The Library As Partner in the Teaching Process

  • by: Marcia W. Posner

This article originally appeared in Ten Da’at 1, 2, 1987, pp. 16-17. Reprinted here with permission.
DR. POSNER, Vice President-elect of the Association of Jewish Libraries, is a consultant for the JWB-Jewish Book Council and the UJA Federation of New York. She is the co-editor of the journal Judaica Librarianship and has published extensively on the subject of children’s literature. She was on the faculty of Queens College and is currently working on a textbook on librarianship.
Too often, the library is considered apart from the school, an extra, an enrichment; a place to send the children to do research or to hear a story. The library is certainly the place for these activities, but it is also a teacher-resource center, a source for non text materials which will provide depth to the curriculum-adding relevancy and meaning, and a school for individual study where the learner can proceed as far as he wants and at a pace that suits him.
First, let us examine the library collection and see what it should offer. There should be an ample reference and nonfiction collection in Hebrew, English, Yiddish, if teaching and discussion is carried on in these languages. Among the reference collection should be encyclopedias, dictionaries of language, biography, Judaism, etc.; almanacs and other yearbooks; Bibles, commentaries; and concordances; geographic encyclopedias and atlases; directories, guides, and handbooks. The non-fiction section should contain Bibles, biblical commentaries, and other subjects related to this period; rabbinic literature, various codes of law and their commentaries, books about the Sages, Jewish philosophers- including the prophets, post-biblical and – medieval philosophers, up to the contemporary period; books about Jewish ethics and mitzvot; books about prayer and several kinds of prayer books; books about the origins, rationale, and development of various life-cycle rituals and practices; Jewish folk-culture and how it is expressed in several languages, among different Jews, and at different point in time. There should be a section of folktales and legends, derived from the people, retellings from the Bible, the Talmud, and Midrash. Books that address current concerns of Jewish students and their families are needed; books about animals, plant life, ecology, and the Jewish perspective on nature and animal life; the cuisine of Jews from various countries; books about pure science and its foreshadowing in biblical and rabbinic literature-including literature from the Association of Jewish Scientists; Judaism in art, crafts, needlework, music, dance; literature of religious and secular Jewish writers who write prose or poetry about the Jewish historical experience, the tension between traditional values and secular lifestyles and the choices that had to be made; of persecutions and of joy; books about archaeology, ancient history, medieval history, history of Jews in the Diaspora, in Galut, pogroms in England, France, in Germany during the Crusades, in Poland, the Ukraine, and in Russia; whole sections on the Holocaust and the formation of the modern State of Israel; on genealogy and biography.
There should also be a section of fiction-current books, and of short stories-books for young children from 4-8, 8-12, 12 and up (arbitrary divisions), these should deal with home and family, holidays, Jewish values, rituals and practices, stories of children and their pets and toys, older children having to make choices, Jewish historical and biographical fiction including the Holocaust and the struggle for Israel. Some of these stories should be realistic, others mystical or even fantasies.
Now the question-how are these to be used? It is a question of knowledge and communication between teachers and librarian. The librarian should know the curriculum, not just in general, but week by week. The librarian should know the contents of the library, intimately. The teacher should volunteer to give the librarian her lesson plans, or at least her informal plans about two weeks before the lesson. The two should have a discussion about what the teacher really wants to accomplish in the lesson that day. Does she want the students to be able to memorize certain facts, to be able to read or daven particular passages? Does she hope to have the students understand the context in which the material being taught was formed, was needed, and the personalities of the people who had to decide what and how tradition was molded to the times while still remaining Torah-true? Does she want the students to be able to place themselves in positions similar in concept to historical or religious events?
Well, obviously, all the resources of the school will be needed to teach the children cognitively-to learn certain facts and be able to perform certain skills (very often textbooks and computer program drills do this the best); or affectively – attitudinally, emotionally, integratively (very often non-textbook material such as nonfiction, fiction, and film insinuate these feelings better).
In such a busy school, when do teachers and librarians have time to sit down and plan together? Library visits for teachers of a single grade should be scheduled with the librarian all through the term. Once every two weeks should be enough. At that time they should tell the librarian what they hope to teach two weeks hence and what they hope the students will be able to do and to feel regarding what has been taught. The librarian may be able to immediately suggest books and passages that will be appropriate – many may not be on the exact subject, but will encompass the same underlying theme. She should also bring new teaching resources to the teachers’ attention – resources which come into the library as a result of her subscribing to certain magazines, or which she has ordered from publishers, or various Boards of Jewish Education. These visits may have to take place before or after school.
Once the librarian has been alerted, she can arrange for the books to be easily available and she can give talks about the books. After students complete their research, a follow-up discussion can take place between the students, librarian, and teacher on insights gained through the readings and their relevance to the material under study. This is a three-way partnership. The teacher prepares the formal material as prescribed by the curriculum; the librarian supplies the collateral material to deepen the meaning of what is being taught, and the students teach both teacher and librarian, as they interpret both lesson and outside readings from their perspective. It can be a most exciting way to teach.
The librarian should order books that will enhance a teacher’s technique or subject mastery, and allow them to be borrowed on long-term loans, unless the material is in constant demand. The librarian should not delay processing new items that will be useful to teachers. In addition, reference books may occasionally be loaned to a classroom for the day, or to a teacher for a weekend. The librarian should clip and/or copy relevant periodical and newspaper articles, columns, information that will be of interest to particular teachers with whom she has a working relationship. That is not to say that teachers should not do the same, but the librarian has easier access to publishers’ catalogs as well as the training to organize the material into a “vertical file”. She should bring curriculum-oriented titles to the attention of the proper teachers and order the book, filmstrip, video, etc., at the teacher’s request.
On the teacher’s side, this trust and partnership should not be abused. The teacher must be responsible not to lose or misplace the borrowed material and should return it when promised, or upon request. A teacher should not lend it to a colleague, but rather return it to the library for further circulation.
Library skills should not be taught apart from a research lesson. It is almost impossible to remember in a vacuum. One learns and remembers in answer to a perceived need. Therefore, library skills and research assignments should be planned together in the biweekly teacher-librarian conferences.
Whether a student is advanced or slow, the library is the place for individualized instruction. Released time for advanced students may be used for research or collateral reading as a way to challenge their capacity, inviting them to bring back the newly acquired knowledge to the class. Slow students can be helped by tutors in the library, either computer, programmed books, or human; or by reading material about the same theme, or set in the time being studied, but written in an easier, more understandable form. This sometimes provides a slow student with enough insight so that he is better prepared for learning. Slow students cannot learn abstract concepts and have trouble retaining rote material. If, somehow, the understanding of why something should be learned and how it was first developed, can be communicated, the abstract becomes more concrete. That is why Rabbis used little stories to teach with. The library can be used in the same way, if the librarian knows her “stock”.
To help locate books with certain themes, holidays, and values, you can use Juvenile Judaica: The Jewish Values authored by this writer. But this is just a start. In fact, so is this article. The rest is up to you.