A eulogy for our local newspaper

Last fall, I read Cecily Ross’ The lost diaries of Susanna Moodie, a fictionalized journal based on the life of a woman who emigrated to from England to the backwoods of Canada in 1830s.

If that hasn’t put you to sleep, know that I am fascinated by Moodie (and her sister Catharine Parr Traill) for a number of reasons, the greatest of which is that they settled in the area I call home. I often walk by the Cobourg wharf where their ship landed, have made the 10-minute drive into the country to see the historic plaque posted where Moodie first lived, and read the daily paper in which she published her poetry.

But no more – our local paper, published since 1831, has been shuttered. Sad but not surprising; many of the people indignant about the cut hadn’t shown their support with subscription dollars, and advertising revenue has understandably declined along with readership.

What will I miss about having the local paper in our library?

  • Reading coverage of school events (and having someone to ask to cover an event)
  • Learning about students’ & colleagues’ non-school activities in the community
  • Keeping up with obituaries of those who’ve passed in our small town
  • Watching someone complete the crossword or Suduko
  • Having a plethora of newsprint for art teachers in need (she says with partial sarcasm)

I am no Luddite, but felt it important to mark the end of this chapter. I’m curious to see what fate lies ahead for our national papers – one has recently changed formats, and I’ve been surprised to see it being read more frequently in our casual seating area. Coincidence? Temporary halt of the inevitable?

 

Reading Statistics

In fall 2014, several AISL librarians shared lists of their libraries’ top-circulated books. The lists were particularly interesting because while the titles were indicative of the types of collections curated by the AISL librarians, the lists included a number of common titles. So when Renaissance Learning released the 2015 edition of its What are Kids Reading and Why it Matters report, I eagerly got to work to see how those lists compared to the reading tastes and habits reflected by the independent schools’ circulation lists. I should note that our school does not use the Accelerated Reader program, but the Renaissance Learning (RL) report was mentioned by several media outlets, and I felt it was worth reading. I believe it is vital for librarians to cast a wide net when seeking new influences and benchmarking performance.

The data source for the RL report is the Accelerated Reader database, which includes book reading records for more than 9.8 million students in grades 1-12. The Accelerated Reader program is used in 31,363 schools nationwide, the students in which read approximately 330 million books during the 2013-2014 school year. The lists of books published in the report represent the most popular selections delineated by grade and gender. Below are a few items that may be of interest from the report.

  • Students in grades 2 and 3 read the most books, and students in grades 11 and 12 read the fewest
  • On average, girls read 3.8 million words by grade 12, whereas boys read 3.0 million words by the same grade
  • The average number of words read by a student in each school year peaks around grade 6 at 436,000 words and then decreases to the low 300,000’s by the end of high school.

The report repeatedly emphasizes a connection between academic achievement and independent reading practice. Supplemented throughout with essays by prominent children’s authors such as Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Andrew Clements, the report provides excellent discussion of why robust collections and their use matter to our students. Moreover, the rationale for reading and its multilayered benefits for students could be used to encourage faculty members to assign more independent reading.

The study states that the students who set reading goals for themselves through the Accelerated Reader database read more difficult books and read for more time on a daily basis than their peers who did not set goals. How might this outcome of goal setting help us to redefine projects so that our students may push themselves in their own achievement?

An entry in the report that especially resonated with me was written by Dr. Christine King Farris, author of My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up With the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. Farris describes reading as the gateway to “emotional and intellectual expansion” while growing up in a segregated society. Dr. Farris provides anecdotal evidence that reading empowered and motivated her and her brother. She notes that Dr. King learned about Mahatma Gandhi and his unwavering devotion to the practice of nonviolence through books. Perhaps the greatest example of the influence of reading on Dr. Farris and her brother Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is that, understanding the positive power for change that books hold, they both eventually became authors!

At root, the What Kids are Reading report provides a framework for comparison of reading programs in our own schools. It also provides a basis for comparison of overall reading habits. Do you observe a peak in the amount students read in sixth grade or is reading truly sustained throughout high school? If you work in a co-ed environment, do you note differences in the amount read by boys and girls?  In my own library, the second and third grade students, as the report would predict, are circulating the most books. My challenge now is not to sit back and corroborate the data, but to help promote reading in the other grades to match that of my most voracious readers!