Kids Need Books Everywhere by Jennifer LaGarde and Donalyn Miller
Indisputably, children and adolescents benefit when they attend schools with degreed librarians and well-developed library collections (Scholastic, 2018). We also know that providing kids with reliable access to books is one of the easiest, most cost effective ways to influence their achievement. (Allington, McGill-Franzen 2014). Unfortunately, too many young people live in “book deserts” without meaningful, consistent access to books at school and home–disproportionately impoverished children of color in rural and urban communities.
The research is clear, much of what we describe as the “achievement gap” is caused by differential access to books (Alexander et al., 2007). The majority of public school children live in poverty with limited resources for books. Our school and classroom library collections may be the primary (or sole) source of books for many of the children we serve. Understanding our students depend on schools to provide reading material, our goal is clear: to create the most robust, inviting and relevant collections we can. This means offering books throughout our schools and working together to build collections responsive to our students’ needs and interests.
We have seen libraries wedged into every corner of the schools we visit: libraries in principal’s offices–filling walls and overflowing closets, Little Free Libraries in school parking lots, cafeterias with books wedged into flower boxes along the wall, school nurses’ offices offering magazines (from the school library’s back issues), book baskets in school offices, rotating collections providing books for in-school suspension programs, and of course, lots of classroom and school libraries of all sizes and levels of quality. It’s in these environments, where every space provides a potential opportunity for kids to engage with books, that school-wide reading cultures can become a reality. Spaces where all kids have equitable access to books–a resource proven time and again to improve their academic, social, and personal outcomes.
Recognizing the urgent need to provide all of our children with consistent book access, it’s disheartening when we see the scorn some school librarians express towards classroom libraries. Conversely, our school librarians don’t get the respect they deserve and recognition for the role they play in student achievement and engagement. Fearful that classroom library initiatives erode the perceived value of the school library, some school librarians see classroom libraries as threats to their jobs. This concern is valid. Librarians are becoming endangered species in many schools. In states like Oregon or California, fewer than 10% of students have access to degreed school librarians. When your job is constantly in the crosshairs, it’s easy to feel defensive. We need our librarians more than ever. Full-time, degreed librarians increase students’ test scores, improve their writing skills, and help close the gap between high and low achieving students (Lance, 2012). Cutting librarians and slashing library budgets is a short-term financial solution that has long-term academic and social consequences for our children.
Supporting classroom libraries doesn’t mean we don’t value our school libraries. Kids need both. In classrooms with adequate library collections, children read 50%-60% more and report higher reading engagement (Allington, 2007; Morrow, 2003; Neuman, 1999). Classroom libraries should co-exist alongside school libraries. We cannot replace school libraries and librarians with satellite collections around the school. Removing librarians and breaking up school libraries reduces children’s access to books. Undermining classroom libraries limits their book access, too. How could you support any initiative that removes books from young people, whether it’s in the library or the classroom?
Kids need books everywhere. They need school libraries, classroom libraries, home libraries, and public libraries. This is not about who owns the books. This is about making sure all kids have the book access they deserve. We need to stop being curators of the books at the expense of children’s reading lives.
Concerns about the inconsistent quality, currency, and diversity of classroom libraries remain valid. For every well-stocked engaging classroom library, there’s another filled with ancient garage sale finds few children want to read.The quality of most classroom libraries collections hinges on individual teacher’s book knowledge, financial resources, and willingness to scrounge for books and professional development. Most teachers with classroom libraries purchase books with their own money and often depend on used bookstores and donations to stock shelves. There is little institutional support for classroom libraries in some school communities in spite of the evidence proving their effectiveness. Even when funding sources exist, teachers may not have the ability to build a good classroom library. Many teachers lack the professional knowledge to develop relevant, engaging, high-quality classroom library collections. Don’t judge teachers for their classroom libraries if you aren’t willing to fund them and offer the resources and training teachers need to implement classroom libraries effectively.
School librarians can be powerful partners in helping teachers develop inclusive collections that both spark and support children’s reading lives. Any school investing in classroom libraries should deeply involve their librarian, who probably has the most training and experience in building book collections of anyone on your campus. In collaboration with librarians, schools should develop guidelines for book selection and collection development to ensure that every classroom library includes diverse representation, a variety of genres, and a mix of topics and formats. Classroom libraries should not become static and must evolve from year to year in response to the children in the room. Rotating collections from the school library keep classroom libraries refreshed and current.
Working together, teachers and librarians can offer students the best book access possible and provide them with reading role models and mentors throughout the school. Surrounded by books and encouragement, more children will become readers. We know there are many librarians, teachers, administrators, and community groups who work together to provide consistent, high-quality book access to young people. Please share your successes and challenges in the comments. We look forward to learning with all of you.
Jennifer LaGarde is a lifelong teacher and learner, with over 20 years in public education. Her educational passions include leveraging technology to help students develop authentic reading lives and meeting the unique needs of students living in poverty. A huge fan of YA Literature, Jennifer currently lives, works, reads and drinks lots of coffee in Olympia, Washington. Follow her adventures at www.librarygirl.net or on Twitter @jenniferlagarde.
Donalyn Miller has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grade English and Social Studies in Northeast Texas. She is the author of two books about encouraging students to read, The Book Whisperer(Jossey-Bass, 2009) and Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013). Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk (with Nerdy Book Club co-founder, Colby Sharp). Donalyn launched the annual Twitter summer and holiday reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter at @donalynbooks or under a pile of books somewhere, happily reading.
When developing a reading culture at a school, what is the purpose of a classroom library versus a school library in supplying books? I ask this because I am newish to a school where are a few teachers hardly ever bring their students into the library and depend on online digital reading program such as Myon and their own classroom set novels, leveled books bins, and books in their own classroom library. I don’t blame them for their practice as I’m sure it’s a response to making sure their classroom needs are met. I have other teachers that come in regularly and make sure their students have access to high-quality diverse books. I am going into my third year with my school and we are on the cusp of shifting the reading culture at our school away from relying on reading levels by color and in offering more up to date titles and a variety of practices to support deeper thinking about our reading and making it more relevant and social. As my wonderful staff and I take this on, I would like a better understanding of what is the role of the classroom library, what is the role of the school library, what is the role of the novel set room, what is the role of digital reading, etc. In my opinion students need access to their school library regularly as an equity issue. I have a pretty open check out policy as I see it as a place for students to learn how to become independent users of the library. Often kids would say “oh I can’t check out” as a way to avoid a reading so I am removing that barrier by making it OK for them to go over their limit and work with them to build responsibility for their reading lives and the library lives that they are creating. In our district we do not have a teacher librarians at the elementary level and at the secondary level as we do not have library assistants. All over my state (Oregon) it is been really hard to get our districts to reinvest in teacher librarians and school libraries. I don’t understand why it’s so hard except that they always claim there’s no money. Sadly, in Washington, I am currently hearing more stories about schools getting rid of teaching librarians and either putting books in the classrooms instead of investing in their school libraries, creating a digital reading/learning specialist instead, or having paraprofessionals run the library. I also see technology encroaching on replacing school librarians so there’s a bigger issue at play here, and I know we need to get books into the hands of kids but how do we get a bigger movement across our country to reinvest in strong school libraries and to get our leaders understand that? It seems they see it as extra instead of as a necessity. This practice has gone on so long, and I worry that the institutional knowledge of what school libraries should be is lost. Furthermore many teaching librarians are gone and so instruction is not taking place at the elementary level and if it is l, it’s not done directly by teaching librarian. I always advocate that the school needs a team of a teaching librarian and a library assistant, a strong book budget, and up-to-date technology. I would love to work with anybody to help get this message across as our kids and staff deserve it.
This blog post hit home and gave me a good dose of motivation. We can always do more. Thank you for sharing this.
You are welcome to read my comments about this article on my Facebook library page: La Biblioteca de Fratney
Thank you for this. When I took early retirement in 2003, my district (Hillsboro, OR) had made the decision to eliminate all certified librarian positions, and they have never been added back. I spoke to the budget committee and to the full school board, sharing the kind of information you include here, to no avail. Many districts staff their libraries with clerks and call them librarians, so the public and even the students don’t know the difference.
I’m from Sask. Canada. Can you tell me what qualifies as a certified librarian in the USA?
When Donalyn and I talk about certified/degreed librarians, we mean someone who holds a Master’s Degree in Library Science and who has completed their state’s requirements for teaching certification (or the library equivalent – this varies by state). As the pervious commenter mentioned, some states are replacing librarians with hourly, non-degreed, classified employees whose responsibility is to checkout and shelve books. While there are examples of people in these roles who are doing great work for children, we firmly believe that all students deserve access to a degreed/certified librarian whose training includes both instructional/pedagogical practice AND a broad understanding of literature for young people. I know that’s a little more than what you asked for, but as it relates to this piece, that’s what we meant. Thanks!
Depending on the state, a certified librarian has either an additional endorsement in Library or a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science with a concentration in school library and media services. We are subject to the same state licensing requirements and as certified teachers. Many library assistants are called “librarians”, but certified librarians have specialized training.
This is so encouraging! I agree that books should be everywhere not just in the school!
Our Books on Bikes program delivers books, by bicycle, to our students during the summer. Many of our students don’t have books in their home and cannot get to the public library easily. We make sure they have books in their home all summer so they are better prepared for school in the fall, and because reading is fun! It is also a great way to foster positive relationships with our students and fellow teachers. It benefits us all! https://www.facebook.com/BooksOnBikes
Thank you for acknowledging the important role of school libraries and librarians. In addition to having specialized training in developing collections and providing library services to children and young adults, school librarians are trained to teach critical information skills. We can collaborate with teachers to provide students with authentic opportunities to access, evaluate, and use information ethically. Together, school librarians and classroom teachers are a powerful team with the common goal of creating lifelong readers and learners.
I thought this article I read this weekend makes some valid points.
I thank you both for this timely and meaningful post.
SUch great points Andre I love the article Margaret linked to calling classroom “collections” vs “libraries.” As a high school English teacher turned librarian, I bring books TO the classrooms and give each willing English teacher at least one bookshelf to store a rotating collection of library books on for student checkout. This year, I want to go further by training/empowering student aides in each English class/period to help advocate for the books and also help curate collections for students. The research shows that classroom libraries/collections work and if the library is too far away for a quick checkout, it can come to the students.
Reblogged this on Living Small in a Big World and commented:
School libraries are essential to ensuring that all children have access to books. There are families who can’t afford to buy books, and a school library is sometimes the only place these children can find books that they want to read.
Sadly our school systems don’t incentivize people to pursue careers in education. To be blunt, if my family wants to live in a good school district, that (at a minimum!) requires two salaries in the high five figures. And housing in Fort Lauderdale is not even that much higher than national averages.
However regarding the achievement gap I wonder if lack of access to books is a symptom rather than the actual problem?