In her book, An Introduction to Collection Development for School Librarians (ALA 2019), Mona Kerby offers school librarians a solid text with which to guide collection development to achieve the maximum benefit for the students, educators, and families they serve.
The ways school librarians select, provide access, promote, and integrate resources is an expression of social justice, a core value of librarianship.
Twelve Tasks for the First Weeks of School (2-4)
Every new school librarian or librarian who is new to a building or district will want to follow Kerby’s guidelines in this section. I especially appreciate her insistence that “all learners must check out books and materials the first week. Teach lessons that are simple, memorable, and positive” (3). Note: She uses the term “lessons” not “orientations.”
One of the tasks Kerby recommends is skimming the district’s school librarian handbook. She gives a list of 14 subtopics that should be found in that resource. I don’t know how many times librarians have posted to our distribution lists asking people to share their administrative handbooks or at least the topics within it. When I taught School Library Media Center at Texas Woman’s University, students in my course created a handbook as a way to learn about school library administration. So, if you are one of those librarians who does not have access to one, this section in Kerby’s book can help you create one that is useful in your practice.
Selection and Reconsideration Policies
Selection criteria are at the heart of collection development. Kerby offers a list of criteria that could and should be included in a district selection policy (24-25). She also provides the bread crumbs to access ALA’s Selection and Reconsideration Policy Toolkit and summarizes it (25-26). Endorsed by the Intellectual Freedom Committee in 2018, this is a must-read and follow guideline for that section of a library administrative handbook.
The chapter entitled “How Do I Turn a Complaint into a Positive?” is must-reading (and re-reading) for novice and seasoned librarians alike (69-72). Building relationships, active listening, and modeling respect are essential in remaining true to library values while valuing the perspectives of all members of the learning community. I especially appreciate this word of caution: “Please don’t censor your collection because you’re afraid that a complaint might happen” (italics preserved 72).
Aligning Resources with the Curriculum
In the book, Kerby provides two sample curriculum charts—one at the elementary and one at the high school level (20-23). She describes how these charts could be created in terms of grade levels, topics, and length of units of study for each. “You can make a questionnaire asking these same questions—what, how many, and when—and then tabulate the responses, but not only are you creating more work, you’re also missing any opportunity. Talking to the educators gives you the opportunity to listen, plan, and collaborate” (24). I totally agree with her recommendation to actually sit down with colleagues to create or confirm and elaborate on a curriculum map for the entire school.
Labeling Books with Reading Levels
Kerby reminds school librarians that the ALA document “Labeling Systems: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights” warns against the use of labeling systems that violate the privacy and choice of readers. “Prejudicial labels are designed to restrict access, based on a value judgment that the content, language, or themes of the resource, or the background or views of the creator(s) of the resource, render it inappropriate or offensive for all or certain groups of users” (ALA 2015). Reading-level labeling in school libraries violates the privacy and may restrict readers’ choices and should not be used. (One alternative for the elementary grades is to place reading levels inside of books where readers can privately access them as needed.)
Quotes and Examples from the Field
One of the strengths of An Introduction to Collection Development for School Librarians is that Kerby weaves quotes and examples from practicing school librarians throughout the book. District-level school librarian supervisor Jennifer Sturge, Calvert County, Maryland, encourages school librarians to develop engaging first lessons followed by book checkout from the very first day of the school year (5). Gail Dickinson, Old Dominion University, Virginia, offers an analogy between weeding the collection and curdled milk (49), Margaret Gaudino, Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland, offers a list of the twelve databases she provides for students and educators at her elementary school (63).
The book also includes writing prompts and reflection questions with pages where readers can record their practices, thoughts, and questions within the book itself.
I highly recommend Mona Kerby’s thoughtful and practical introduction to collection development to all. .
Kerby, Mona. 2019. An Introduction to Collection Development for School Librarians. 2nd ed. Chicago: ALA.