One of the things that drives many librarians' stress meters up is leveled reading programs. Lately I've noticed more and more reference interactions at my desk (which doubles at my "office" and reference/info desk for the 2nd floor) that begin with "My child's teacher told us his Lexile is..." or "He said she reads G books." I have always gotten these kinds of questions, but recently it has been more like every other patron.
Some Lexile, AR, GR, DRA, etc info is in our catalog, but there's not a way to search for items by that criteria. I knew about web tools like AR Book Finder and the Lexile website, but it didn't feel like enough service to essentially say, "here's some websites you can use, but I can't really direct you to any books in our library because we don't deal with those programs." We do serve the entire community, and I don't think it's best practice to start rearranging the entire collection to align with one program (if you could even pick one program over another), but is that really a good excuse for not helping more?
So I started to think about ways to provide a higher level of service to support parents and caregivers. I posted on the Flannel Friday Facebook page to see what those in that community were doing already. I found some librarians who, like me, struggle to accept these programs as a part of our educational systems because they conflict with core values at the heart of the library profession. Some just view this as a school program and refer parents back to the teachers and librarian at their school for guidance.
And I found some who can acknowledge the conflict and press through. Some pencil program information used in their areas into books as a step of the item's processing. Others include the information on their booklists.
My first step was to contact the media specialist coordinator for the school district my library serves. She was able to tell me that I was hearing so many different things because there are three programs that are used in the district: Accelerated Reader, Guided Reading, and Lexile. But she went on to identify which programs were most popular in different grade levels. She also alerted me to the fact that Lexile is a result that is given on students' reports from our state testing.
I thought the next step was providing all the staff at my library (there are 7 of us) tools to be able to recognize and distinguish one program from the other. Parents often don't know the name of the program their child is participating in, so being able to recognize it from the information they can provide is a key first step.
- I made a handout from charts that I found through Google searching that only included the three programs for our area. These charts are complicated to look at-- so excluding any unnecessary info was important to me. That's why I didn't simply run copies of the ones I found. I also made the chart comprehensive. 98% of our questions are for kids, not teens, but I included the information from Kindergarten-12th Grade.
- A local library system had some succinct descriptions of the programs, so I also included those for staff. I've never going to be an expert in the nuances of these programs, but I can speak to the basics.
- I also included links to the web resources for each of the programs. And highlighted Novelist as a great place to start, especially with Lexile.
- I passed along the information re: which programs were most popular at what grades (for our area, GR is most popular in the lower elementary grades, AR in the upper elementary grades, and Lexile is used all over but especially in high school).
My other ongoing project is creating a spreadsheet with information for the items in our collection. I don't think it will ever be comprehensive, but I would like to get to a minimum level of maybe 20-30 titles per level, with greater coverage in the early levels (since that's where I encounter the most need for pretty specific levels or types of books). This is not the kind of project that happens overnight. It takes commitment. On the upside, I am also weeding and relabeling items as I go, so when I am through, we should have nice, neat looking areas of the collection!
We are small and don't have a shared drive or intranet site, but we do have a library Dropbox account that we all have access to where the file will live. This will, I hope, become our most effective tool for getting some books into the patron's hands while they are here. It looks a little something like this:
The colors in the author field correspond with colored stickers we already have on our easy readers indicating the easiest, middle, and most complicated books in that section, roughly.
I absolutely think that no matter what, parents and caregivers who are specifically looking for the majority of their child(ren)'s reading to fit into these programs will have to spend time doing their own research at home and placing lots of requests in the online catalog. With our forthcoming print materials, we can give them the links and tools to do that on their own time. But with a quick and easy way of searching for items we know we own, we can hopefully at least find one or two books that are checked in, and at the level they desire so they aren't walking away book-less. They will be armed with both resources AND a book for that night. Win. Win.