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A Library Program that Centers Our Students and Reflects Their Exceptionality

Updated: Apr 30

The Exceptionality of Lang’s Library…

If you have visited Lang, you know that our library is far from ordinary. It is not one large room housing books, desks, and computers, the books are not organized using the Dewey Decimal System, and I am not stationed within the confines of a single space all day telling students to be quiet. (Actually, I am rescinding that last point… shushing behavior is a hugely inaccurate school librarian stereotype that I’d like to steer clear of reinforcing!) But I think you get the picture - our library is not quote-on-quote “typical,” it’s exceptional in a way that I’ve come to understand is a reflection of our twice-exceptional (2E) student body and our mission to center their exceptionality. 

So what does our library program look like? To start with the most obvious physical difference, our entire academic hallway is lined with shelves of books. The books are organized uniquely to Lang - a direct result of student input. Genre labels - many of which were hand drawn by our (now alum) student intern Sylver - range from “Earth, but there’s magic!” to “Non-Human POV” to “Less Realistic Fiction.” Our most recent addition is a shelf titled “DRAGONS, alphabetized.” Needless to say, you won’t find these in any other library, but it works for our Langsters.

The former ELA teacher in me cannot help but see our library as a metaphor for our 2E students. I mean this in the sense that the qualities one might have originally seen as obstacles have ceased to limit the library from flourishing in its unique way, due to its unique qualities. When I first began at Lang, I was guilty of initially seeing the limitations of the hallway shelving situation before understanding how it could be an asset. Is it ever a pain to lug books from class to class? Do I wish I could have eyes on each section of the hallway at all times to monitor book borrowing? For sure, I would be lying if I said it doesn’t make any part of the job more difficult. But would I advocate for a “typical” library if given the opportunity? I don’t think so. I have come to see all the ways in which the unusual design can be utilized to my advantage to best serve our population.

Class Visits…

Since a class cannot physically visit the library as they might in another school, the library is brought to them in various ways. Each week I visit the lower school classrooms, leading creative literacy lessons, reading aloud monthly heritage and history books, and providing independent time where students can read, check out and return books, explore the hallway library, or browse through a cart of specially curated books geared towards their class interests.

In another school, the book shopping experience might be overwhelming and dysregulating for a neurodivergent student with anxiety or executive functioning challenges. At Lang, these lower school students get to have library time within the classrooms that feel most familiar to them. At Lang, our routine of having student-centered curated collections brought to classes avoids the potential for choice paralysis that unstructured time in a large library space might induce. Students can of course venture into the hallway, and often return with a book happily in hand.

The Library as a Backdrop

Every student spends time in the library each day without necessarily recognizing it, that’s to say the school day requires every student to walk within our hallway. Someone could argue that this design may desensitize our community members to books that end up blending into the background of the goings on at school. I’d argue that our shelves remain far from invisible to our bookish kids, and on the other hand, it is maybe just the right amount of desensitizing for our students who have some negative feelings towards reading. What I mean by this is that for a child who has historically attributed negative

feelings towards books (ex. feeling insecure about reading perhaps as a result of dyslexia), a colorful, atypical library lining the halls with student-made origami fidgets ornamenting the shelves gently encourages interaction. The intimidation factor is brought down.  The typical library environment of schools past may trigger anxiety, being a reminder of times in which not abiding by rigid expectations would result in unfair discipline and judgment. At Lang, there is no such space. The library is a backdrop that can be interacted with as much or as little as one chooses to.

Student Centered Library Practices

While lower school students have library visits, our middle and upper school students have research skills classes in which they receive support with the research process, and learn about information literacy and media literacy. When teaching research skills, it is extremely beneficial for us to center our students in authentic learning. Our Lang learners are incredibly curious people by nature, and if given the opportunity to research a personal interest, the intrinsic motivation skyrockets. Whether teaching about how to identify reliable sources, how to evaluate information, or synthesize findings, the lesson will

be absorbed more fully and feel much more meaningful if students are given the liberty to pick a topic of choice.

The student-centered approach does not only apply to classes on research skills, but extends into the

library collection itself. During March, “National Reading Month,” students were encouraged to write book recommendations and requests for new materials on posters in the hallway (or library…whatever you want to call it). Last year, we acquired every single request, and the intention is to do the same this year. This hopefully gives students a sense of agency over our library and the materials we have in it. This is not exclusive to these posters — students mention books they’re interested in all the time and I put in those requests. There is also a google form on our website that students can use if they would rather type than verbalize. The library design is not just a metaphorical reflection of 2E learners - our collection is a continuous reflection of our Langsters’ interests (no matter how niche), identities, and passions. 

Last But Not Least: A Resource Dump!

Our Library Website: Includes but not limited to a mission statement, our online catalog, database access, citation info, book request forms, independent reading surveys, a research support form, free info literacy resources, and public library resources!

Sora - Last year we acquired this digital reading app that empowers K-12 students to discover ebooks and audiobooks. There is a small Lang collection (planning on expanding this greatly) but students can also access their local libraries’ online collections via their library card numbers and pins. 

NovelNY - An online virtual library connecting New Yorkers to 21st century information via libraries and library systems statewide. Includes databases, collections, and encyclopedias such as Gale, Britannica, and the NY Times.

Thanks for reading! 

Happy poetry month!

Look out for upcoming info on our Spring BOOK FAIR in the next newsletter! 


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