A Classroom Library in the Early 1980s by Angela Ferraris

classroomlibraryI was in eighth grade when I first started to hate reading at school. We could only chose books from the classroom’s library. No school library. I did not like any of the books, and believe me, being quite the public library book reader I was at that time, I searched for something to read in that narrow selection the teacher so proudly displayed. There were genres I did not find interesting. No nonfiction. No biographies. The reading levels were not varied.  All the books were too long.

We had to pick only those books to read during silent reading, keep them in our desk, and do a report about them. I recall some children actually crying when they had  to pick one of the books. Really. I’ll never forget that, and of course, it’s really all I remember from eighth grade other than the one time we went to visit the high school library.

I was very thankful my parents took me to the public libraries in our area and let me choose whatever I wanted. I found out by trial and error what was too hard, what was too easy, and what I liked and did not like to read about by having a large book collection to browse through with a wide range of reading levels and topics.  I did not have someone dictating I could only read a bunch of uninteresting books that were my reading level. I read by what interested me, what topics I wanted to learn more about, and sometimes, by the  pure accidental discovery of something new.

Having to choose from a narrow classroom collection about fictional people I could care less about was not easy.  I was not having an aesthetic experience of reading like I did at home. If I only had that classroom library to choose  my reading materials, I strongly believe I would never have become a reader. I would have hated reading. It would just be another stoic educational task instead of something that filled my  soul so naturally I never gave it another thought. I took it for granted that there would always be more and more interesting books  for me to discover.

I cannot imagine what it would be like if when I took my found treasures to the public library’s circulation desk for check-out to have a person tell me that I could not read them, because they were not my reading level.  I would have shrunk into the size of a flea and never, ever want to read again.

I realize now that I was fortunate in two ways. First, I had parents who regularly took me to the public libraries in the area. Second, I was able to choose whatever I wanted to read thus having access to intellectual freedom at an early age.  I often wonder what my child self would think visiting the school library I am a librarian in today. I strive never to disappoint her.


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