Mentor Interview: Balancing Literary Merit With Popularity in the Library Collection

This interview was conducted for INFO 5405, Collection Development and Analysis in School Libraries in June of 2018:

My mentor related that she feels collection development in her school library can be “tricky.”  Kay Gooch is in a middle-class neighborhood with mostly two-income families, mostly professionals with multiple children.  They are not considered a wealthy school, but, are not a Title 1 campus either.  She mentioned all of that because she says that her budget is tight.  She gets $2.50 per student per year, and notes that with only $1500 to work with, there is no room for mistakes!  With that yearly budget, she tries to balance curriculum needs, popular titles, and award winners, but says that can seem like an impossible task because that is spread out from Pre-K through 5th grade.  There have been years when she skipped the popular titles and beloved series books to concentrate on holes in non-fiction, for example.  Kay remarked that she is a careful weeder.  She doesn’t replace older books that do not circulate.  She knows it is tough to decide whether or not to weed the old classics, but feels the answer to that is usually, “no.”   

Kay has implemented a successful birthday book program at her school to supplement her library budget.  Families can donate money to purchase a book for the library in honor of the student’s birthday.  She mentioned that most of these titles are in the popular, newly published, and graphic novel areas.  Then when she is choosing books for the collection, especially Fiction and Everybody books, she tends to lean towards the popular titles.  She relies on reviews from BookList and School Library Journal, and also looks to see what the Junior Library Guild is recommending.  She does not really look to see if the content is above average.  She wants books that will circulate and hook children into the love of reading.  If the students are reading a book, she is happy!  Kay says that she trusts if a book gets positive reviews, it is not “complete garbage.” 

I have not personally taken a look at any of the non-circulating books that Kay has chosen not to weed.  While I appreciate weeding with careful thought and intention over throwing things out willy-nilly, I do think that there is a time and place for weeding.  I get a kick out of the outrageously out dated and sometimes downright inappropriate titles that librarians share in “Adventures in Weeding” type posts in library Facebook groups.  Overall. I think that Kay strives to keep a balance in her library collection, and I agree that should be a librarian’s goal.  She seems to look at the big picture which includes the needs of staff and students at all levels.  I also believe that it is important to get kids reading, and keep books in their hands, even if the titles they are interested in are not of the highest literary merit.  Kay is ensuring that she is purchasing books that have positive reviews, so she is by no means throwing merit out the window.  I was lucky enough to hear Donalynn Miller speak in my district this last year.  She was an inspiring presenter.  She recounted the story of her own daughter (once an avid, voracious reader) who stopped reading for more than a year because a teacher questioned her choice of independent reading one day.  She reminded us that we must create a community of readers.  In The Book Whisperer, she says, “Providing students with the opportunity to choose their own books to read empowers and encourages them.  It strengthens their self-confidence, rewards their interests, and promotes a positive attitude toward reading by valuing the reader and giving him or her a level of control.  Readers without power to make their own choices are unmotivated.”  That is important for us to remember! 

balance

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