U.S. Department of Education data shows 2.5 million children nationwide attend schools in districts that lack school libraries.
In these book deserts, a greater burden is placed upon educators to expand students’ access to books through classroom libraries. A new resource from First Book, a nonprofit network of educators who serve children in need, aims to help teachers improve these classroom spaces to better engage young readers.
Developed in collaboration with Susan Neuman, a professor of teaching and learning at New York University specializing in childhood education and early literacy development, the Literacy Rich Classroom Library Checklist is designed to help educators look beyond simply having books present in classrooms. Using the tool, educators can assess:
- The presentation of the physical classroom library space.
- The space’s frequency of use.
- The quantity, quality and diversity of books offered.
In a First Book survey of 1,200 educators released in tandem with the Literacy Rich Classroom Library Checklist, 96% of respondents said they have personally funded some or all of the library books in their classrooms, and 77% said they had done so for furnishings.
Furthermore, an average of $346 is spent out-of-pocket by each educator annually to put books and other materials in their classrooms.
“The fact that it takes nearly a third of our educators more than 10 years spending $346 a year of their own money to build their classroom libraries highlights the urgency of our mission to provide access to high-quality, low-cost and free books to support educational equity,” said Kyle Zimmer, president and CEO of First Book, in a statement.
While more than 85% of respondents said the books in their classroom libraries were generally in good condition and represent a variety of genres, they estimated just 40% of their selections represent diverse cultures. Nearly a third said they didn’t consider their classroom libraries to have an adequate representation of diverse cultures.
Notably, book challenges in recent years have had a chilling effect on efforts to include inclusive literature in school libraries. The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom recorded 1,597 individual book challenges to schools, libraries, and universities in 2021.
Additional findings in the First Book survey include:
- 54% of educators reported having 10 or fewer books per child, with 58% saying they lack the recommended 44 books per child and cannot reach that standard on their own.
- 51% of respondents said their classroom libraries lack a rotating selection of books.
- 46% did not have multiple copies of popular books in their classroom libraries, presenting further hurdles for having children read and discuss the same books.