School Librarians as Artists

By Erica Leu, Pflugerville Elementary Librarian/Pflex Teacher, Pflugerville ISD
[A Pflex (Pflugerville Learning Extension) Teacher provides enrichment instruction for the Gifted/Talented students.  In Pflugerville, librarians are GT teachers as well.]

When I walk around my library, I see many physical objects such as shelving, tables, chairs, computers, and books.  I imagine that this is also what other people notice as they walk around the space.  However, every day as I setup for my first class in the morning or tidy up before going home, I imagine the possibilities that this space has for my students, colleagues, and school community.  This place is more than a physical location; it is a place for learning, connecting, and exploration.  I see my library as a blank canvas just waiting to be painted with programs and services for my school community.   Two years ago, I imagined creating a miniature golf course inside my library and this is how I did it.

During my first three years as a librarian, I had established a good understanding of the basic management practices I needed to run a school library. I wanted a new challenge just as I imagine an artist often feels the need for inspiration.   I decided to find some programming that would make people say “wow.” The traditional stereotype associated with libraries as a quiet place where you go to study is boring.  How could I offer opposite of this image: a collaborative, place where you can have fun and make a little noise? On Pinterest, I saw that another librarian had created a mini-golf course in their library. Immediately, I had my answer.  My students would love the unconventional nature of playing in the library and that this idea could be used to promote reading achievement. 

I spent a whole school year planning for the program.  I had noticed that many students struggled to maintain motivation towards their reading goals for a whole year as is typical for many children, but I really felt that my programming could support their achievement goals. This mini-golf program could be a way to celebrate student commitment to personal reading growth.  I scheduled the program for three days in the middle of May so students would have the whole year to meet their goal.  I wanted this to be a small group program so I scheduled 8-10 students for each 30 minute block throughout the three day period.

All Kindergarten through 5th grade students were eligible for this celebration.  Kindergarten students had to know their first 100 sight words.  Students in grades 1-5 had to achieve their individualized reading goal for the year.  Students in Special Education Programs who met their goals were also invited to participate. Our school already used Accelerated Reader, so I used that to manage the program. 

Community and school partners supported the event.  My first year I borrowed golf clubs from a local miniature golf establishment and golf balls from the school’s PE teacher.  Did you know that soft golf balls are a great way to minimize noise? Or that a set of reference books can make a fabulous tunnel?   I set up generic holes based on popular books such as Junie B. Jones and Harry Potter.  Students recorded their score on a simple golf scorecard.
During my second year, I purchased a set of clubs, balls, and holes so I could set up a more challenging course with loops, bridges, and swirls.  Our Student Council helped decorate.  In search of a theme to grab student’s attention, I turned to Jurassic World for inspiration, Dinosaurs from literature and pop-culture were perfect: Dino, Godzilla, Yoshi, Barney, Rex, & Little Foot.  I dressed up like an archaeologist and played dinosaur music for three days.  Only problem: the Jurassic Park theme song was echoing in my head for days.

During those three days in May, students were laughing, reminiscing about books and popular culture, and discovering the basics of golf.  I even caught teachers coming to play a few holes.  Staff, parents, and community stakeholders walking by could see evidence of the library as a dynamic canvas used to promote academic goals and enjoyment for kids. 
After two years, we observe more and more students participating; the excitement is still building.  I enjoy the challenge and creativity that innovative library programming requires. Here’s my challenge to other school librarians: look at your own library canvas in search of other great ideas and activities to make your space come to life.  You may be a great storyteller, book talker, musician, etc…  Every artist has skills and passion; when you find yours jump on it! Let’s show everyone the work of art that is our school library programming and services. Go ahead. Paint your canvas with great ideas.

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