A question from my administration, briefly and poorly answered in the rush of ‘clean-up day’ has led me to take a closer look at our circulation statistics. Rather than giving a realistic impression of our library usage, I inexplicably ended up promoting our fantastic partnership with the local public library! Thinking on my feet, especially when my mind is overflowing with unrelated details, is not one of my talents.
The question was about reference materials, by which I believe was meant nonfiction in general in this age of the Internet.
Yes, reference material is truly a thing of the past in its traditional form and a few attractive volumes decorate the unreachable shelves in the library. When it comes to nonfiction in general, it’s true that many topics have been superseded by online resources. However, there are still a great many areas that are relevant and well used. A quick look at this year’s circulation stats and anecdotal evidence show that, with careful collection development, we are still in the business of promoting reading for pleasure and information.
In my K-12 school of under 200 students, 6,802 books were checked out from the student collections in our library this year.
- 2,963 were from Easy Street – picture books and primary nonfiction – both as student loans and classroom themes.
- Readers among our young adults, Grade 7 and up, checked out 496 books from the YA section, (which is a gratifyingly significant number this year).
- The top Island for Grades 3 & up is Arts & Entertainment, with 975 graphic novels, craft, drawing, sports, cartoons, joke books and ‘game’ books like Guinness World records and computer gaming books being the most popular in the library.
- Accelerated Readers accounted for the next biggest section, mostly as required but often as free choices.
- 490 books went out of the Fantasy section, mostly fantasy fiction as well as ghost stories and nonfiction about ‘the unexplained’.
- Nature nonfiction accounted for 375 books.
- Realistic fiction along with Modern Life nonfiction (health, domestic arts, etc.) was at 271.
- In Canada and the World, which includes the Indigenous collection, loans totalled 163, (and may have been more, but some teachers do not allow their disappointed young students to check out books on war).
- Science and technology is a small collection as it’s very difficult to keep it up to date, but 131 nonfiction books were still checked out from it, which includes sky science, building, vehicles, evidence & investigation, etc.
Elementary classes love books. Up to Grade 6, virtually every student checks out books every week. Fiction and nonfiction are equally popular. By junior high, they are more selective and by grade 9, only about twenty percent of them check out books. I don’t see the high school students regularly and only a few continue to borrow books.
It is always a challenge to keep the collection up to date and to anticipate demand, and there are areas of nonfiction that are I no longer collect. Anything that is quickly outdated and is more likely to be ‘Googled’ is no longer purchased. For unanticipated or rare requests, I use interlibrary loan or direct students to the public library.
There is still a need, however, for as much as we can practically purchase and shelve. In the classroom, teachers appreciate supplementary materials for curriculum units from The Needs of Plants and Animals in Grade 1, to Sky Science in Grade 6 and the Aztecs in Grade 8. Provincial directives have recently lead me to analyse and develop the collection for diversity. Character development is another perennial topic.
It’s also still important for students to be given the opportunity for discovery among as wide as possible a variety of materials. Browsing, a skill I promote, can open up doors that students never knew existed. A few from many possible examples will illustrate this.
- There’s Billy, who discovered dictionaries this year – not just the standard dictionary, but the math dictionary and the science dictionary as well.
- From a book I read in library class, Riki got a hankering to read up on Indigenous people and checked out picture books and Easy nonfiction, then graduated to legends, general nonfiction and a novel, Sweetgrass.
- Several students monopolized the survival books and supplemented their learning of skills with survival fiction.
- Cameron has read everything I can find around Greek mythology, nonfiction and fiction.
We all know that children have an innate sense of curiosity, a natural thirst for knowledge, the wonder at and obsorption of which is at its most powerful when the discovery is made on their own.
I wholeheartedly believe that students need to become comfortable with the public library for potential supplementary and summer reading, and life-long learning. We have a very effective partnership with our local public library, which is doing a fantastic job of getting the kids in the door. Through local sponsorship, all of our students and staff get public library memberships, through which we are able to direct our students to online resources including ebooks and audiobooks.
However, it’s clear that our school library is still providing the primary resource for reading and the discovery of new interests, especially since a large majority of our students are spending so much of their free time at home on digital devices. Our collection, while necessarily changing, is still relevant and important.