How do you solve a problem like picture books?

When I worked in the children’s room of a public library, picture books were some of our biggest movers. Adults and children would come in and take out armfuls, anticipating times spent reading together or looking through the pictures, telling stories of their own making. I hoped for some of the same circulation numbers when I became a school librarian. In my fantasy, students in the lower elementary grades would come in and beg to take home more picture books – or come in during free time and swap out the books they just got a few days before. Well, I’m not sure what it’s like in your elementary libraries – but that scenario has not happened in mine. Yet.

I was chatting with a fellow school librarian recently and picture book circulation came up. “Do your picture books circulate?” I asked.
“Not much” she answered.
“Mostly teachers?”
“Yes,” she replied, “and few with the popular characters like Fancy Nancy or Pete the Cat.”
“Sigh”.
“Sigh”.
That conversation replays in mind constantly. There are times when I wonder if I’m just not choosing the right books for my audience. Maybe I should require the PreKs and Kindergarten to only get picture books – after all, those books are made for them! Not only can they be used for pre-literacy and literacy activities, the stories are created explicitly FOR their enjoyment.

What to do? What to do? “Sigh? Sigh.” Following are some ideas to possibly help make those picture books move. Granted, picture books may never circulate like they do in public library – AND IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT. Most school libraries are missing the second half of the dyad – the parent or guardian or babysitter that takes the child to the public library in the first place. It just makes our job ‘more challenging’ as we get those picture books to move.

Do a thorough weeding
Are your shelves stuffed? Do not underestimate the power of a good weed. Be heartless. If it hasn’t moved much in 10-15 years, it probably isn’t going to move next Get rid of anything worn. Put the worn or dated books that circulate on a list to repurchase (unless the last time it circulated was five years ago). If it bothers you to weed, take a note from Maria Kondo, thank the book for its service and let it go. Depending on your school policy, you could offer teachers first choice then put the rest in a ‘free book’ cart for students and/or find a local library or charity to benefit from your largess. If your shelves look crammed and full, students aren’t enticed to browse for that perfect picture book.

Explicitly teach that displays are for students
Have you ever set up a book display with the purpose to create circulation on some items and have students ask permission to take a book? I have. Now I make sure that I mention during library time that displays are for taking. If you have some displays that need to have books stay and some that allow circulation, it may help to let students know which ones they can take books from or offer to place a hold on a book that needs to stay in your library for a while.

Offer read alikes for picture books
If your story time has a theme or an author focus, make sure students know of picture books that share the same theme or author. I would often put up a small floor display by my reading chair of read alikes or an author’s other works, allowing students to look at them during book choosing time.

Partially ‘genrefy’ your picture book collection
While my inner feminist bristled whenever a girl asked me for a princess book, (“wouldn’t you like this one about a female astronaut instead?”), it’s hard to fight the power of the pink. Whether it’s just the holidays, or princesses, or firefighters, using spine labels or separate locations may help those picture books circulation more.

Extend circulation to parents
Again, this is up to your school’s policies, but parents are the ones gathering the picture books in the public library. Whether you stay open a little later or earlier a few days a week, advertising to parents that they can grab picture books while they’re waiting may help with circulation numbers and provide a needed service to time strapped parents.

Provide a box of books to classroom
Why do you rob banks? Because that’s where the money is. Sutton’s law can also apply to the classroom. Most students only go to the library with their class. While that’s all well and good, their chosen books tend to go home. What if you had a box of books that live in the classroom rotating the selections every few weeks? Not only are you getting some of your picture books to see the light of the classroom, you may be helping a stressed out teacher find something for a child to do when they have finished an assignment early. Granted, some teachers may want nothing to do with this, but I’m sure you can find a few that would be willing to try this with you. Especially if you try to match the books with curricular themes.

Now I’m looking for your input. What are some of the ways you’ve helped increase the circulation of picture books? Let’s get these books where they belong…in the hands of the students!

Celebrating student choice by giving them the $$$

Last year I wrote and received a grant from my state school library association to allow an eager group of students to select books to purchase for our library. Inspired by David Barrow’s Student Book Budget project, I created a Librarians-In-Training group composed of about a dozen 3rd and 4th grade students. Their task was to survey the student body to gauge reading interests, analyze the results to determine goals for book purchasing, browse book catalogs and meet with vendors to select books to purchase, and finally, make tough budget decisions about what to actually buy. 

By giving students the power to choose, I saw them become thoughtful problem-solvers and decision-makers, focusing on the wants and needs of the many, rather than their own personal desires. This is, after all, their library, and they should take part in the process of selecting books for it. At the end of this project, students were able to see the results of their efforts – books actually purchased for the library. Best of all, students took pride and ownership of the new materials selected for the library.IMG_9720

So, how did we do it? Slowly and methodically!

At our first meeting, I talked to students about my job as librarian – how to select books, what to consider, where to look for books, etc. We discussed our diverse student population and focused on the need to choose books for ALL readers. This led into the sharing of my simplified selection criteria pulled from my Collection Development Policy: community need, quality, appropriateness, and diversity.

We then moved into talking about creating selection goals. What kinds of books should we buy? Well, in order to answer that question, we first needed to find out what kinds of books our Lower School students wanted! I created a simple Google survey for our Librarians-In-Training to fill out and critique.

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They spent the next week helping our student body fill out the survey during lunch recess. They emphasized the fact that we would most likely buy the books and genres that students suggested.

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After the surveys were done, we met back as a group to analyze the results and create selection goals focused on specific genres or types of books. I created charts and graphs to illustrate the survey’s results and let students discuss the findings.

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Time with this group ended and another picked up where we left off a few weeks later. Armed with our selection goals (which later changed to account for my recent purchases), we then explored two sources – Follett Titlewave (and print catalogs) and our local independent bookstore. We were lucky to have our independent bookseller come to us to share a box full of the latest and greatest children’s books (which we pre-selected together earlier in the week, selection goals in mind). Students browsed the books and created yes/no piles for purchase.

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After two weeks of compiling our lists and making sure we stayed on budget, I placed the final orders! Students were buzzing with excitement and couldn’t wait for the books to come in. Our bookstore order arrived first, and students helped process them after I cataloged them. The Follett order came in over a month later, and students were anxious to get these books on the shelf already!

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And this is where we are now. The Follett books just went on the shelf yesterday (!!!), and there is still more work to be done. I would love to have some of my Librarians-In-Training create a promotional video for the new books. I would also like to find a way to track checkouts of these new books, so that at the end of the year, we can analyze our success. But for now, I consider this project a win.

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Reading in the new year

As January begins to unfurl and we all return to school (hopefully) refreshed and ready to tackle the second half of the school year, I wonder if anyone else is left in this odd sense of reading purgatory. I love compiling “Best of 2015” lists at the end of the year (and blogged about it here), and of course, I also love hearing about and reading brand new books anytime of the year. But January, for me, is the trickiest reading month because I am trying to both read the best books from the previous year (especially in anticipation of the ALA Youth Media Awards next week) and stay on top of new releases.

Since I’ve already written about the former, I thought I’d share with you some new books coming out in the next few months that I’m looking forward to. This is a completely subjective list based on my favorite authors, personal interests, student influences, and starred reviews (found on this excellent spreadsheet here). I’ve linked to the Goodreads profile of each book so that you can read summaries, reviews, etc. (and so that you can be spared my giddy ramblings of why I already heart these books). Please share your own in the comments!


beafriendBe a Friend by Salina Yoon
Hardcover, 40 pages
Expected publication: January 5, 2016 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens


Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabensteinmrlemoncello
Hardcover, 288 pages
Expected publication: January 5, 2016 by Random House Books for Young Readers


frankencrayonFrankencrayon by Michael Hall
Hardcover, 40 pages
Expected publication: January 26, 2016 by Greenwillow Books


paxPax by Sara Pennypacker
Hardcover, 304 pages
Expected publication: February 2, 2016 by Balzer + Bray


saltotheseaSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Hardcover, 400 pages
Expected publication: February 2, 2016 by Philomel Books


princessinblackThe Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde by Shannon and Dean Hale
Hardcover, 96 pages
Expected publication: February 9, 2016 by Candlewick Press


amulet7Amulet 7: Firelight by Kazu Kibuishi
Paperback, 208 pages
Expected publication: February 23, 2016 by GRAPHIX


keytoextraordinaryThe Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd
Hardcover, 240 pages
Expected publication: February 23, 2016 by Scholastic Press


maybeafoxMaybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt
Hardcover, 272 pages
Expected publication: March 8, 2016 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books


booked
Booked
 by Kwame Alexander
Hardcover, 320 pages
Expected publication: April 5, 2016 by HMH Books for Young Readers


What are you looking forward to reading/purchasing this year?


Edited to add: On the heels of my post, School Library Journal publishes a gorgeous 16-page pdf of upcoming releases here – http://www.slj.com/downloads/sneakpeek2016/. Happy browsing!

Books for Discussing September 11th

One of the bonuses of being a librarian and a mother, is that my daughters often try to surprise me with books I am not familiar with when they come home from a trip to our public library. One Saturday this summer, I arrived home to find a library book selected by youngest daughter on my desk. I am a native New Yorker and I believe she picked out the book because of its setting, noted in the title.

New Yorks BravestI dug into New York’s Bravest, pouring over the lush illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. I immediately found myself captivated by the story of a man whose legend was larger than life. Mose Humphreys had overwhelming strength and character, and an unyielding sense of duty. His life ultimately ended in the line of duty and the narrative brought me to tears. Through the story I also gained a deeper understanding of the connection and sense of community firefighters have not only in New York City, but in all areas where we live today.

The book includes a historical note about the origins of this tall tale. And fittingly, the book is dedicated to the 343 New York City firefighters who lost their lives while saving others on September 11th. After researching the book I also found that Mary Pope Osborne included a longer, different version of this legend in her collection American Tall Tales. New York’s Bravest is a gem and reading the book aloud I believe would prompt great discussions with young children about the job firefighters do and the risks they take to save others.

FireboatMaira Kalman uses the history of New York City and a detailed description of the John J. Harvey Fireboat launched in 1931, to set the stage for the incredible work the boat did in the hours after the attack on 9/11.

The theme of citizenship, which resonates so clearly in this book, provides a way to discuss the events of September 11th with children. Maira Kalman describes the events and the response from New Yorkers by writing:

“The news spread. The city had been attacked. Everyone was terrified. But people were brave. The entire city sprang into action. Firefighters and police officers and doctors and construction workers and teachers and cooks and children and parents. The mayor was strong. He said, “We will all work together. We will not be broken.”

Fireboat TowersThe illustrations are remarkable. Maria Kalman’s signature colorful, warm style and captures the people who experienced the day and their steadfast determination, working together to repair the city.

14 Cows for AmericaA Maryland Black-Eyed Susan picture book nominee, Carmen Agra Deedy’s 14 Cows for America provides a unique, global perspective on the events of September 11th. In her collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, the author uses the vehicle of storytelling to communicate the events of the day paired with beautiful, evocative illustrations.

“There is a terrible stillness in the air as the tale unfolds. With growing disbelief, men, women, and children listen. Buildings so tall they can touch the sky? Fires so hot they can melt iron? Smoke and dust so thick they can block out the sun?”

Yet, from the story it is clear that no matter how great our differences, we are empathetic. The response from the people in a small village in Kenya and their touching gift of fourteen cows for America define the essence of the Maasai – a people, “ …fierce when provoked, but easily moved to kindness when they hear of suffering or injustice.” This book also provides a stepping stone for broadly discussing ritual, cultural values, and immigration.

In the concluding note from Kimeli Naiyomah he writes, “The Maasai wish is that every time Americans hear this simple story of fourteen cows, they will find a measure of comfort and peace.”  We are fortunate as Librarians and teachers to utilize books like these that provide a conduit for healing and way we can remember September 11th, 2001 and move forward.

Why I’m Not “Weeding” Right Now

I am pretty sure I’m not the only person who struggles with removing books from the collection.  Not the easy calls. Not the books that meet the MUSTY (Misleading, Ugly, Superseded, Trivial or not right for Your collection) guidelines.  We can all laugh at the science text that says “Someday, computers will fit on a desktop” or the copy of Twilight with the cover half off and the text block falling out.  When I came here 10 years ago, this library had sections in need of heavy culling, and I was equal to the task. But I have worked here for a while now.  Many of these books were purchased under my watch.  Maybe that’s why the word “weeding” sticks in my craw. Weeds are interlopers. Weeds are things that pop up where they are not wanted.  These books I am contemplating removing don’t feel like “weeds” to me.  I can look at many of them and tell you exactly why it was purchased, and which readers loved it…six years ago.  I can remember when we couldn’t keep that one on the shelf….in 2010.  When a teacher (now retired) used this video every semester, like clockwork.

The CREW standards (Continuous Review Evaluation Weeding) from the Texas Library and Archives Commission, updated by Jeanette Larson in 2012, offer ongoing ideas for a continuous process of …what shall I call it?  “Deaccessioning” is a bit unwieldy, but accurate.  Downsizing? Right Sizing? Grooming? (Thanks to my colleague, Cindy, for that one!) Removing books from the collection?  Lots of phrases sit more easily on my heart.

Part two of the process is what to do with what is removed.  Since the collection is fairly current, much of what is removed is in good condition (just outdated or low in popularity) so we are making categories.  I will take a batch to give away at the 7th /8th grade study hall, where the pop-up library sets up once a week.  We will invite interested 5th and 6th graders to take a book home.  Upper School students will have their chance.  We will invite teachers to come by — in the past we have invited the whole school at once, but I think we will sort by discipline, and invite smaller groups, with the hope they can more easily see books for their classroom collections.  Less “look at the weeds on our compost heap” and more “look at these interesting things that have fallen out of fashion.”  We will undoubtedly end up with a “free to a good home table” and then a trip to the recycle bin, but I am not coming from a place of yanking something out but from a place of cultivating and grooming a collection.

What sounds right to you, when removing books?  Do you have tips and tricks to share?

Spring is Sprung!

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Here in Southern California it’s been garden time for awhile now. I’m already into my second wave of bulbs, and the forget-me-nots have shown that they have not yet forgotten me, spreading throughout my garden with their cheerful blue flowers. We’ve had AISL blog posts on weeding lately, and on tending our collections, and I find myself continuing the “Library as Garden” metaphor as I sit out in my back yard pondering possibilities.

Spring is our biggest research season at Harvard-Westlake Upper School. A solid 66% of our student body is actively working on serious research projects, and an additional 15% or so has research going on in some fashion. We love it– it really is exciting, and the interaction with students looking for one more primary source or additional material on Degenerate Art (oooh, fun!) is invigorating. But we can only manage this level of activity if we’ve done our own ‘homework’, if we’ve built the collection to support all these projects. Every year we have a number of repeat projects, so we are not surprised when all the Pope Pius XII books go out, or Stalin, or the aforementioned Degenerate Art in Germany titles are in high demand. If we’ve done our Collection Management well, we’re set.

Then there are the cycles. Topics that go out of fashion for one reason or other. For years we had very little research done on the Revolutionary War era. After a quiet spell, out of the blue (or sometimes, due to changes in curriculum or some big anniversary of an event) suddenly Revolutionary America is all the rage again.  Often all it takes is one really good Ken Burns Documentary Series and suddenly there is new interest in … Jazz! or Baseball!

Because most of the research done in our library is through the History department, we know there will always be interest in primary sources and good solid standard scholarship.  If something is on the list of suggested topics for sophomores, we know there will likely be interest. Where it gets trickier is the open ended topics chosen by juniors. Our job as librarians is to develop our collection, our garden as it were, to make sure it includes items that will be needed by our students. As with any garden, we can’t build just for this one year.

Here’s where the long view comes into play. Occasionally there’s a new wave in education, or (as they say in Country Music) The Next Big Thing. If the rising tide of momentum gets too powerful without having a focus on proper priorities, then you might end up with a long term solution to a short term problem. The issue might be space, for example. Some bright-eyed administrator might come sweeping in saying that since no one uses books anymore, you need to weed 50% of your collection and they’ll be using that space for… something important. So– major weeding project, loss of books and shelf space, reconfiguration. You might get rid of all those American Revolution books. Just wait 5 years, and you can be sure they’ll be back in demand. Only then you’ll need to fork out good money to build your collection again. Sure, you can weed the chaff (if you have any left after the previous weeding projects) but there are a lot of treasures by experts in the field that are a lot harder to replace than they were to get rid of.

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There was an article in American Libraries (January/February 2015) expanding on the Library as Garden motif in a very creative way. “Not Your Garden-Variety Library,” by Greg Landgraf, tells the story of the Fairfield Woods branch of the Fairfield (Conn.) Public Library. They have developed a seed catalog where patrons can ‘check out’ seeds, complete with instructions for growing them, and can even ‘return’ seeds harvested from their crops. Apparently there are hundreds of seed libraries operating in the United States. Who knew?!? The Common Soil Seed Library in Nebraska organizes its seeds by how difficult they are to save, and their whole collection is housed in an old card catalog cabinet. How cool is that?

Volunteers sort through donations to the Common Soil Seed Library and repackage the seeds. The seeds are filed by Latin name, with the common English game following, in an old card catalog.

Volunteers sort through donations to the Common Soil Seed Library and repackage the seeds. The seeds are filed by Latin name, with the common English game following, in an old card catalog.

Whether you’re planting, weeding, or still dreaming of golden garden hours in the warm spring sun (while you’re all cozy by your fire), gardens everywhere are an inspiration. Springtime in our library is inspiring as well, with all that youthful energy directed towards the treasure hunt that is a good research project. Spring is a time of renewal, fresh starts, new energy, and the return of the sun’s warmth.

Happy Spring, everyone!

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Keeping up with new resources!

Keeping up with the thousands of resources that are published each year is a challenge! As we run a library that serves students in grades 1 through 12, as well as staff, it can be difficult to keep up with new books, additions to series, new formats, as well as changes to the curriculum that demand new print and online resources.

There are a number of print and online sources that I use to stay up to date about new releases, and items that should be in our collection. Here are a couple of my favourites:

PRINT:

H.W. Wilson’s Core Collection

We subscribe to the Children’s edition, the Middle and Junior High edition and the High School edition. These are wonderful resources, which list recommended books by Dewey number, as well as fiction for different age groups. The recommendations are always excellent, and I use the volumes frequently. Updates come once a year for each of the editions, so I am always able to see what has been recently published in a certain area. This resource is also available online, but I far prefer the print version, which I can annotate, add sticky notes to, and photocopy to distribute to faculty. There are a couple of drawbacks to this source, however; sometimes the books they list are out of print or difficult to find, and it has a US focus (although, obviously, that is not quite such an issue for many readers of this blog). If a Canadian version were available, I would be thrilled!

Quill & Quire

Quill & Quire is ‘Canada’s magazine of book news and reviews.’ Published monthly, it features publishing industry news, and reviews for all ages. Their reviews of children’s books are particularly good.

Resource Links

Resource Links is published six times a year, and focuses solely on Canadian resources, both fiction and non-fiction. All of the reviewers are librarians; the reviews are informative, and always contain useful information about age-appropriateness / potential issues associated with a source. Resource Links also regularly publishes lists of award winning books from across Canada, so is a good source for staying up to date with popular material. Resource Links also reviews French materials, so if you are looking to build your French language collection, it is a good place to start.

Booklist

I find Booklist superb for adult fiction and non-fiction, but less good for children’s books. They always review unusual books, however, and I do often one or two excellent recommendations in every issue.

ONLINE:

We all have our favourite Kids Lit and YA Lit bloggers; here are a few that I subscribe to via my Feedly reader:

Kids Lit:

A Fuse #8 production

CanLit for Little Canadians

A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy

100 Scope Notes

YA Lit:

Reading Rants

Chasing Ray

Teen Lit Rocks

Stacked

Other excellent sources of book recommendations are our students (who are well-read and vocal about it!), browsing at the bookstore, booktalks at our regional library group meetings, awards announcements, meetings with vendors etc etc. It’s not surprising that it’s difficult to keep up!

What are your favourite sources for book recommendations? And are there any you avoid?