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If you are a librarian working in almost any sector of the information literacy field, you have probably received e-mails or promotional materials with some variation of the subject lines above.

The rollout of the Common Core standards may be mired in controversy, but the education materials marketplace is booming. According to recent stats from the AAP, sales for print and digital instructional materials in schools for 2013 were up 7% over the previous year, a percentage increase not seen in a decade, due in part to the new standards.

But are the Common Core standards really driving new materials purchases, and if so, how? We wanted to find out, so we distributed a survey on collection development and the Common Core to school librarians across the country via the popular Library ListServ LM_NET, and via Twitter. So far, early results show that school librarians are not swayed in their purchasing by a “Common Core Aligned” label slapped onto a book or splashed across a digital resource.


“My primary interest is to get my students interested in reading,” stated one survey respondent, an elementary school librarian. “Before students are exposed to the Common Core, and are able to understand the standard materials, they must be basic or proficient readers to perform at the standard levels.”

One theme was constant in the responses: supporting the curriculum is paramount for school librarians, and their first priority is purchasing high-quality materials that hold relevance and appeal for students and faculty. While some librarians reported the need to “beef up” certain areas of their nonfiction collection (which is a pillar of the Common Core), the majority of survey respondents indicated that their purchases are guided by their own high standards—something no “Common Core” label can substitute for.

“I want to buy well-written nonfiction—which is what I wanted to buy before the Common Core standards were created,” one librarian responded to the survey. Simply put, librarians say they are prepared to buy what they’ve always bought: solid books and digital resources on relevant topics that enhance the curriculum and entice students to read.

A number of librarians responded that they were leery of purchasing materials simply because they contain the words “Common Core Related.” But, they added, there are terms that they rely upon to help them through the selection process.

These include the presence of indexes, glossaries, captioned photos, illustrations, and a clearly labeled “Lexile level.” The Common Core asks that both qualitative and quantitative measures be used to make sure students eventually meet the demands of college and career—Lexile levels are used as one part of the equation to assess whether a text meets this goal. Librarians say Lexiles are helpful because they provide a trusted scale for text difficulty and student reading ability.

Many school librarians also referenced the Common Core Text Exemplars from Appendix B (the much-critiqued sample reading list) along with the P-12 curriculum modules provided by New York’s EngageNY Web site. Librarians stress that the titles in Appendix B and the text lists on EngageNY are only a guide. Actual selection still relies on librarian expertise—and librarians see this as an opportunity to use their skills to suggest quality titles to time-strapped administrators and teachers.

There is a need and an opportunity for publishers to simplify the search for texts that meet the standards. For example, one respondent indicated that changes made to the Follett Titlewave site have been helpful. “Love the tags that Follett has added to their titles!” the librarian noted, which includes curriculum tags for specific skills and concepts, such as “point of view,” “primary sources,” and “cause and effect.”

The need for teaching with primary documents was also reflected in the survey results. Respondents indicated that they are relying on the American Memory portal from the Library of Congress, along with primary source portals such as Lounsberry Hollow’s Virtual Learning Center for primary documents and current events. Also, the Lexile-leveled news site Newsela was also mentioned as a favorite of students and teachers, along with Scholastic News.

Meanwhile, “close reading” is a term often referenced in relation to the Common Core, and librarians indicated that they are looking for more information on analyzing texts referenced by bestselling author and education consultant Christopher Lehman, along with the Notice and Note book-and-study bundles by Kylene Beers.

Another trend reported by some librarians shows that the Common Core has had communal benefits. For example, a librarian working in both elementary and secondary schools commented that her collection development practice now involves the input of teachers. Go to the teacher’s meetings, one librarian urged. “Listen and make suggestions. Buy what they need for the projects they are developing.”

The survey also revealed a need for more “curating” tools, as many teachers are now looking for collections of resources within the same content area. Librarians can support their faculty by using their curating skills to locate and compile similar resources. Digital tools such as Scoop.it and Symbaloo.com can be used by librarians to easily share resource lists with teachers, and these powerful digital tools can help provide access to up-to-date content in a format that is easy to share and update.

The trend toward collaboration is crucial, especially as many teachers turn to librarians for support when planning Common Core lessons—lessons that may very well impact their performance evaluations.

Meanwhile, another development that will surely impact resource selection is the Common Core assessments, many of which have yet to be seen. Under No Child Left Behind, librarians watched helplessly as creative projects were dropped from the curriculum as teachers taught for the test. As a result, many of the best materials were scrapped, and in their place came requests for resources that stuck with the narrow content of the test, since schools could be penalized for poor test scores.

As more Common Core tests are developed and administered, educators, parents, and publishers will eventually gain some insight into what will truly be tested. This will strongly influence which materials will be purchased, since teacher evaluations are often tied to test results. Will there be a narrowing of learning, as many teachers focus on “teaching to the test,” like they did under No Child Left Behind? Or, will these new Common Core assessments truly test critical thinking and allow for deep learning?

Let’s hope for the latter—and there may be reason for optimism. New York legislators recently urged the delay of Common Core testing by two years, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he plans to seek changes to the “flawed” Common Core implementation, via a review panel comprised of business leaders, educators, and parents. One of Gov. Cuomo’s proposed changes: to ban standardized testing in kindergarten through second grade.

Update: On February 10, 2014, just as this article went to press, the New York State Board of Regents put out a press release stating that the full implementation of the Common Core will be delayed until the year 2022. "We have listened to the concerns of parents and teachers," Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said in a statement. "We've heard the concerns expressed at the hearings and forums, and we regret that the urgency of our work, and the unevenness of implementation, have caused frustration and anxiety for some of our educators, students, and their families."

At this point it is unclear if this major decision will have an impact on the roll out of the Common Core in other states. A copy of the press release, that includes access to the full report, can be found here.

Public Librarians

Now that we have gotten into the brains of school librarians, we would like to hear from public librarians. As you gear up for PLA, what are your thoughts on collection development and the Common Core? We invite you to take our survey and let your thoughts be heard.

In the meantime, all librarians interested in gaining more information on the Common Core can register for our webcast at being held on February 27 at 4:30 p.m. EST.