Monday, February 27, 2012

Labels, Labels, Labels

Do you label your books with Accelerated Reader information? I do. This is common practice in many elementary libraries, and for several good reasons:
  • when used with STAR reading ranges, sticker labels help guide students to the books that are "just right" for them
  • they provide a clear visual to the amount of books your collection has on each grade level; a quick walk through your shelves will show if you need more books of a certain range
  • they help students find books with which they will experience success, and quickly (classroom time is precious indeed, and the more efficient we can make book browsing for students, the better all around)
These are good reasons for labeling books. After all, our goal is to make library use as easy as possible for students. Right? 



The American Association of School Librarians feels otherwise. Take a look at AASL's policy on labeling books:

Granted, some of AASL's concerns stem from the fact that lots of libraries are not only using labels but are organizing their shelving by labels (not adhering to standards of the profession), and that is most definitely a valid concern. We should be teaching students how libraries work, not just how OUR library works. If they understand that the Fiction books are in ABC order everywhere, then we have given them the key which unlocks every school, public, and eventually academic library they will ever use. This is a pretty big deal. 

Another of AASL's points about labels is that it violates the privacy of our students. Think about that. Do you have a 4th grader reading on a 1st grade level? I do. Whose business is it that he is not reading on grade level? His, his teachers', his parents', and mine. Certainly not other students, but they will be able to see that if he is carrying around books with 1st grade stickers on the spine. 


Personally, I have never, not once, in 10 years of serving in this profession, ever heard of a student being bullied or made fun of because of his or her reading level. But I also know that there is a lot that goes on behind the social scenes of kids that not even the most perceptive, Eagle Eye teacher can catch. I don't want to contribute to making any child in my school a target. 

My plan is to compromise between AASL's standards and what my teachers want in keeping AR labels (and encouraging students to choose books within their range) but placing them in a more discreet location. This will take some time, but I plan to eventually remove all spine labels and begin to teach students to look inside the cover of their book for AR reading level information. This will take require more browsing time for the students, and it will take away my ability to sweep my eyes across the collection and notice deficiencies, but remember that 4th grade kid on a 1st grade level? 

He's worth it.  

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