Thursday, March 14, 2019


So yesterday the fence fell down.

And today the fence repair guy came to look at it.

The posts are rotted.

But he can fix it.

For $1600.

On April 11.

In the meantime, he suggested I go to the local big box hardware store and buy some of that orange plastic fencing. And some zip ties. If I would do that, he could come back and put it up for me later on today.

I don't like the local big box hardware store. In fact, I pretty much hate it. And today was no exception.

When I get there, the store is relatively empty. I guess that's probably true on most weekdays, but mostly, if I go there at all, I go on weekends. Today,  pretty much the only people in the store were men, dressed in sweatshirts and heavy boots. Everyone was pushing around those huge carts of drywall and lumber and electrical wire. Everyone looked like they knew what they were doing. Everyone except me, that is.

I scanned the store signs for fencing. I didn't find one, but way down at one end, I did see lumber, so I thought that might be a good place to start. I walked to the back of that aisle and found all kinds of fencing- chainlink and picket and privacy and barbed wire, but no temporary fencing. I went around the corner and managed to find the guy who worked in that department. When I asked him about temporary fencing, he didn't say anything, but marched back toward the aisle where I originally looked. Almost running to keep up, I followed him. Mid-aisle he stopped, and kind of grunted and pointed. There, above the chain link and above my head, was the orange temporary fencing. I said thank you, and he strode away, not even looking back.

Now I knew where the fencing was, but I still couldn't reach it, and couldn't get it off the shelf. I went around the corner again and found another store employee. He was walking down the aisle, about fifteen feet in front of me, but when I said, "Excuse me, can you help me?" he stopped and turned around and came back. I told him what I needed, and he pulled it off the shelf for me, and put it into my cart. One roll didn't look like it would be enough, so I asked him to get another. And then I asked him about zip ties, which the fence repair guy had told me I would also need.

"They're in Aisle 5," he said.

"What aisle am I in now?"

"Thirty. You're in Aisle 30," he said. And then he turned and strode away.

I was almost at the end of the store, so I figured Aisle 30 had to be to my left. When I got there, I discovered it was all electrical equipment. Lots and lots of little tiny things. I had no idea what kind of a container would hold zip ties, or where they might be in this aisle, but somehow, miraculously, I found them. And then I had to decide-- 8" or 11" or 14"? Regular or heavy duty? White or black or fluorescent colored?

I thought I was done, but then not quite. Figuring out the price scanner was yet another ordeal.

As I walked out of the store, it occurred to me that my experience at the hardware big box matches what we do this to kids every day. We send non-readers into the school "big box," the library. There are aisles and aisles and aisles of books, and we expect them to somehow make sense of those aisles, without anyone knowledgeable to help them. The people in charge are not always friendly or helpful. Not very many schools, or at least not many in my area, have librarians who know books, and know how to match books to kids.  And it's hard to get help if you are not willing to assert yourself, or ask for exactly what you want or need. The checkout system is not always easy to figure out.

And yet we expect kids who are not knowledgeable about books, not confident about themselves as readers, or not articulate about their needs, to enter this foreign land and emerge with a book that they like and want to read. And sometimes people even make fun of them if they come out with the old favorite that they grabbed because it looked familiar, or if they come out and say they couldn't find a book they liked.

There's another hardware store, not too far from my house, where I prefer to go. At that store, someone greets you when you walk in the door. He/she asks how they can help and takes you to aisle you need. There, they either turn you over to someone more knowledgeable about the particular area, e.g. Harv, the paint guy, or Brad, the man who knows about lawn mowers. That person stays with you until you are ready to make your purchase, and then they walk you to the front register, where another smiling face helps you check out.

I imagine what a school library would look like if they followed this model. A smiling librarian would greet you at the door. "What kind of books do you like? What's a book you loved?" she would say, and then take you to the area where those books were kept. She might pull a few off the shelves and book talk them, and then allow you to choose which one you wanted. And then she would walk you to the check out, and either do it for you, or make sure you could do it yourself. And the student would leave with a book they liked, and the memory of a helpful face, and a pleasant feeling about the library.

I wonder which of these experiences our schools are providing for readers, especially those kids who are like mine in the big box hardware store today. We have got to do better.


Julie said...

What a great way to relate your experience of life to a child's experiences in school! And I had never thought about how much a student must advocate for themselves when they go to the library. I teach English Language Learners and this is a big deal for my students when going to the library. How much more should we be supporting their choices? Should we be teaching them to advocate for themselves (more than in a just sink or swim fashion)? Thank you for your thought provoking post!

Colin Davitt said...

This reminded me of some school visits we took today. At one we were greeted by handshakes all around from everyone from the secretary, department head and head of school. There were a dozen of us in the group. They all used first names, no titles or Dr., it was very personal and inviting. It felt like we belonged, we mattered.

I wonder how we could change our approach, in the offices and libraries, to be the place people can't stop talking about. A simple greeting and maybe a handshake says a LOT!

Ramona said...

Oops, I left my comment for this post on yesterday's post.

Elisabeth Ellington said...

Such a powerful metaphor for thinking about how we treat young readers. I have observed in many classrooms where all the materials are there, but students aren't reading and it's all because the support they need is lacking.