Blogger Lisa Taylor

Can we talk?

With the school year winding down and the summer reading season gearing up, it’s a good time to reflect on the partnership of public youth services librarians and school media specialists.  The recent cover story by Rebecca T. Miller and Laura Girmscheid’s, “It Takes Two,” in the May edition of School Library Journal offers up some food for thought, and I urge everyone to read it.

Many of the partnership ideas suggested in “It Takes Two,” are great ones, including “middle school booktalks, outreach to school groups, shuttle buses between schools and libraries, and age-appropriate book clubs.” Miller and Girmscheid also suggest the possibility of a purchasing collaboration, noting that “the results of SLJ’s first survey of public library spending habits on children’s and young adult services reveals a disturbing trend: only 30 percent of respondents say their library collaborates with local schools to coordinate book purchases to support the curriculum–leaving 70 percent that don’t.”

I’d be interested in hearing others’ thoughts on this.  Here are mine.

My library system has a centralized collections department, but that isn’t to say that individual branches do not have some say in the purchase of books.  Several times per year, I am offered the opportunity to submit purchasing or replacement requests.  Having a close connection with my community, I, of course, request books that I know will appeal to local children or will fulfill the need for commonly requested resource materials (e.g., Ancient Egypt, Colonial America) However, there is a definite difference between a public library and a public school library, particularly when it comes to the  library’s collection.  Personally, I believe that the school library’s mission should be to support the curriculum of the school and the education of its children.  To some degree, public libraries do this as well, but I believe that our main focus is to foster literacy and a love of reading and learning, and to provide appealing, inclusive, informative and desirable books, programs and materials, as well as a place to enjoy them.  This, I feel, is where our paths diverge.

Anecdotally, I can say that, over the years, to fulfill homework assignments, I have had children request lower elementary school level books on the brown trout, sea lettuce, Chinese stirrups,  Ancient Egyptian jewelry making, anchovies, and obscure local inventors. These materials (were they actually to exist) would not necessarily meet the collection development criteria of the public library.  With school and public library budgets shrinking, we definitely have ourselves a dilemma.  The school library often doesn’t have the needed books.  The students come to the public library, which may not have them either.

I am very fortunate to work in town where I have very close connections with the local school media specialists, as well as some teachers and school administrators. When I contact my district’s media specialists, to let them know of my inability to find age-appropriate reading material on some of the aforementioned topics, they commiserate. They in turn, contact the teachers from whom the requests originate. The teachers may also commiserate.  Their requests are often dictated by government requirements.

I’m not offering an opinion on the initiative,  but like it or not, the Common Core is coming. (Read USA Today article here)  Read more at the  Common Core State Standards Initiative site.  The standards, which will drive local curricula, have the support of the National Governors Association; the movement to a standardized curriculm appears to be going full-steam ahead.  Public and school librarians alike must familiarize themselves with the big changes that are coming to public education.

Can we help find useful, accurate, age-appropriate, nonfiction reading materials?  Absolutely!  Do we have enough print copies to satisfy the needs of hundreds of students seeking the same type of information at the same time?  Sadly, no.  Can we find comprehensive elementary school-age materials on local inventors, Chinese stirrups, sea lettuce and limpets? Probably not, though we’ll try! We need to assist where we can and explain when, where and why we cannot. Perhaps the greatest collaborative work that school and public librarians can accomplish is to work in informing teachers, parents, administrators and policy-makers about what nonfiction materials are (and by extension, what are not) available for school-aged children.

So, school media specialists, enjoy your well-deserved summer vacation.  We’ll hold down the fort while you’re gone; but let’s make a date to get together in the fall.  We should talk.


  1. Jennifer Wharton

    I also have a good relationship with our local school librarians, who are a very strong group in this area (after they invited me to join in their annual meeting, I was awed by the amount of organized collaboration they have!). Trying to purchase materials to support the curriculum, in addition to all the arguments you make, well, the teachers just don’t tell me what they need! The first I know of the annual obscure inventors project is when the kids show up the night before. Are they planning to require 40 facts on an aspect of World War I every year (40 facts on carrier pigeons – not easy)? I have no idea. Neither do the school librarians. When I first got together with them, especially the upper level ones, we commiserated on the teachers not telling us ahead of time and then being shocked and annoyed that we didn’t have enough books on all the biomes at the public library for the entire sixth grade.

  2. Pingback: Oh, no! It’s the biography assignment! | ALSC Blog

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