were discovered. Students love the arrangement.

It’s super easy for shelving and helping students find books during a busy exchange is much more streamlined: “Do you have any ghost stories?” “Why yes, check out the Supernatural section” Drops mic.


Reading reward programs, contests, district programs all have a valuable place in promoting reading. But to be sure, there is no substitute to encourage a reader better than the treasure of a well-matched book.

As students must have choice in what they read, prescribing books that may not suit their reading level or offering prizes in return for check marks, may help build the expectation of a culture of reading but it may not necessarily build Readers.


In the words of Elsa, ‘Let it Go’. Books will get damaged, chewed, drawn on and any number of things that must not be named. I’m all for students learning about responsibility but if the solution to a lost book impacts the ability of the student to be a Reader and the ability of the Librarian to teach, then the solution is, in fact, the bigger problem.

It is up to each Librarian how they choose to handle this ubiquitous issue and there are lots of creative solutions. I have an ‘Oops’ program that works for us and there is another one here. Being too much of a Book Warden can damage relationships.



Copyright © 2017. Anna Crosland. All rights reserved.

Posted August 17, 2017 by acrosland in category Learning Commons Development

About the Author

Anna Crosland, Teacher-Librarian in B.C. Canada: Focus on Personal and Social Core Competencies, Layering Authentic Indigenous Resources into the Curriculum, MakerEd and Digital Creation, Inclusiveness, Empowerment, Diversity and lots of Reading