Sunday, June 27, 2010

School Libraries: Resources for Engaged Reading (Goodin)

Susie Goodin
Susie M. Goodin taught elementary school in Vermont and California before the arrival of her four children. For the past 20 years she has developed and managed a variety of school libraries. She loves to be outdoors gardening, swimming and hiking, as well as avidly collecting children’s literature. Currently she is a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley, Graduate School of Education in the Language, Literacy and Culture program. Her major interest in education research is in exploring the link between school libraries and literacy development.
With great seriousness, holding the book in both hands to gently return it to me, he stated, “This is the best book I’ve ever read in my life. Can I have another one just like it?” 
The eighth grader had read the library book overnight and he was anxious to read another, and as it turns out, another and another in quick succession. This anecdote from a small urban school library is emblematic of the importance of giving students access to engaging texts, promoted in school libraries. Hypothesized in Stanovich’s (1986) compelling model of the Matthew effect of reading (‘the rich get richer, the poor get poorer’), the volume of reading that a student does influences automatic word recognition, fluency, vocabulary development, and importantly, the motivation to read more. In an upward and reciprocal spiral of increased reading, the student can learn vocabulary and gain general knowledge that serves to support reading comprehension processes. In this video, Keith Stanovich explains the Matthew Effect.

Considerable research on independent reading both in and out of school affirms Stanovich’s model (Anderson, Wilson, & Fielding, 1988; Taylor, Frye & Maruyama, 1990). These conclusions speak to the value of school libraries and supportive, knowledgeable librarians:
  • Independent reading volume makes a significant difference in students’ standardized reading test scores.
  •  Reading books has the strongest association of all activities with reading achievement.
  •  Even a small amount of daily book reading(10 minutes!) makes a difference in a student’s reading proficiency.
Further, we know that incidental exposure to new words during reading is the most powerful way of acquiring an extensive vocabulary (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998; Nagy, 1988). It is students’ motivation to read that is effected by access to texts of all types in school libraries. We know that for students like the eighth grader noted above, motivation to read—supported by access to interesting texts—generates engagement that in turn, correlates to better reading outcomes (Brozo, Shiel & Topping, 2007; Guthrie & Humenick, 2004). As a school librarian I have repeatedly seen the positive effect of offering a wide range of engaging literature to students at all grade levels. When students are allowed to choose books that they find interesting, they will read more. 
In my most recent project to develop a secondary school library where there was none, 83% of the students accessed the library over the course of the semester, eager to find a good book.
The literature on school library effectiveness confirms a strong correlation between robust school library programs with credentialed school librarians, access to engaging literature and student achievement. In reviews of research at the state level (see Krashen, 1993; Lonsdale, 2003) and studies of individual school sites (for example, Achterman, 2008), the importance of school libraries to student achievement is evident.

Given that the Matthew effect can also have a downward cast to the spiral of reading achievement if students are less engaged in reading over time, supporting school libraries as one way of supporting students’ interests in reading is crucial to building the vocabulary and general information needed to succeed in school.

June 29th is Library Advocacy Day, as mentioned in a prior post. Visit the American Library Association for more information. To honor and support school libraries on June 29th, check out your state and local community access to school (and public) libraries. Ask some questions to determine if your state is one like California that has only 23.7% of schools supported by paid state-certified school librarians, or is one like Georgia that has 100% staffing by school librarians (figures from NCES, Table 2a. Media Centers, By State: 1999-2000). Once you know the facts about your locality, find a way to advocate for school libraries—because all of our children deserve access to wonderful books they want to read.

Packhorse librarians go out of their way to deliver books. 
Photo from National Archives.

Click for References:

  • Achterman, D. 2008. Haves, Halves, and Have-Nots: School Libraries and Student Achievement in California. PhD dissertation, University of North Texas.
  • Anderson, R. C., Wilson, Paul T., & Fielding, Linda G. (1988). Growth in reading and how children spend their time outside of school. Reading Research Quarterly, XXIII(3), 285- 303.
  • Brozo, W., Shiel, Gerry, & Topping, Keith. (2007). Engagement in reading: Lessons learned from three PISA countries. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 51(4), 304-315.
  • Cunningham, A. E., & Stanovich, Keith E. (1998). What Reading Does for the Mind. American  Educator, 8-15.
  • Guthrie, J. T., & Humenick, Nicole M. (2004). Motivating Students to Read. In P. McCardle, & Chhabra, Vinita (Ed.), The Voice of Evidence in Reading Research. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
  • Krashen, S. (1993). The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
  • Lonsdale, M. (2003). Impact of School Libraries on Student Achievement: A Review of the Research. Camberwell, Victoria, Australia: Australian Council for Educational Research.
  • Nagy, W. E. (1988). Teaching Vocabulary to Improve Reading Comprehension. Newark, Delaware: International Reading Association.
  • Stanovich, K. E. (1986). Matthew Effects in Reading: Some Consequences of Individual Differences in the Acquisition of Literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 21(4), 360-407.
  • Taylor, B. M., Frye, Barbara J., & Maruyama, Geoffrey M. (1990). Time Spent Reading and Reading Growth. American Educational Research Journal, 27(2), 351-362.


  1. Susie, thank you. Your anecdote brings home the fact that a knowledgeable and friendly librarian brings about more positive change than we could possibly measure.

    I should not be shocked at the disparity in library funding between Georgia and California, but I am (sheesh!)

  2. Anonymous10/24/2010

    "When students are allowed to choose books that they find interesting, they will read more" - you are so right. I'm a library assistant at a girls' high school. Vampire books and urban fantasy in general is popular, so we buy them and the girls queue to reserve them. Our issues have trebled in the last two years, and the library is bustling. Some English Dept teachers look down their noses at the genre, but I just love recommending books to happy students, and extending those girls that have become regular borrowers.
    Pam, New Zealand.

  3. Susie Goodin10/24/2010

    Congratulations, Pam! It sounds as if your library is engaging many students successfully. The genre your students respond to matches my experience, as does the hesitation from some English teachers. One thing that has dispelled that 'disdain' is to give teachers some of the best of the YA genre to read for themselves (The Hunger Games, Jellicoe Road, or Speak, for example). Thanks for reaching across the Pacific. Susie

  4. Anonymous9/16/2017

    Susie, thank you for your blog post about kindling students' love of books. As a newer teacher, I am always looking for ways to foster a love of reading in my students - and, as you confirmed in your blog, it all begins with putting large volumes of books at their fingertips that truly interest them. Teachers taking time at the beginning of the year to get to know their students' likes and dislikes are better able to determine what genres of texts they are interested in, and therefore will be motivated to read. We are so fortunate to have an extensive leveled book room at my school, so my students typically have access to whatever book they are searching for. I have noticed that my use of this resource and being intentional about putting books in kids' hands is vital to their success as a reader.

  5. This really highlights the importance of allowing and encouraging reading of all types--especially for struggling readers. I read a lot of Goosebumps as a kid--formulaic and cheesy horror stories. Luckily my parents encouraged my interest in the questionable series and I became an able reader. I remember my path as I now teach others. I strive to encourage all reading because as you share here, motivation (fostered by interesting texts) leads to engagement leads to better reading outcomes.

    Longwood University graduate student and teacher at Venable Elementary in Charlottesville, VA

  6. Thanks, Laura. Goosebumps has the recipe for catching a kid's interest, right?


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