The conversation about the Common Core standards will be a hot topic at this year’s ALA Midwinter Meeting, as many public librarians make efforts to reach their patrons and community members—as well as form partnerships with school librarians—to provide information on the standards. We recently caught up with two librarians, Janet Ingraham Dwyer and Nicolette Warisse Sosulski, to ask about their Common Core experiences and perspectives.
Janet Ingraham Dwyer is a library consultant for youth services at the State Library of Ohio, where she assists library staff who work with children and teens, and on the Ohio Ready to Read initiative, which has created an extensive list of resources and tools to help make the transition to the Common Core. Janet is also a member of the AASL/YALSA/ALSC interdivisional task force on the Common Core.
Nicolette Warisse Sosulski is a business librarian at Portage District Library in Michigan and former chair of the Reference Services to Young Adults (YARS) committee in the Reference Services Section (RSS), a part of the Reference and User Services Association, a division of ALA; she is also the recipient of the 2011 Gale Cengage Award for Excellence in Business Librarianship.
Janet, what was the driving force behind the creation of the online resource, Ohio Ready to Read: Ohio Public Libraries and Student Learning: Common Core & More?
Janet: One of my main responsibilities, and joys, is to collaborate with the Ohio Library Council on early literacy activities in Ohio public libraries. With the adoption of Ohio’s New Learning Standards, including the full adoption of Common Core in 2014–2015, and a new Third Grade Reading Guarantee, we broadened the focus of our program to encompass literacy development into the school years, and we invited school librarians to serve on its steering group.
What has been the response to the Ohio Ready to Read program? Have you noticed feedback from school librarians or other community groups? And what about parent participation?
Janet: Many librarians are using the site in staff training and as a reference tool, to learn the educational terms and concepts and how public library services fit in, and I think public librarians are finding their partnerships with school librarians are being enhanced by a shared interest in exploring the libraries’ significant role in Common Core.
From parents, feedback so far is largely focused on such things as Lexile levels. But the changes in education are huge for parents and I’m certain we will see parent participation grow as libraries reach out to parents.
Nicolette: In general, I think parents tend to think that a far more constant stream of communication exists between any educational institutions who might touch their child in his or her quest to complete an assignment than may actually exist—the professional staff of both libraries and schools are wearing a lot of hats due to recent budget [pressure], and sometimes this communication can fall by the wayside of a very full to-do list. And the Common Core changes are something that many parents themselves are struggling to grasp. So, the librarian’s ability to explain and articulate the aims at least on a basic level helps twofold: it helps parents understand what is going on, and it helps the child successfully complete the assignment. And parents—taxpayers—remember this.
How important is it for public librarians to establish a collaborative relationship with school librarians to support the implementation of the Common Core?
Janet: This is key to public librarians’ awareness of education realities, to educators’ access to resources, and ultimately, to seamless literacy support for students in and out of school. Public librarians can only purchase the books teachers want if they know what those books those are, and they can alert educators to quality new publications that fit the curriculum only if they understand the curriculum.
Distressingly, in Ohio as elsewhere, licensed school library media specialist positions are dwindling, and too frequently there is no school librarian with whom to collaborate. The public librarian may have an even more important role then, but simply can’t replace a full-time teacher-librarian in the school.
Nicollette: Even if a school has a fabulous library media specialist, the school is only open maybe until 4 p.m. on school days and not on weekends. It’s obvious that the kids are going to need, and seek, assistance at the public library for some of their assignments, and to be the best supporters of the information needs of that sector of our community we have to be informed of the paradigm shift in some of their reference questions, both to answer them well and to inform our collection selection. If the public library is in one of the many school districts where professionals or collections have been cut in the school libraries, the point above becomes even more critical.
Have you seen a shift in the collection development policies of the libraries you work with as a result of the implementation of the Common Core? And are publishers providing adequate resources to support these shifts?
Janet: Librarians have always striven to buy diverse and excellent materials, and Common Core doesn’t change that. If a library has a well-rounded, quality collection, and is purchasing new materials according to its established policy, that library is Common Core–ready.
As for publishers, librarians do want more clarity regarding publishers’ claims about the Common Core connections of their new books. Since nearly any quality text is appropriate to the critical thinking skills and text engagement promoted by Common Core, nearly any quality text can deserve a Common Core Ready label. But librarians are suspicious of publishers using Common Core as a selling point. We recognize that publishers are carefully examining the standards and drawing connections with their books, and that some books now include teachers’ guides with alignment to specific standards. That can be helpful, but more helpful still is just to keep publishing high-quality, engaging books that reflect various viewpoints and levels of complexity.
Nicolette: As the buyer for the reference collection, I am thinking about historical and political science sources that are accessible to all age groups when I am buying for the collection. Primary sources have always been on my radar, but sources about seminal texts that also give a lot of explanation and context for those documents are now stepped up in the list of things that must be represented.
Similarly, have you noticed changes in selection policies in relation to the standards? As you look at reviews, for example, what would be helpful additions or inclusions to help meet these selection needs that may change with Common Core?
Janet: It could be time for a big change in how trade journals review children’s books, especially nonfiction—and adult nonfiction, for that matter, as middle and high school students are required to seek out increasingly complex texts, and have always used the library’s adult services department to do research anyway. What if each book review included a text complexity analysis and references to specific standards? That, however, would be a huge amount of new work for reviewers. And again, the Common Core doesn’t change what constitutes a good book, nor is a good book reducible to how it meets Common Core.
Nicolette: I am noticing requests for information about complementary nonfiction texts taught in tandem with a famous work of literature. That is what is first showing up as a question twist that has the Common Core as its genesis.
What do you feel is still lacking during this Common Core transition?
Janet: Public and school librarians need the platform—and the empowerment—to communicate to parents, students, and teachers that a quality book is a Common Core–ready book, that text complexity is more than a Lexile number, and that many established public library services—story times, summer reading programs, access to technology—are perfectly aligned with Common Core’s intentions. There is a huge potential role for the public library in parent education. But first, public librarians need to learn and understand the standards, with the help of school librarians and other knowledgeable guides from the education community. So professional education and advocacy are both crucial.
Nicolette: I think it is important to make sure that adult services staff also understand the Common Core, not just your teen or children’s librarians. The nonfiction and reference and sources that the student is using may very well be in the adult area, even if the student is in middle school or early high school.