In October, we gave what was scheduled to be a one-hour presentation to a group of public librarians and library directors on collaboration between school and public libraries. But there was so much demand for information on the Common Core standards that we ended up speaking for almost two hours, and most of the extended q&a period was—you guessed it—about the Common Core.
While school librarians have been at the forefront of the Common Core, the rollout of the standards—which hasn’t gone smoothly in many districts—is sure to be a hot topic at the 2014 ALA Midwinter Meeting. At last year’s Midwinter Meeting in Seattle, our presentation, “Why Common Core Standards Matter,” was delivered to a standing-room-only audience of public librarians clamoring for more information on the Common Core.
But this year, the need for more information has evolved as public librarians grapple with Core-related changes, including new types of reference questions, patron requests for different materials, and the emergence of increasingly difficult math problems during homework assistance programs.
Nicolette Warisse Sosulski, the business librarian at Portage District Library, in Michigan, and former chair of the Reference Services to Young Adults Section of ALA, has definitely seen the changes at the reference desk.
“I had a tween and his mother coming into the library, with Animal Farm as the class primary text, with The Communist Manifesto as the nonfiction complementary text. The mom was looking for ways to explain The Communist Manifesto to a kid in junior high school—and was a little bemused as to why her middle schooler now had to do this when the older siblings had not been required to do so.”
As public librarians learn more about the standards and work to make materials available to their patrons, there are some immediate actions that can be taken within the public library to support the Common Core. Simple ideas include updating current fiction displays with complementary nonfiction titles, and incorporating nonfiction into popular story times.
And while budgets are always an issue, supporting the Common Core does not necessarily mean having to adjust budgets and order new materials. Public librarians can evaluate the titles and materials currently available in their collections, and focus on marketing them to their patrons. For example, are there educational video games that have been lingering on the shelf without much circulation? Make fliers, signs, and displays to promote their use. Are there databases that provide access to primary documents and informational texts that are underutilized? Work with school librarians to promote these resources within the school setting.
In fact, why not go a step further and speak at a PTA meeting to make parents aware of what the public library has to offer? For public librarians unsure of how to begin supporting the Common Core within their libraries and communities, there are valuable resources out there: the joint initiative of Ohio Ready to Read has pulled together a wealth of online resources and posted them on the Ohio Public Libraries and Student Learning: Common Core and More site.
Responding to the need to inform public librarians and to encourage collaboration between school and public libraries, an ALA interdivisional task force on the Common Core was commissioned in early 2013. The task force is chaired by Kathryn Lewis and unites member representatives from AASL, YALSA, and ALSC to work together on providing resources for public librarians to use with the shift toward Common Core.
Of course, it is also imperative that public librarians become informed about the controversy swirling around the standards. Public librarians should be prepared to address these issues, as they may be approached by patrons and possibly some confused parents with questions.
For example, a parent who asks for information on the emerging Common Core exams and the testing changes could be directed to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium or PARCC Web sites to view sample questions. Some parents, troubled by these new assessments, may even ask for specific information on how to opt their child out of the exams. A public librarian could direct those questions to the United Opt Out National Web site.
The rollout of the Common Core Standards has brought major upheavals to the educational realm. Be prepared: as teachers and school librarians begin to work with the new standards in their classrooms and libraries, public librarians are finding themselves in a position to offer critical support.
For more on the shift, check out our interviews with Janet Ingraham Dwyer and Nicolette Warisse Sosulski.