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!

Overdues: Overdone?

Ah, the pesky overdue. Does the overdue notice, and its cousin, the fine, still have a place in a library? Matt Ball, from the Woodruff Library at Pace Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, posed these questions (and his answers) on the AISL discussion list:
Why do we have overdues? (To get books back.)
Why do we want them back? (So other students can check them out.)
Do other students want to check them out? (Don’t know.  But with popular titles, yes.)

Matt continued: “Centrally, my feeling is that if a student wants a book and has it checked out, let them keep it until someone else needs it.” Steve Matthews, from the Currier Library at Foxcroft School agrees: “Certainly, there is the chance of missing a serendipitous opportunity of person finding book/media by lucky chance, but since the person who checked it out has already made a connection, that seems enough.”

And yet, the concept that library books are for sharing seems central to me.  Building the character trait of responsibility seems important to me:  if you borrow something, please return it as agreed, or ask for an extension. And since I promote the idea of browsing when you are in the mood to read, I want popular books frequently in and out, to be browsed. When books are (as Carolyn LaMontagne at the Reed-Gumenick Library at Collegeiate Middle School says) “living in a locker or under a bed” how does that affect other library patrons?

One thing that’s been great:  Our circulation software sends an automated email notice two days in advance of the due date, with the subject line: Courtesy Reminder: Library material due soon.  This gives students (if they check their email, which not all do!) every chance to get in front of the overdue. We renew most books upon request.  I have a template for a “gentle reminder” email (Joanne Crotts also uses that phrase at the Skinner Library at the Asheville School) that I send individually, using school email, the first week a book is past due. Week two is a phone call, if there is a family phone. If no family phone, I try to catch the student between classes, or send a second email, rather than call a parent cell phone. The third notice is an email to the child with a cc: to the parent email(s).  Past that is a follow up email, with the replacement cost “if the book is lost.”

To touch on fines:  Our policy is 10 cents a day, but students rarely have money on them, and the fines are usually minimal. Usually I will delete the fine with a smile and ask the student to “pay it forward” and do something nice for someone else. That saves me a headache over 80 cents, and still reminds the student of the policy and holds them accountable for the late return.

This is a blog post without a “right” answer. Different policies will work for different librarians and different populations.  As I expand my notion of what a library is (and it’s expanded it a lot in the past 5 years!) I’m glad that overdue items take up a smaller percentage of my time.

Plaase leave a comment and/or share ideas if you have an system that works for you!

Nothing Propinks like Propinquity

The Oxford English Dictionary‘s first definition of ‘propinquity’ is “nearness or closeness in space; neighbourhood, proximity”, but there is more to it than that. P.G. Wodehouse depended on this very phenomenon when he created his world of genteel country estates and comedic romances engendered by the nearness of those staying under one roof for any significant time. Jeeves enlightens Bertie Wooster in Right Ho Jeeves (1934) when Bertie asks, “What do you call it when two people of opposite sexes are bunged together in close association in a secluded spot meeting each other every day and seeing a lot of each other?” Jeeves replies, “Is ‘propinquity’ the word you wish, sir?” Bertie: “It is. I stake everything on propinquity, Jeeves.” The title phrase above is itself a chapter heading in Ian Fleming’s Diamonds Are Forever (1956). Whoever coined the phrase, it’s genius.

We, too,  depend quite a bit on propinquity in the world of school libraries. We spend a good deal of time, effort and treasure to make sure we have the materials our students need at the time that they are needed, and we rely on the ‘nearness or closeness in space’, of having resources readily available, to ensure our students will make good use of these resources.

The care and feeding of a collection of materials to support the curriculum is of course a primary function of school librarians, but a not inconsequential secondary function is the care and feeding of student interests partnered with the broadening of horizons where student reading is concerned.

In this secondary function, propinquity is of utmost importance.  A student returning from the water fountain to the library table where his things are settled passes by the newspaper stand, slows down–catching the headlines of the New York Times displayed there– stops, slowly picks up the front page and spends perhaps five minutes reading the article. Five minutes later he is back on his way to the table where he takes out his math homework and gets down to business. There it is: Propinquity in the process of propinking! The paper needs to be there, displayed to advantage, and easily accessible, for the connection to be made.

The same process is in play when a student ambles past the magazine display, glances at Car and Driver, notices an eye-catching cover story from a nearby Atlantic Monthly magazine (maybe “The Fraternity Problem: It’s Worse Than You Think” from March 2014, or “How Genius Happens” with a Shepard Fairey Lennon & McCartney cover from July/August 2014) and picks that up. We know this happens because we see it happening, but also because we find all types of library magazines left about the place. This is one time I LOVE cleaning up after the students. Reshelving Bloomberg Business News, The Nation or New Yorker… now THAT’S exciting stuff!

Much is made of discoverability these days, and for good reason. It is hard enough to find what you want when you KNOW what you want, say for your Art History project. It’s a real challenge when you don’t yet know what you want, and maybe you don’t even know that you’re looking for something.  We need to provide our students with intriguing and inspiring material to foster interest in things known and unknown, authors familiar and new. At our academically rigorous Upper School, many students are highly scheduled, but I notice that our students tend to find the time for activities that interests them, whether that’s connecting with friends on social media, following favorite music or TV shows, or reading books, digitally or in print, self-provided or found in the library. Putting students in close proximity with materials that may catch their interest is an important part of a librarian’s role. Having a copy of Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim on hand for the ‘Library Book of the Week’ display with cover and blurb included in the daily bulletin is one step in the ‘matchmaking’ process. Bringing that (newish, attractive paperback) book across the room toward the display, passing a table of voracious and inquisitive readers who (I know) dream of going to Oxford and Cambridge one day (yes, they argue about who will go to which), and saying to them “Okay, here’s the funniest book ever written about the pomposity of academic pretense in the Oxbridge world”– that’s the trigger. When two students say “Me Me!” that’s pure joy to this librarian.  It helps that this was two days before the Thanksgiving break, that I knew these students from our book club and knew that two students in particular loved intricate, involved novels. The connection isn’t always made, but you need to have the bait– er– books, magazines and newspapers on hand, in the library, in close proximity to where students hang out — for this to work.

Notice I’m talking about physical materials here. Yes, there is a thrilling rush in getting an ebook from the library, downloaded immediately to one’s device, but … there’s that discoverability thing again. The student would need to know they wanted a book, go to the library website, click click click (how many clicks before students give up?), search, find a book, download, and then it’s done. If it all works smoothly, that is. The immediacy of the physical item is really… immediate.

One element of our Library Mission Statement is to foster a life-long love of reading. This is an intangible goal but a vital one. We need to make use of every tool at our disposal, not the least of which is propinquity. It really is true: “Nothing Propinks like Propinquity.”

Independent School Librarians and Common Core: What Are We Doing?

Common Core State Standards

Common Core State Standard Banner (from government source)

Common Core State Standard Banner (from government source)

Happy Holidays!  I don’t imagine anyone will look at this today,  but perhaps sometime this week…I decided to take a look at Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for today’s post and see how it was being used in the independent school library.

Independent Schools and CCSS

There are several librarians like Marianna McKim, Head Librarian at Kimball Union Academy, who said, “We are not officially using common core, but I am incorporating some of the ideas into our curriculum planning.”  And that seems to be a common theme in the independent school milieu in general: look at what’s going on, evaluate it, and then take what is good and use just what you need.  There is an abhorrence in the independence school world for being forced into a particular lock-step program. Hence the name independent!

Flowcharts and Brochures and CCSS

Joan Tukey, librarian at Notre Dame Academy, recently updated school brochures to reflect where Common Core skills were being used. You can see her work at the following link: Joan Tukey’s work on Common Core in her school

Webinars and CCSS

Margaret P. Simmons, Library Media Specialist at the June Shelton School, offered the advice to independent school librarians who are seeking to know more about Common Core that they listen to the Common Core and Text Types: What Should Students Be Reading? Webinar edWeb.net.

“I just listened to this webinar. It is so powerful! ” Simmons said in an email.

Libguides and CCSS

Joan Lange, librarian at Pope John Paul II High School, has done quite a bit of work on Common Core State Standards.  She has created some very good libguides, complete with powerpoints and links to other materials of note and is now working on another related project.  Her first libguide is general dealing with the standards in an overview way. You can find the libguide here: LibGuide:  Common Core State Standards (General Resources).  This libguide also includes a powerpoint by Lange’s  Science Dept. Chair illustrating how Common Core relates to Next Generation Science Standards. Her second libguide is history related and deals with teaching primary sources: LibGuide: Teaching with Primary Sources (History).  This libguide includes a powerpoint that she created illustrating the research process with primary sources as the starting point.  It is brilliant! I highly recommend that you take a look at it.

Lange’s next project is creating a Common Core bookcase of literary nonfiction works, across all disciplines.  This bookcase will be in her Professional Development and Audiovisual area.  She is hoping that prominent display will encourage conversations with teachers on how some of these short excerpts can be incorporated in their curriculum and connect with CCSS.

Technology,  Apps and CCSS

At the Berkeley Preparatory School we have started looking at CCSS in our Lower Division, where they are currently going grade by grade and looking at the Common Core skills and then comparing them to our Berkeley Identified Skills (BIS).  In the library in particular, we are looking at the American Association of School Librarians Learning Standards and Common Core Crosswalk and then adding our BIS skills in a third column.  Kathleen Edwards, our lower division librarian, is leading the charge on this effort.  We have taken the crosswalk and eliminated all the other skills except for the library related ones, making it a little easier to use.  We’ve broken the files down by grade level (k-12).  I will be posting those files in the AISL wiki.  If you are an AISL member, please go to AISL WIKI.  If you aren’t a member and are an independent school librarian, membership is only $25/year.  Or if you are a librarian who would just like the files,  comment below and if I receive enough requests, I will post all the documents here! (You could also link to us, as we would love to continue the conversation with you! 😎

Last year, Christina Arcuri, our collection development and upper/middle librarian, went to a YALSA conference where she learned about an app called Subtext. We talked about it and how cool it was, as it could allow a whole class to annotate a book together and share those annotations with each other.  And, it does much more than that:

  • You can create documents and convert them to an ePub format and then review them all together as a class for peer editing and review.
  • You can leave your own notes in the class text for students.
  • You have access to books and articles in Google play (free and pay), over 3 million and they do volume discounting.

However, at the time she saw it, our school was not doing iPads and I promptly forgot it.  But now, we have implemented iPads, albeit in a slow manner. Since one of the core items about CCSS is its inclusion of technology, this app seems like the perfect tool for how librarians can help faculty include instructional technology into the classroom.

This holiday break, Christina and I will be testing it out with a group of English faculty to see if we can use it even though we do not have a classroom set of iPads for upper division.  We are hoping that the browser version they are beta testing is robust enough. There is not a mobile app at this time. We might be able to borrow the middle division iPad classroom set in a pinch!  Or request a set of iPads for upper next year. If you are considering CCSS, I recommend that you check out Subtext, especially as they are exploring a browser version. Go to web.subtext.com if you want to try it.

Conclusion

This is just a taste of what is going on in the independent school library with CCSSs. Please follow the blog and comment if you want to be a part of the conversation.  Let us know what you are doing and what you have found to be successful.  If you have found a great app, please share it.

If you want to get started, here are some articles I found useful.  Paige’s article had some great links. And I hope everyone has a wonderful and relaxing holiday break!

  1. Cravey, Nancy. “Finding Inspiration in the Common Core.” Knowledge Quest. 42.1 2013 18-22 Advanced Placement Source. http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/90230622/finding-inspiration-common-core
  2. Jaeger, Paige. “We Don’t Live in  a Multiple-Choice World: Inquiry and the Common Core.” Library Media Connection. Jan/Feb 2012 10-12. http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ960050 [Note: Paige has some really good resources!]
  3. Fontichiaro, Kristin. “When Research Is Part of the Test.” School Library Monthly. 30.3 2013  53.
  4. Morris, Rebecca. “Find Where You Fit in the Common Core, or the Time I Forgot about Librarians and Reading.” Teacher Librarian. 39.5 2012 Advanced Placement Source. http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/77053481/find-where-you-fit-common-core-time-forgot-about-librarians-reading