Thursday, December 11, 2008

Keeping Pace

A second grade class came into the library today to explore topics in their foods and nutrition research. Some students had opportunities to use specific books named Carrots or Corn; others used more general books to locate information such as the vitamins in green beans or how broccoli helps a body be healthy. When no book supported a student's research on a particular food, we reached for an encyclopedia to seek answers. Extracting information from paragraphs of text is a big job for young readers but energy and endurance were high and students arrived at many satisfactory answers.

A challenge for libraries is, first, how to maintain adequate breadth and depth in a library collection for a school population spanning PreK to 8th grade and, second, how to stay current in specific topics. Wow. Think of the changes a subject such as nutrition undergoes in a decade! The basics may not change but perhaps our way of describing them does. For example, the formulation of the food pyramid changed in 2005 when the U. S. Department of Agriculture created a more flexible and accurate description of what constitutes a healthy diet. The number of food groups changed from four to six as did the depiction of food groups within the pyramid. So: are we able in the library to acquire an adequate number of new books that show the new pyramid, or will we make do with some old and some new, because, of course, the old books still have some useful information? This are the kinds of questions that challenge, stimulate and -- yes -- sometimes frustrate librarians.

Why not just use the Internet, you say? The presence of quality print materials remains an invaluable resource for developing readers at the elementary level. Being able easily to see the organization of material in a good nonfiction book (tables of contents, chapter headings, indexes, glossaries), being able easily to turn pages back and forth and use one's pencil hand for writing, being able to view stable and uniformly legible text are positive values for young students. In our library, we strive to have available good print materials alongside online access to good web resources, cultivating the information skills needed for both formats.