It seems the Common Core evokes some sort of reaction, good or bad, in everyone these days. Even comedian Louis C.K. is in on the act, slamming the standards on late-night TV and tweeting complaints about his daughter’s math homework recently. With the Common Core rollout under increasing pressure, we wondered what public librarians would have to say. Are they feeling the impact of the standards, as parents and students in their communities seek support in navigating this new educational reform?
With Common Core implementation sputtering in some states, we surveyed nearly 140 public librarians and library directors across the country on everything from their basic knowledge of the standards to what impact (if any) the Common Core has on their collection development and resource selection policies. Most respondents said they were “somewhat knowledgeable” about the standards, and some made their disdain for Common Core known.
“I refuse to drink the CC Kool-Aid,” one surveyed participant noted. The standards are “ridiculous,” said another, along with, “I wish it would go away.” Based on the survey results, one thing is clear: the buzz about Common Core has made its way from the educational realm into the public sector.
Aside from general attitudes, we also looked at how public libraries are supporting the standards in their cities and towns. What types of Common Core–related materials are public libraries looking acquire? And are librarians rushing out to buy resources simply because there is a new “Core Aligned” label slapped on the cover?
Our survey found that this was rarely the case: 71% of respondents indicated they were most interested in making purchases of quality nonfiction and good fiction titles for their collections. For example, one children’s services librarian was concerned primarily with purchasing high-quality narrative nonfiction books, ensuring that there are enough nonfiction titles for all ages on a range of topics.
When asked which factors drive their selection policies, 89% of survey respondents indicated that patron requests are important. Questions at the reference desk related to homework assignments were the second most frequently cited factor in determining which new materials are purchased (reported by 76% of respondents).
Diversity questions also play a role when librarians look to acquire materials. Publishers should take note that public librarians need resources in languages other than English. One survey participant illustrated this by relating the need for “a certain amount of bilingual nonfiction, which is becoming easier to find, but not in comparison with English materials.”
The School Library Connection
We also asked public librarians to specify which resources they use when ordering titles to support Common Core. Predictably, book reviews in popular trade journals were referenced most frequently as selection aids. Some appreciated the journals and emails from vendors highlighting books that support the Common Core and listing the unique features that differentiate them.
Additionally, we discovered references to many collection development tools used by school librarians, such as Follett Titlewave, Scholastic Inc., The Reading Warehouse, Books4School, HarperCollins’ Read Common Core, book lists generated by local BOCES Consortiums and the array of tools available via the EngageNY website.
Many librarians also indicated that they find the support they need by looking to the standards themselves, reading them on the core standards website, examining the text exemplars provided in Appendix B and participating in webinars and webcasts. Amongst the reliance on all of these stellar resources, one respondent summarized things best by stating that “nothing beats experience and a strong relationship with patrons and (sic) teachers/schools.”
Several respondents suggested building connections with school libraries to support the standards. “I would like to be more informed about Common Core from school librarians in my district, and to collaborate more with schools in general,” one respondent noted. “I know all of them are very busy but our budgets are usually more generous, and we could purchase what they can’t.”
School librarians take note: as the respondent went on to state, public librarians are there to help you, and the relationship can be a symbiotic one. “We [the public library] always comes as an afterthought—at least in this school district—no matter how hard we try to reach out to them.”
Each of us has had success building relationships in our districts by holding at least one annual joint meeting between school and public librarians. Participants talk about recent developments and review pertinent information to give each other a better understanding of the services offered.
The Confusing Core
Many public librarians who participated in our survey indicated that they are aware of the ongoing national debate surrounding Common Core, and of the protests within their home states. Some respondents pointed to the need to support all of their patrons—including those who are anti–Common Core, who might complain if books and other resources that reference the standards are put on display. Other respondents expressed confusion about what “supporting the Common Core” means exactly. “It is very difficult,” one selection librarian from New York stated. “Everyone seems to have a different iteration of what Common Core is and how the materials purchased should support it.”
The rumors about possible state withdrawals from the standards, and the formal withdrawal of Indiana from the Common Core back in March, only add to the confusion. Survey respondents from Indiana appear to be in limbo, hesitant to purchase new materials until they are clear on what will be replacing the standards in the state.
Despite the controversy that surrounds the Common Core standards, it’s evident that they are having an impact on all types of libraries and librarians. Keep us posted on how the rollout is affecting you; email us your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read the results of our school librarian survey here.
And past Cut to the Core columns are here.