Social-Emotional Learning in the Library

Libraries are not only great places for books but also safe and inclusive spaces for children's social-emotional development.

Libraries make an ideal environment for cultivating valuable SEL skills in young people.

There’s no question that school librarians are key figures when it comes to increasing literacy rates and spurring a love of reading in students. But just as in many other critical ways, that’s not all they do. Today’s school librarians also work to help students gain invaluable social-emotional learning (SEL) skills that can be as important as literacy as they mature and enter the world of adult work and life.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), a nonprofit that works to bring this type of learning into schools, defines SEL as being comprised of five key concepts:

  • Self-awareness. This represents a person’s ability to recognize emotions and how thoughts and feelings connect to behaviors.
  • Self-management. Building on self-awareness, this takes that ability to recognize and helps the person use it to regulate emotions when necessary and to motivate and control themselves.
  • Social awareness. Simply put, this is about embracing diversity and learning to show empathy to others.
  • Relationship skills. This is an ever-important factor that helps people develop relationships and manage conflicts.
  • Responsible decision-making. This helps students analyze their emotions and behaviors so that they can predict outcomes and work to avoid making poor decisions.


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If that seems like something you’d expect to be handled by counselors and social workers, it is — but libraries can play an important role in this type of education, too. What’s more, one type of library effort is tied directly to literacy and reading skills: bibliotherapy.

School libraries can be home to books that help students learn about others in order to become more empathetic and learn how to build healthy relationships. They can also provide books that speak to the child’s age and reading level about these concepts, often using humor or light storytelling to deliver the information rather than grown-up language.

School libraries are often involved in literacy efforts beyond basic reading skills. For example, media literacy is frequently taught in school libraries. This, in turn, contributes to self-awareness (students think about how what they read and see in the media, whether programming or ads, makes them feel), self-management in how they respond to media content, and how to make responsible decisions when deciding how to respond to what they see and read.


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Some libraries use yoga storytimes not only to instill these messages but also as a form of teaching self-management. These incorporate basic yoga techniques, such as breathing exercises and other calming techniques that children can easily learn to use when frustrated or angry.

Others use the simple tool of asking questions when classes come to the library, such as having students list a favorite of some type (foods, animals, games, etc.). It helps the students think about what’s important to them. When they share those lists, they learn about others with similar interests, which can help develop empathy and set the foundation for new friendships. (Bonus: Librarians learn what the students are most interested in, which can help dictate what new purchases should be made for the library.)

In other words, long gone (thankfully) are the days of the stereotypical angry librarian shushing and scolding students into silence and making the library a downright scary place. Today’s school librarians work ceaselessly to instill not only a love of reading and learning but also of becoming responsible, respectful members of society.



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