Montessori & Librarianship

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My career hear-to-fore has been in the field of Montessori education, founded by Maria Montessori in the early 1900’s for preschool aged children and eventually expanded to elementary, infant, and increasingly adolescent communities.

Without statistics in front of me, I would venture to say most Montessori schools are small with only one or two classrooms. Many more are operated in the “year-round, all-day” child-care model. Most of these schools do not have a “library” to speak of–perhaps a closet or a few cupboards filled with books. Some more carefully cultivated to align with Montessori philosophy and quality age-appropriate literature than others. Most supplemented by parent gifts and thrift-store purchases.  If there is any organization to these books at all, it is by the efforts of a dedicated parent volunteer who may have helped to tag the books by subject or order them in some kind of alphabetical order.  Guides (the Montessori name for teachers) select books to rotate in their “library corner” and for occasional read-alouds. Older children may use some of these books for “research” when investigating a topic that interests them. There are likely some leveled books and phonetic readers in each classroom on the language shelves as well.

However, there are an increasing number of bonafide Montessori private schools offering care from infancy or toddler-hood through elementary. And the public Montessori movement is gaining increasing momentum across the country with Montessori charters and magnets opening every year.  To my knowledge, many of these new public Montessori’s don’t have proper, professionally run libraries.  Others have libraries, but run by non-Montessorian librarians who don’t  understand the guiding philosophies of literature and technology, especially for the younger children.  Thus they are not properly weeded according to Montessori philosophy and encouraging resources many Guides would find inappropriate.

Finally, the Montessori community at large has a deep distrust of computers and technology with children.  They seek to “hide” children from technology before the elementary years, and only introduce it with the utmost caution and limitations for report writing and research in the elementary years.  This is in direct opposition from the direction traditional public schools and the library science field as a whole are following, which increasingly emphasize technology even for the youngest students, and encourages educational innovation through technology.

I am not certain where I stand on all this personally. It is an issue I continue to wrestle with.  While I do believe technology can be inappropriate as a primary education source for young children, I also believe it is an essential part of their culture, and thus something that should be taught in a Montessori classroom. Furthermore, I find that innovation continues to create ever-more interactive technologies that ARE increasingly appropriate for young children to interact with and learn about their worlds. Unfortunately, I believe neo-luddite “traditionalists” in the Montessori community are holding Montessori as a movement, and children as individuals, back when it comes to learning enhanced by technology.

All this is to say, how am I going to merge my two passions? How can I advocate both as a librarian and a Montessorian to Montessori schools for professionally run libraries? How should a Montessori school library look? How much technology? What kinds of books? How would it be scheduled? How would one lure students and teachers into the library?  It’s something I am only just beginning to get a glimpse of, but am unsure if it’s something I could “sell” to private and public Montessori schools on tight budgets. How do I sell it from a Montessori philosophical position? How do I sell it from a costs-benefits position?  It’s an interesting conundrum–one I hope I can figure out in the next few years.



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