Hamlet pondered the big question of his own existence. School librarians are pondering the big question of labeling. At the core of the question is the type of labeling being done. Under pressure to improve test scores and student growth percentiles in reading, many schools are now asking librarians to level the library or to place labels on books indicating a variety of reading levels, tests, or word count. School librarians are overwhelmingly against this sort of labeling. But on the other hand, librarians are embracing more readily the genre label. Many school librarians are making the leap into genrefication of their library collections without apology.
In my former position as a high school librarian, I genrefied a collection with huge success. It enabled me to weed the collection thoroughly, as well as identify needs in terms of collection development. It also reignited some interest in our library collection, as students were more easily able to locate the types of books they wanted to read. The biggest hit was creating a section for the graphic novels, the fastest growing genre in popularity among teens and elementary students alike.
Now I find myself only three months into my new position in an elementary school and I have the bug. I want to genrefy. But there are a few hurdles to overcome. I want to share my own journey. That's it. And so it begins with labels.
I have mentioned before that the books in my library are covered in labels. There are:
1. Is the book on my reading level? The kids are told what letter to look for and that is what they seek out. "You are an H, so only get an H book," said a teacher to a student just this week.
2. Is the book a Reading Counts book? The kids are told to test over every single book they read. If a book doesn't have a quiz, many teachers make students return the book and select one that does. Some teachers go as far as requiring students to pass the quiz over a book before allowing them to select a new book.
I cannot even begin to explain the frustration I feel with this. And the AASL's position on this type of labeling is clear:
One of the realities some school librarians face in their jobs is pressure by administrators and classroom teachers to label and arrange library collections according to reading levels. Student browsing behaviors can be profoundly altered with the addition of external reading level labels. With reading level labels often closely tied to reward points, student browsing becomes mainly a search for books that must be read and tests completed for individual or classroom point goals and/or grades. School library collections are not merely extensions of classroom book collections or classroom teaching methods, but rather places where children can explore interests safely and without restrictions. A minor’s right to access resources freely and without restriction has long been and continues to be the position of the American Library Association and the American Association of School Librarians.
Although I feel encouraged by the position statement, it doesn't ease the burden of the battle with the mindset at my school. It can be overwhelming to think about being the sole person trying to change this type of culture within a school. But a wise colleague reminded me "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." This is sage advise. And so...I begin with the labels.
I first went in to my book vendor websites and changed my labeling preferences for future book orders. I only want Reading Counts labels on the inside-cover (verso) of any new books. That way, the information is still available to teachers and students, but hopefully it won't be driving book selection, as it is no longer on the outside of the books.
The second thing is that I have decided to jump into genrefication a little sooner that I might normally would. By choosing to begin genrefying our fiction section, I can justify the removal of certain labels. But, it does mean adding new labels in the form of genre labels.
I first pulled all of my graphic novels from the fiction section of the library. I personally like that Dewey catalogs graphic novels as 741.5 and not fiction, however the previous librarian in my school had all of the graphic novels shelved as fiction with FIC call numbers. I worked to pull these as they were being checked back in by students and quickly added a "sub-location" category within Destiny. It was quick and easy. I then removed the guided reading letter labels, yellow reading counts labels, and any Lexile labels that were at the top of the spine of the book. I wanted to remove the Lexile dots at the base of the spine, but many of these are attached to the call number labels and I didn't want to commit to re-making all of those at this point in time. So, they will have to stay for now.
Once I had the former labels removed, I then could clean the book and add the new genre label. I ordered these from Demco, but many librarians are making their own custom labels. I liked the look of the Demco modern labels and for now, they have the categories I need.
I have completed most of the graphic novels at this point and they have been moved to a new section of the library, complete with new signage above the section that was ordered through Vista Print. I have these same signs above my other sections (Fiction, E Fiction, Nonfiction, Help desk) of the library and can share them in a future blog post if you guys are interested.
Last Friday I began working on the As and Bs in the fiction section of our collection. I have a good bit of those books weeded, cleaned, and ready for new genre labels. I will share pictures and more commentary as I work through this process. I will also share reaction from teachers and students.
I expect to get some push-back from teachers who are dedicated to the guided reading levels or RC tests as a method of student book selection, but I think that students will have a sense of freedom and empowerment when they can see the genres grouped together and can choose books based on their reading interests. This is a culture in our school and it will take time, patience, education, and open conversation to change it. But, the labels are a start.
If you want to see what others are doing or saying about genrefication and/or labels in the library, check out these resources:
Fountas and Pinnell article on leveling
Fountas and Pinnell statement in School Library Journal
Genre Signage compilation by Nikki D. Roberston
Expect the Miraculous blog
Mrs. Reader Pants blog
Mighty Little Librarian blog series on Ditching Dewey
Rhonda Jenkins article for Future Ready Libraries
Ideas for Labeling from Demco
AASL Position Statement on Leveling (labeling books with reading levels)
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