If you build it….

In one of my favorite movies of all time, Farmer Ray Kinsella hears a voice in his corn field, “If you build it, he will come.” Risking financial ruin he mows down his crop and builds a ballpark. Not only does the mythical “he” show up, but the people come too. As James Earl Jones (playing Terence Mann) intones, ” They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past.”

And so, too, every year, we build “it”. No, not a baseball park, but a giant fort, spread out over half my library, a topsy-turvy construction of old bedsheets, tablecloths, and fabric remnants. Held together with library tape (it’s quite strong!), clothespins and safety pins and piles of heavy books. (Thank goodness, I still have my World Book encyclopedias!) Supported by tables, chairs, dowels, bookshelves and a jumprope rack I borrow from our phys. ed. teacher each year. My fifth grade architects and engineers, in a whirlwind of activity, take the raw materials and concoct a Seussian edifice in less than a half hour. It’s sturdy enough to survive a week’s worth of class visits, 300 students strong.

This tent-fort is a gift to my students as the year winds to a close. It’s a reminder that summer looms ahead, ripe with opportunity to use their imaginations. During tent week, we don’t just occupy the space and read a story or two; we brainstorm possible uses for it. For some students it’s a castle, for others a spaceship, a few imagine the Titanic. Then again, maybe it is just a place to cozy up in and read, flashlight in hand. There will be no cries of “I’m bored” this summer from my students if I can help it.


Children’s Choice and Popular Culture

Marching to her own beat

Photo by Jonas Bengtsson; used under the Creative Commons license

As discussed in my previous post Laws and Orders, popular culture is alive and kicking in my school library. In an analysis of the top most circulated books, it is (not all that surprisingly) revealed that Diary of a Wimpy Kid titles grab six of the top ten spots.

But as I reflect on these results, I know that this set of statistics only tells part of the story. And so I cast the net a little further to analyze the top 25 titles. Might this be more enlightening? Happily, I can report that it is. I can’t deny that the Wimpy Kid still rules. He owns seven of the top 25 slots.  Lucky seven is also the number, however, of Northborough-Southborough Children’s Book Award (NSCBA) choices in the top twenty-five.  And this is music to a librarian’s ears. Because these titles often march to the beat of different drums—drums that beat out messages slightly more profound than found between the pages of a Greg Heffley diary.

NSCBA is our local Children’s Choice Award, an annual collaboration of two school districts and two public libraries. Each year a librarian-curated list of books, designed to appeal to students in grades 3-5, is created and multiple copies of the books are purchased. The books are then publicized, booktalked, promo’ed, hyped and recommended by the librarians at first, but soon among the students themselves. This is the flip side to the Wimpy Kid phenomena; most of these selections were chosen for their more literary qualities and, surprise (!), the students are borrowing these books in record numbers as well. And participating in the program by voting for their favorites.

I am happy to announce this year’s winners:

1st place-Wonder by R. J. Palacio

2nd place-Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea

3rd place-Binky to the Rescue by Ashley Spires, Eight Keys by Suzanne La Fleur, Pie by Sarah Weeks  (Yes, a three way tie!)

With the exception of Binky, these are meaty, challenging titles and yet, they were just as “popular” as the “Wimpy One”. As Ranganathan said, “Every book its reader.” Or in this case “readers”!

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Laws and Orders

The sciences abound with laws, theorems, axioms, principles and equations. An educated reader, even a science-phobic one like yours truly, recognizes the contributions of Einstein, Newton, Pythagoras, Bernoulli, and Pascal as major breakthroughs in the understanding of their disciplines.

But what about Ranganathan?

And why does a seemingly serious post lead with a parade of book covers featuring some wimpy kid?

Let’s take on the wimpy kid first. A year-end report of the top-circulated titles in my K-5 elementary school library reveals that six of the top ten are devoted to telling the life story of Greg Heffley, our aforementioned wimpy one. He’s a very popular guy!

Segue to S. R. Ranganathan. Not as popular as Greg Heffley. But, perhaps a greater influence on Library Science. In 1931, Ranganathan (some say the father of modern librarianship) published his treatise, The Five Laws of Library Science.  At 458 pages, a hefty read. But it all boils down to these simple library truths.

1. Books are for use.
2. Every reader his [or her] book.
3. Every book its reader.
4. Save the time of the User.
5. The library is a growing organism.

And for me, Truth #2 is never more evident when I look at my circulation statistics. Back to Greg. My students just love him. So, when it comes time to place my book orders, I don’t just order one, two or three copies of each book in this series. I order four, five or six. Give the customer what s/he wants.

If that means I might have a few more snarky middle school boy characters, princesses and rainbow fairies than I would otherwise prefer to give shelf space to, so be it. But, hey, my students are borrowing and reading them. Ah-ha! Principle #1-Books are for use.

The beauty of a diverse collection is that it can also serve the students whose tastes go beyond the current popular trend. This is where reader’s guidance and Axiom #3 come into play. When I can put an oft-forgotten, overlooked or underappreciated book in the hands of just the right reader, I can feel good ol’ S. R. looking over my shoulder with a smile.

I’ve always regarded librarianship as an art more than a science, but these fundamental laws of Ranganathan have been guiding principles in my practice. Laws #4 and #5 are worthy of blog posts of their own and will have them some day. For now, I am off to work on my book orders for next year, which will be sure to include more than a few copies of the yet to be named, Diary of a Wimpy Kid Book 8.