ON LIBRARIES: Reading is at the Core

A recent article in Time magazine, “A Third of Teenagers Don’t Read for Pleasure Anymore,” caught my attention and it made me wonder about how in the midst of our other commitments, we are bringing reading to students. I note that reading of comic books wasn’t mentioned so I’m not sure if the researchers felt graphic novels counted. And of course the flip side of that statistic is that two thirds of teens do read for pleasure.  Nonetheless it seems kids are reading less.

Our various digital devices have cut into all our free time.  Teenagers themselves are concerned about how many hours they spend on their phones.  But knowing there is a good reason for the decline in leisure reading doesn’t take away from the problem nor the need to find a solution.

The new AASL National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries spells

out the importance of reading in our fourth Common Belief. “Reading is the core of personal and academic competency.” The explanatory paragraph concludes, “School librarians… provide access to high-quality reading materials that encourage learners, educators, and families to become lifelong learners and readers.”


How can you turn the tide?  Many of you have budget problems making it difficult (some would say impossible) to have current high-quality literature, but we can’t let our students down.  If you look long and hard at your collection, you will likely find lots of good books.  The challenge is to get them in the hands of your students.

YALSA (Young Adult Library Service Association) sponsors Teen Read Week which runs from October 7-13, 2018 with this year’s slogan, “It’s Written in the Stars – Read.”  Their website has forums which will give you ideas to get started.  An easy one might be a tie in recent films based on sci-fi books.

If you have a popular makerspace, create a frequently-changing display of non-fiction related to the activities kids like most. Consider starting an Entrepreneurs Book Club with students reading bios on the lives of entrepreneurs current and past.  Discussions can revolve around what made them successful. What ideas can students use to become entrepreneurs themselves?

Short-term book clubs around a theme can be a draw.  It’s not much of a commitment and makes reading a social experience.  Check any of the various library-related Facebook groups or your state’s listserv for book club topics that have worked. Most of these Facebook groups have librarians sharing ideas that have worked for them from book-tastings and blind date with a book, to bathroom book blurbs.  A Knowledge Quest article from last year on Reading Promotion for Middle and High School has a long list of suggestions.

Many state library associations give annual awards to books and students are the ones who get to vote.  Find out how to have your students participate. In some places, the website has activities you can use in coordination with the award.

“Get Caught Reading” is great if you are allowed cell phones in your school.  Post pictures you or someone else takes (selfies are OK) of teachers, administrators, — and you, reading a book.   If at all possible, display those books nearby. Encourage kids to take pictures of them reading.  It’s always best if they see adults value reading.  I’ve seen a few librarians post signs saying “I’m reading ……  What are your reading?”

Books in series and “read-alikes” are a good way to keep kids reading.  Put up a display of “first in the series” books to get them started.  You know what titles have been popular with your students, and you can find lists of read-alikes online to promote other similar books.

Family Reading Nights are very effective in some communities.  Scholastic has a Facilitator’s Guide to help you start one.  A Google search will give you additional ideas for hosting one.

I love what school librarians are doing with coding, makerspace, and genius hour.  Yes, it’s vital we know the latest apps, websites, and resources so we can show teachers how to integrate them into the curriculum, but you also want to create a reading climate in your library. To attract readers, you need to keep things changing.  Encourage kids to come up with ideas and don’t keep any one idea for more than a month.  No matter how much you do with technology, remember Reading Is Core.


ON LIBRARIES – Reading Is Required

Between Makerspaces, STEAM, and integrating technology into the curriculum and our own lessons, we can lose sight of a common belief of librarians. It is necessary for us to keep a focus on recreational reading.

Frequently, pressure from the administration and the need to be considered relevant, rather than stodgy, that causes discussions on the importance of recreational reading to be pushed to a back burner. It’s not quite as challenging for elementary school librarians, but for middle and high school librarians championing reading may make you sound tied to the past.

Nothing can be farther from the truth, and we need to be leaders in spreading this understanding.

The challenge is to bring the message in a way that will get heard.  Two weeks ago I shared the Common Beliefs from our soon-to-be published national standards. The fourth one, as I noted, is, “Reading is the core of personal and academic competency.”

A few years ago, I was the AASL representative on ALA’s Committee on Literacy. One of the members shared this visual:

The House of Literacy has many rooms. There is digital literacy, health literacy, legal literacy, computer literacy, information literacy, and an ever-lengthening list of additional literacies.  But the entrance is through text literacy.

Poster available at the ALA store online

AASL had as a slogan, “Kids Who Read Succeed.”  We know this is true.  The benefits students get from reading impacts their entire life.   One reason the many research studies show the correlation between having a certificated school librarian and student achievement is because librarians guide students into becoming lifelong readers.

Although elementary librarians spend a greater portion of the time helping students find the “right book,” than do middle and high school librarians, all of us are hampered when there is a requirement for kids to read at their level.  It is acceptable to use leveled books in the classroom to discover if students are reading at their instructional level, but the recreational level is different and perhaps more important.


Poster available at the ALA store online

If a book interests a kid, the level should never be a consideration.   When students read below their reading level they develop fluency. When they choose to read a book that’s “too hard” as many have done with Harry Potter, they rise to the challenge, learn persistence, and are proud of their accomplishment.


When my now college professor son, was in fourth grade and not wanting to read, I gave him a sports fiction story that was one year below his instructional level.  He could read it rapidly and did.  He loved it and wanted more.  It was a while before I gave him a book that was more difficult.  To this day, he is a reader.

But why do readers succeed?  In my opinion, it’s because of the peripheral information barely noticed while reading which becomes absorbed into the readers’ knowledge base. For as long as the book lasts, you are walking in someone else’s shoes, living their life and during that time a unique type of learning occurs.

I loved historical fiction while I was growing up.  By the time I studied British history, I had an understanding of who Queen Elizabeth I was and the forces that drove her which went far beyond what was in my textbook. I discovered science fiction and began to speculate about life beyond Earth.  The prejudice experienced by some races from other planets helped me look at my own prejudices and laid the foundations for the tolerant adult I hope I have become. Whether I was discovering the work involved in running a farm or seeing slavery through the eyes of a main character, books opened me to the world.  By temporarily living these other lives, I developed empathy for others.

This isn’t limited to fiction. Those who prefer non-fiction expand their horizons as well. When a student reads a biography of a sports hero, he or she finds out about the challenges the player encountered and conquered on the way to achieving success.  Reading about how others dealt with setbacks and persevered becomes a life lesson.

An October 3, 2017 article written by Susan K. S. Grigsby in Improving Literacy and Communication Magazine entitled “Literacy Starts in the Library”  supports my viewpoint. The opening states, “Literacy is the foundation of everything we do for our learner,” and goes on to say, “When students are starting to read, they tap into one of the very things that makes us human: stories.”  This human connection only continues with students who become lifelong readers.

The article is worth your time and should be shared with your administrator as part of a discussion on how and why to increase students’ recreational reading at all levels. Share students’ comments about books they have loved.  Short videos capture the emotion and send a powerful message.

What are you doing to foster lifelong readers? What are your success stories with kids you have connected to the perfect book?


ON LIBRARIES: Reading is at the Root of All Learning

“Kids who read succeed,” was a slogan AASL used years ago.  It’s still true. There is a reason why the first Common Belief in the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learners  is “Reading is a window to the world.”  It explains “Reading is a foundational skill for learning, personal growth, and enjoyment.”

We can’t ever let reading become an “outdated” element of what we do.  Elementary librarians focus on it, but by middle and high school it often takes a back seat to tech and research.  But are we tuned into how students’ ability to read affects the quality of their research along with their attitudes about learning?

I was on ALA’s Committee on Literacy for several years, and one of the truisms of the committee was “the House of Reading has many rooms, (health literacy, digital literacy, information literacy, political literacy, etc.) but the entrance is through reading.”  And the first Common Belief recognizes all these literacies saying, “The degree to which students can read and understand text in all formats (e.g. picture, video, print) is a key indicator of success in school and in life.”   

Because technology is a large part of students’ lives and the school environment, it is easy to forget that being a good reader is at the core of effective use of tech (even if students and adults prefer to learn by experimenting rather than reading instruction). Our students—and we as well— often turn to Google for a quick search rather than delving deeper.  Then they open the first two results and use it.  Whether it is only partially on the topic and not as relevant as it should be.

Remember reading is not limited to fiction.  While it’s my favorite recreational choice, many students and adults prefer nonfiction.  Magazines are still reading.  So are comics and graphic novels.  Indeed, the last two require readers to combine both visual and text literacy to make meaning.

I am not telling you anything new.  As librarians, we are all aware of the importance of reading.  I raise the topic today because I have gotten the sense that many middle and high school librarians are not making time for it. They have heavy teaching responsibilities, virtually all of which are tied to research or teaching use of new tech resources.

It’s not easy to carve out space for reading.  But you owe it to your students to do so. Middle school students are still likely candidates for a Battle of the Books competition.  Book clubs have been proven to be successful in many places. But you usually must find a hook that will attract students. While reading is a solitary activity, most readers enjoy sharing what they read as shown by the success of Good Reads and other such online groups.

Have a “Books for ….” Club.  Use an interest group or pick a theme and, with your guidance as necessary, let students choose what they want to read on the topic. Then they can share it with the others and discover how they all inter-relate. This is another way to connect with the “specials” teachers that I mentioned in my blog last week. “Read with The Principal/Art Teacher/Gym Teacher/etc” can be a fun way to have these teachers and professionals use books as a way to connect them more with the students.  You could also consider an “Eat, Read, Stay” club with students bringing their lunch and reading while eating. (Do make cleaning up afterward a requirement.)

School-wide reading programs can be effective- again you need a hook at the upper grades.  You could consider connecting it to a fundraiser. Whether it is a give-back to the community or for something the school needs (not the library), students respond well to being able to give back when it’s fun.  And that promotes good citizenship.

Some librarians have been successful with “Caught Reading” campaigns.  They photograph teachers and students who are reading and post their pictures in the halls.  To get kids interested, you need to spotlight those from the many different “groups” in the school.

It’s pricey at $199, but with ALA’s Read  Design Studio starter pack you can make your own Read posters featuring student and a book they selected and favorite must have read.  Consider having it a Makerspace activity where students use it to create Read bookmarks and posters and whatever else appeals to them.

Then there is the One Book, One School program.  Go online and look for success stories to see the best way to launch one.  Or post it as a question on LM_NET and the other places you go to for help from your colleagues. Some towns do this a well – there may be a way to link with your public library for this and get parents and administrators involved.

By making reading a focus along with the other components of the language program, you bring it into kids’ awareness. They, too, have been inundated with the demands school places on them.  Help them incorporate reading into their lives.

Have you kept reading a part of your program?  What have you been doing?

ON LIBRARIES: Stopping Summer Slide

summerThe school year is coming to a close and teachers and administrators are talking about a persistent problem—summer slide.  Summer vacation is longed for by students and many tired teachers.  Long days, no homework (or lesson plans) makes those days away from school idyllic.

But all those weeks without any school work comes with a cost. Far too many students lose so much of their reading and learning skills that teachers need four to six weeks to bring them back to where they were at the end of the school year. Not surprisingly less proficient students lose more than those who do better in school. The latter are more likely to read on their own while the former are glad they don’t have any required reading. Lower income students are hit the hardest.

This is not just a problem in the United States. Canada recognizes it as well. The province of Alberta has a site on Preventing Summer Slide. It’s short and gives you some ideas on what to do.

Many schools have a summer reading list which has both positives and negatives aspects.  While it does force kids to read some books, those who have been through it before know that in most places there is little follow up when school resumes.  And if there is an assignment of some type connected with it, doing a poor job on it has only minor consequences. In addition, as librarians we know that putting reading in the context of something potentially punitive is the worst way to encourage life long readers.summer slide

Summer Loans

While you might not be able to do much about loss of math skills, you certainly can help to curtail loss of reading skills. One quick approach, if your administration approves, is to allow students to borrow books for the summer.  Yes, there is a danger they will be lost, but combatting summer slide is far more important. You can limit the number to four but ten would better, and you can restrict the borrowing to paperbacks or older book

If you go with this option, set up several table top displays to encourage browsing.  See if you can get paper bags with handles and put a colorful label saying “My Summer Reading” on them. Place students’ selections in them and encourage them to put them back in the bag when they are finished and bring the bag back at the beginning of the school year.

Put a “review” card or sheet of paper in each of their books.  Have them write the author/title and call # on top, rate the book from 1-10, and add an optional comment about it. Be sure to have a good selection of non-fiction books available for those who prefer them.


If visiting the public library in the summer is an option for your student population, see if the children’s or young adult librarian can come to your school, bring library card applications, and tell kids about summer programs available at the library.  They normally have a reading program for the elementary grades and other possibilities for older students.  Just visiting the library, being surrounded by books –and computers—encourages reading.

Communicate with parents about summer slide.  While more challenging in low income areas, do the best you can. Your website is one way but it doesn’t work where parents don’t have Internet access. Find out if your town –or city—has a recreational program for the summer.  In many low income areas they or another group provide free lunch to those who can’t get it while schools are closed.  See if they will distribute brochures for you giving parents information about summer slide and what they can do about it.


resourcesEither on your website or in the brochures (or both) provide links to good resources for parents. Some possibilities are:

You can do an online search and find other resources.  Google and Bing have great images you can use to alert parents to the issue. This is a busy time for you. If you can’t put any of these ideas into action now, start collecting sources and information so you will be ready next year. It’s a great way to also promote your library program.

What are you doing to prevent Summer Slide with your students? Have you initiated something in the past that worked?

ON LIBRARIES: 3 R’s for Librarians – Reading, Research, & Relationships

It occurred to me if librarians focused on the three “R’s” central what we do, our leadership will emerge naturally and advocacy will follow. Since so many of you feel becoming a building leader is hard to do, and advocacy is even more difficult, I thought this might be an easy way to concentrate efforts, and get positive result.

keep calm and love readingReading– Reading is at the heart of what we as librarians are about.  You can’t do research or much of anything else if you can’t read.  Of course, we are not responsible for the teaching of reading, but we are responsible for instilling a love of reading. The first of the “Common Beliefs” in AASL’s Standards for the 21st-Century Learner is “Reading is a window to the world.”  The explanation that follows is:

“Reading is a foundational skill for learning, personal growth, and enjoyment.  The degree to which students can read and understand text in all formats (e.g. picture, video, print) and all contexts is a key indicator of success in school and in life. As a lifelong learning skill, reading goes beyond decoding and comprehension to interpretation and development of new understandings.”

When students fall in love with reading, they become lifelong readers. Their curiosity stays present and grows, and they search out information.  In other words, lifelong readers are lifelong learners—and in our constantly changing world this is a vital attribute.

So how do we develop this love of reading?  On an individual level we pay attention to each student. We listen for their likes and interests.  We are alert to what they don’t enjoy. Not having to compel students to read a particular book or type of book, we connect students to just the right book for them.  In so many casual conversations with adults, I have heard how one book set them on a course to loving to read.lifelong readers

As I have said, forcing students to read leveled books doesn’t do this. And I don’t believe reading for a prize works either whether it’s AR or a contest to see who reads the most.  I would much rather for example see a reading motivation program that seeks to find out what types of books is the most popular.  You could set up a genre bulletin board (and be prepared to add as students choose from new areas).  When they complete a book they like, have then fill in a book-shaped cut-out with the author/title/call# and their name. Staple it to the bulletin board, creating an ever-growing graph.  You can probably come up any number of other ways to do this.

Give a small reward for the first book a student posts.  You can do the same for a post in a new category. This type of non-competitive program, doesn’t put pressure on students to read a certain number of pages or try to best others. It’s personal.

At the elementary grades, librarians are charged with the first step in creating lifelong readers.  They choose a variety of stories to read aloud.  Stories with refrains encourage group involvement. Discussions about the stories builds critical thinking and visual literacy, while cultivating an appreciation of the sounds of language, word choice, and literary heritage.

As one of the bookmarks from the Libraries Transform initiative says, “Because Learning to Read Comes Before Reading to Learn” and learning to love reading is the middle step.”

research 2Research – From the time libraries came into existence, their central purpose has been research. In an age when information is at everyone’s fingertips, the role of libraries and librarians has become ever more critical. Another bookmark from Libraries Transform says, “Because There Is No Single Source for Information. (Sorry Wikipedia.)”  We have an obligation to teach students how to search efficiently – which means to quickly locate relevant and accurate sources rather than what they get with their non-specific Google searches.

We teach how to use information responsibly and ethically as well as digital literacy which encompasses understanding multiple platforms for accessing information.  Students need to learn which is likely not only to be the best one for their current need but also which one to use to share their knowledge.

An ongoing challenge for us is helping teachers restructure assignments so they are not just asking students to collect facts – which can be one-stop shopping-but rather to weigh and interpret their findings to make meaning from them.  Even better is to have students produce something of value to others.

Without proselytizing we must show students and teachers the difference between search and research.  By being mindful of this ourselves, we can guide them into more meaningful interactions with information and truly prepare them to be successful in college and their future lives.building relationships

Relationships – At the beginning of last month I blogged on relationships and why it is vital for the success of our programs. I won’t repeat what I said then, but recognize in order to instill in students a love of reading, you need to develop some relationship with them. Teachers are far more likely to listen to your suggestions on modifying their assignments if you have a relationship with them.

When your relationships are in place, students, teachers (and administrators) are comfortable coming to you with questions and asking for help. You become a guide for new technology and trends in education.  You are trusted.  You discover that you have become a leader.  And because what you bring has become so necessary to the success of all within the building, you have built advocates for your program.