Since I was a child, libraries have represented opportunity – the possibility of a hearty laugh, a transformative idea, or an imaginative journey. I could sense the wealth of knowledge and narrative tucked away in the stacks, and would envision versions of myself and the plot lines that would unfold – all depending on what books I chose to burrow my mind into.
Childhood visits to the library taught me that learning is not restricted to any single time, place, or person. It is meant to be shared. A library lends itself to choice, a symbiotic relationship between the seeker and the selection, that makes education relevant, fun, and personal. The library exemplifies equitable access to knowledge and opportunity, and all learners – no matter their age, neighborhood, or ability – deserve this experience.
Libraries are fundamental to students
Research shows that school libraries are fundamental to developing students as learners, teaching students the skills they need to follow curiosity, find information, and apply knowledge to their academic and personal lives. The National Library of New Zealand puts it best, stating that an effective school library “embodies the principals of ‘learner agency’ – students having the independence to choose their own reading, and to find resources that help them develop their interests and strengths at their own pace.”
The benefits of school libraries – both those based on research and pure nostalgia – are evident and compelling. Unfortunately, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) are losing libraries and librarians at a rapid rate. Since 2014, the number of full-time librarians in CPS has declined from 454 to less than 140, the loss primarily hitting schools on the South and West sides of the city. For students from low-income households who may not have books or internet at home, the school library is an essential resource for information, stories, and technology – a resource threatened by taut budgets and tough choices.
WITS creates reading experiences
Where those library doors are closed, WITS reopens them. Often taking place in underused school libraries, WITS programs breathe new life into the space with teams of enthusiastic volunteers. WITS staff and mentors prioritize student choice, understanding that high-interest books help students improve reading stamina, comprehension, fluency, and attitudes toward reading. By developing strong relationships with students and directing them towards books that meet their interests, WITS creates the exciting, welcoming environment of the library that many of us were privileged to enjoy in our own childhoods. As we channel our love of libraries, WITS creates reading experiences for CPS students so that they, too, see the opportunity that books offer and continue to view themselves as adventurous, capable library explorers.