I live and work in New York City and it is summer. While many of my fellow-gothamites take every effort to escape the five boroughs during the months of July and August, I stay put for the most part. Forget Autumn in New York, summer is my favorite time of the year to be in NYC, or anywhere really. I love being outside for concerts and plays and dining al fresco. I love wearing shorts, and the balminess in the air. I even have a little affection for the hot blasts of garbage odor that hit you in the face when you come up from the subway.
Because I’m content to postpone taking a vacation until September, you’ll find me in the library all summer long, holding down the fort. Guys, Ingrid was not exaggerating a single iota when she reported last year on what summer is like in the library where we both work. Once school lets out, it’s like a manifestation of Public Service calls us, its minions, over to the desk, rolls up its sleeves, and commences barking at us, “It’s time to march, soldiers! You’ve been coddled for far too long. Maximum programs! Sign up anyone with a pulse for Summer Reading! Inform at least 75 kids a day that all copies of Diary of a Wimpy Kid are out until Columbus Day. Don’t dawdle! Move! The line at the desk is getting longer. MOVE FASTER! All shore leave is suspended until the Wednesday after Labor Day.”
Surely you don’t suspect ME of exaggerating? I submit as proof security camera coverage of myself taken at 5:41 p.m. on August 30, 2011…
Let’s chat about those summer assignment lists, shall we? I work in my library system’s Central library, so families visit us from all ends of the borough to look for the titles they need. We see a wide variety of lists. Like everyone else, we are completely cleaned out of the standards: Blume, Dahl, My Side of the Mountain, Charlotte’s Web, etc., etc. That’s hardly breaking news, though. What I would like to do here is report on some other trends and developments I’ve noticed this year…
The Emergence of Wonder. R. J. Palacio’s 2012 debut about bullies, self-acceptance, and tween grittiness has entered the educational zeitgeist just months after its publication. A charter school network here in Brooklyn has made Wonder required reading for all of its sixth graders, and I have seen it on several other lists, too. Currently, we have 77 holds on Wonder, but I suspect many parents are giving up on the library and buying it themselves. Random House, how about throwing us a bone and putting out a paperback soon? Thank you kindly.
The Five-Year Rule. Wonder is an exception, but by gum it exists! Fuse #8 theorized a few weeks ago that titles only make their debuts on assignment lists five years after their publication dates, which coincidentally is six months after diligent public librarians weed out their copies for underperforming . I personally gave copies of Peak by Roland Smith and Road to Paris by Nikki Grimes, (paperback eds. published in 2008) their walking papers back in February, and now, NOW they are sought after by dozens of middle schoolers. A more scientific review of the data should immediately be undertaken to solidify the veracity of this hypothesis.
Stay Tuned for Our Report at 11:00 p.m. Long Island Students Required to Read The Great Gypsy. I believe I am pretty easygoing and sanguine about the- um- idiosyncrasies (translation: completely avoidable errors) I see on assignment lists every summer but then a story like this one hits the newswires and I simply can’t stop myself, I’m belting out, “Schadenfreude/Making Me Feel Glad That I’m Not You” at the top of my lungs.
It Always Comes Back to Layout. I could go on a rantosaurus about summer assignment lists riddled with out-of-print titles, titles not appropriate to the age or reading level of the child bearing the list, or lists that have no flexibility built in to them, but I won’t. Instead, I quietly propose that schools throughout the universe embrace a single commandment, especially for the long, multi-page offerings:
Here’s the deal. Many students don’t know how how the local branch is laid out, nor do their parents and caretakers. They are likewise unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the library catalog. I know I’m not telling you library folk anything you don’t already know, but the reality is that when the reference desk is busy and the lines are long, we cannot give every patron a soup to nuts orientation (from catalog to shelf) for lists that jump all over the place because they are are organized entirely by the author’s last names (even the non-fiction) or by Guided Reading Level. Most families don’t want this from us either. They just want to gather some titles and be on their way.
What I am proposing is that someone look up all of the proposed summer assignment titles in April or May in the local public library catalog. This someone could be the educator himself or herself, or a group of student volunteers and parents, or the school district’s library administration office, or even the local public librarians and their interns or high school volunteers. As the titles are located in the public library catalog, they are sorted following a format similar to this one:
- Picture Books. Alphabetical order by the author’s last name.
- Easy Readers. Alphabetical order by the author’s last name.
- Chapter Books. Alphabetical order by the author’s last name.
- Graphic Novels. Alphabetical order by the author’s last name.
- Non Fiction. Dewey order, LC order, or whatever system your library uses.
Adapt to any other special collections your library uses (although I hope it’s not too many). Don’t forget to include a URL for the library’s catalog in a nice large font so families may place holds from the comfort of their own homes if they wish.
Simple, right? Simple works for me every time.
I hope you are all making the most of your summer. Get outside and play.