Sunday, November 15, 2015

Retrieving: School Libraries Organized by AR or Lexile Scores?

Today I read a heartfelt article by Marjorie Pappas.  It is entitled "School Libraries Organized by AR or Lexile Score?"  The article references a message string posted to LM_NET, which caught my attention because I subscribed to LM_NET and have been reading it as part of my graduate courses this semester.

Pappas's article criticizes the idea of organizing books in school libraries according to Lexile level.  She quotes one post from the LM_NET discussion as saying:
"[There is] a fundamental issue. . . underlying [this practice that suggests] the library is only a reading room.  It negates any possible use of an information retrieval system so the notion that students might come to the library to find information for a project or just personal . . . [information] becomes a major challenge" (69).

Pappas then weighs in with her own thoughts.  She writes:
"... even a small number of libraries that follow this practice seems like a serious problem to me.  Have some librarians lost sight of our mission?  'The mission of the library media program is to ensure that students and staff are effective users of ideas and information.'  If this is our mission, then students need access to a wide array of resources.  Access means students can find books about specific topics of interest to them on the shelves of a library" (69).

In my library, the early reader (ICR) collection is shelved according to lexile.  This is a system that I inherited from the previous librarian. The teachers love this system because it allows them to send kids to the shelves to check out within their lexiles with very little supervision.  I HATE this system because whenever kids request a specific title and I see that it's an ICR title, I have absolutely no way to find it besides to search though the entire ICR section book by book.  While I don't think that this system for ICR books is as harmful as leveling, say, the entire nonfiction section, I do see on a daily basis how it holds students back from being able to find books on topics that truly interest them.

Pappas argues:
"Certainly school librarians . . . support the reading curriculum, one among many content areas in the school.  However, the purpose of a library is not to teach children to read, but rather to provide them with reason to read--compelling and beautiful books they are motivated to read.  No doubt there are books in every library that can help children learn to read, but we must not become educators obsessed with teaching children the mechanics of reading--so obsessed that we drive a love of reading right out of some children" (69-70).

This is beautifully stated.  Recently I've received requests from some teachers in my building to use library funds to purchase several large sets of leveled readers to help with their curriculum needs.  This request left me feeling very conflicted.  While I really want to support the teachers in every way I can, this does not seem like the best possible use of library funds to me.  The leveled readers would only be used by a small portion of the school's population.  While a few students might read them for pleasure, they would be used far more heavily for curriculum than pleasure reading.  I fear that they would focus heavily on the mechanics, whereas I feel that my job as the librarian is to use my funds to focus on motivation.  Therefore, after much consideration, I told the teachers that I could not use library funds to purchase the sets of leveled readers--but that I would be more than happy to help them write a grant and seek a funder to secure the books they want for curriculum use.

As I continue to move forward at my school, these are the types of issues I will need to consider.  How can I support the teachers in their curriculum while still maintaining the integrity of the library's mission?  How should our collection be organized (or re-organized) to best serve our students?  Changes will certainly not happen overnight, but these ideas need to be in my long-term plan.

Pappas, Marjorie.  "School Libraries Organized by AR or Lexile Scores?"  Knowledge Quest.  Nov/Dec. 2004, Vol. 33 Issue 2, p 69-70.

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