Many of us will remember those old, wooden library catalogue drawers that were invariably spilling over with book cards. We also needed expert research skills to find a book - unless we gave in and asked the librarian to find it for us. First we found the catalogue card, and then, using all our special code cracking skills, we had to find information about the stack and the shelf where the book was stored. Accidental finds often happened this way as we either saw some new titles in the drawers while flipping through the cards, or spotted unexpected books on the shelves. I almost always felt enchanted by the various book spines and the titles written on them, wanting to see what the books were actually about.
Nowadays students rarely have this kind of physical connection with library books. We said goodbye to those beautiful drawers and learnt to use digital library catalogues. On the upside, we spend less time finding books, and keyword searches made it so much easier to widen our bookish horizons. Still, having knowledge of the physical organization of those shelves and the logic behind the catalogues makes it easier to find books in reading rooms and fine-tune our searches on those online platforms.
The classroom and school libraries are excellent places to practise these tangible library skills. Being able to touch, feel, lift, leaf through and smell books expands the reading and learning experience. These concrete memories and reference points will then support digital research and reading experiences and make them richer and probably even more successful.
Let's see some library tasks for our language learners.
1 Study the cover inside and outside.
First, look at the front and back covers, the spine and see if the book comes with a jacket or not. Then, look at the endpaper (paper fixed on the inside of the cover).
Then, ask your students to grab some books, and guide them through the information about the publication. This page is called the copyright page or colophon. You will usually find it in the front matter (before the body of the text) on the reverse of the title page or at the back of the book on the last page.
You can find information about:
- the dates of the first publication and editions
- the place of the publication
- the name of the publisher
- the name of the author, illustrator, editor
- the name of the printer
- the ISBN: International Standard Book Number (ISBN), a unique book identifier code containing 13 digits, first introduced in 1967.
2 Build some library vocabulary.
Either do this in a library or using images of libraries. Here is our top 15 essential vocabulary for library use:
- due date
- reference library
- reading room
- circulation desk
- reader pass
- call number
- card catalogue
- library catalogue
- OPAC: Online Public Access Catalog
- index [at the back of the book]
3 Make book cards.
Prepare two cards for each book in your school library. Stick one of them on the back of the book or inside it. Keep the other card in your catalogue. This way you can keep track of the books.
The book card should contain the following information:
- Information: Title, Author, Year and place of publication, Publisher
- Language level
- Keywords (themes or categories)
- Physical description of the book: Number of pages, Dimensions of the book
- Call number (if you have it for your catalogue) or Shelf/book number or code
4 Classification: categorize and put in order.
It is easier to find books if they are organized in groups. When you have only books of fiction, you can put them in alphabetical order or organize them by themes such as:
- Science-fiction etc.
You will probably have books about science, poetry, history and graphic novels/picture books. If this is the case, you can have different boxes or different shelves for each larger category and within them you can follow the alphabetical or thematic order.
When you visit a big library or your national library, the books will be categorized based on a certain system. It means that books are organized into groups such as 'general works' (e.g. encyclopedias), 'religion', 'social sciences', 'language', 'natural science' and so on.
You can learn about the major classification systems such as the Dewey Decimal Classification or the Library of Congress Classification here: Britannica/Library Classification. Of course there are specific classification systems for special subjects such as music or poetry, and there are national systems. You can visit the website of your national library and find information about their system.
This short video will help you learn about the Dewey Decimal Classification:
5 Find books.
You can play a scavenger hunt in your library or in a local library. Based on your students' interest, write a list of books for them to find. For example, your students can find:
- A book about horses
- A detective story
- A magazine
- A graphic novel
- A book set in the 19th century
6 Make a library rules poster.
Create a poster for your library. Add the name of the library, its location, its opening hours and some rules such as 'no eating' or 'only bottled drinks allowed', 'keep the books in order' and 'lie, sit or stand and read as much as you can'.
Do you have any fun activity ideas to develop library skills in language learners?
Read more in our series on libraries:
- A love of libraries: library activities for young learners
- A love of libraries: much more than just books
- A love of libraries: get active with library tasks
- A love of libraries: 9 steps towards building your classroom library
- A love of libraries: 10 things to consider when building a classroom library