Nonfiction Monday

It feels like Monday today because yesterday was Memorial Day.  Oh well!  I thought of a favorite book I wanted to feature.  I haven’t been to the library much lately as I don’t want to check out any books and lose them in the disarray of moving, so this is an oldie but goodie.

If you asked me what is my all-time favorite nonfiction book for kids, 8 out of 10 times I’d say this My Librarian is a Camel by Margriet Ruurs.

The author visits thirteen countries, from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe.  From the library boat in Finland to mail service in Canada, this book describes with text and color photographs how children get books around the world.  More than any that comes to mind, this book truly makes me aware of the ridiculous blessing I have in being able to read books any day of the week on any subject I could possibly imagine.  

Similar titles in picture book format include That Book Woman by Heather Henson and David Small, Biblioburro:  A True Story from Colombia by Jeanette Winter, and Muktar and the Camels by Janet Graber and Scott Mack.

Rights of the Reader

Daniel Pennac wrote a book – and the great Quentin Blake illustrated – called The Rights of the Reader.  In library school, we hear a lot about intellectual freedom, the right to read, etc.  But then in the school library, it’s all about Accelerated Reader.  The two aren’t necessarily at odds, but often they are.  When I substitute teach, I try to make my way to the school library, and often I’ll hear teachers (or even librarians) say something like, “Oh, you can’t check this out, it’s out of your AR level.”  That’s so sad to me.
I know AR can be a great program.  In my children’s previous school, there was an AR auction at the end of the year, with cool prizes, not the chintzy pencils or bouncy balls, but a ride in a limo, a beret bought in Paris, even a stereo system.  Those kids were excited about AR and everyone got a prize.  The problem is, of course, that we’re tethering ourselves to this very expensive program whose very premise ties an extrinsic motivator to what should be an intrinsic one.  When we give children a limo ride or money or even a mere pencil, we’re taking away something important:  reading for the joy of reading.
And yet, I’ve seen kindergarteners go after the Wimpy Kid books when there was no way they could read them.  (That’s when the graphic novel section of this bookstore model came in handy – they wanted pictures?  Here’s some pictures!)  Then when the fourth graders came in, Wimpy Kid was all gone.  Students obviously need to read books at their reading level – I suppose that’s when the 5 finger test comes in handy. 
But download this great poster on the Rights of the Reader.  I’d say I especially adhere by Rule 7, the right to read anywhere!  The picture below, though, is for Rule 1, the right not to read.  Even if that’s not a right I choose to use, it’s my right nonetheless.  Do we let children have that right – even occasionally?
Oh and since we’re on the subject, don’t you ever interrupt me when I’m reading a book.  🙂

Bookstore model in the school library

I recently finished my practicum for my MLIS degree – 50 hours in a middle school library and 50 hours in an elementary school library.  The middle school was a large one in an urban district, and the elementary was a smaller library in a rural district.  The middle school library did everything right as far as good practice goes (budget, staffing, collection), but I learned a lot more in the elementary library as it is a lot closer to the situation I will have soon at my new job in as a K-12 librarian in a rural school district.
One practicum requirement was that I had to do some action-based research.  Basically, I had to identify a problem of practice, come up with a possible solution, put the solution in place, and look at the results.  This librarian is at the jr./sr. high in the morning and the elementary in the afternoon, with nary a paraprofessional in sight.  At the elementary, the students love the library and really use it – so with that combination (high-use and low-oversight), the shelves were a mess, especially the nonfiction.  So I decided to implement the bookstore model, in part, anyway, with the hope that students would find books without messing up the shelves.  My adviser told me it’d be more accurate to say I implemented “featured collections” and I suppose she’s right.  Either way, this is what I did.
I chose six different areas of subjects to feature.  The library had a really nice piece of furniture (see below) that could be used to highlight different books.  The first ones I featured were horses, dogs, cats, drawing, military, and dinosaurs.  Later, I switched out horses for graphic novels, and then at the end, I took out dinosaurs and put in summer fun.
The results?  Per-week check out SKYROCKETED.  In every area, checkouts increased:
Horses – 28% increase
Drawing – 46% increase
Dogs – 85% increase
Cats – 171% increase
Dinosaurs – 211% increase
Military – 593% increase
Part of the high checkouts can be attributed to the fact that students are encouraged to return books as soon as they were done, so one book usually didn’t check out only once a week but maybe four or five times a week.  Still, almost a 600% increase!  We ended up finding other books to include, like books from the 900s on wars.  A book about World War I that probably should have been weeded for its lack of checkouts was now continually checked out.  The librarian decided to buy some more military books.  🙂  It did seem to keep the shelves cleaner, too, although that is harder to quantify.
I still don’t buy into the whole-hog bookstore model, like Darien, Connecticut’s library (for their under-5 collection, anyway – though I’d love to visit it someday).  But I think it’s a great way to market your collection.  And I think it proves the validity of nonfiction at the elementary level.  Even if students are checking books out to look at the pictures (of dogs, of soldiers, of horses), I think we’re doing something right by getting a book in their hands.