Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dewey-less in Arizona

When I first heard that the Maricopa county (AZ) library was abandoning the Dewey Decimal system (DDC), I was appalled. How could anyone find specific nonfiction books without a DDC address on the spine?
No call numbers
Then I attended an Infopeople webinar on the Dewey-less library in Gilbert, AZ, and suddenly became intrigued. The presenter, Marshall Shore, insisted that patrons didn’t miss Dewey numbers and, in fact, found what they wanted just as easily without them. I decided I had to see this for myself, and so that evening announced to my non-librarian husband Tim that we needed to add a day to the trip we had already planned to Arizona (to see baseball spring training), so I could visit the Perry library in Gilbert.

We pulled into the branch parking lot at about 4PM. Although the library is located on the Perry High School campus, the place was deserted. “Could this be a sign that kids don’t like Dewey-less collections?” I secretly thought to myself. But, no, we had arrived in the middle of the school’s two-week spring break and no one was around. We parked and walked up to the front door.
Neon wall and "staff picks"
My eye was immediately drawn to a blue neon wall as soon as we entered. Turns out this is where staff display their recommended “picks.” Across from the neon was a bank of self-checkout machines and beyond them two tables stacked high with new books. The rest of the space was open and bright, with the clearest sight-lines I’ve ever seen.
Clear sight-lines
“Wow! This looks just like a bookstore,” Tim exclaimed, while I looked around in wonder. If libraries could talk, this one definitely would have had me at “Hello!”
Book displays
We approached a trio of staffed desks, where I identified myself and asked if we could take photos. A friendly young woman said she’d get the branch manager. The head librarian, Jennifer, emerged from a back room and told us we could (of course!) take pictures. She then took us on a short tour. She explained that the branch has a “browsing collection” arranged by broad Book Industry Standards and Communications (BISAC) (i.e., bookstore) categories instead of Dewey, which are further refined by subcategories (e.g., Travel - U.S.). DVDs, CDs and fiction are shelved separately, but all adult, teen and kids’ nonfiction is interfiled. We saw several freestanding book displays (e.g., “Oprah Reads”), attractively organized on shelves that could easily be wheeled anywhere inside the library.
Shelf end-panels
Signage was large and clean, but (to my eye) brutal. Shelf end-panels were softened by generic photos of people smiling and reading. Tim and I were both surprised to see LGBT fiction shelved next to westerns, which were both shelved near the religious books. Tim was disappointed by the puny magazine collection. But he did like the comfortable armchairs, each outfitted with a small table for folks equipped with laptops. These, too, had wheels so users could move them as needed.

Easy chairs on wheels and with desks
Because the facility is part of the high school, students have exclusive access to the branch every school-day morning before it opens to the public. Their entrance, located on the west side of the building, opens onto an extensive row of computers and a teen room. Vending machines, filled with various waters and “healthy” snacks (e.g., SunChips, granola bars), are clearly visible from throughout the library. Food and drink are allowed.
Teen room signage
Vending machines
We left after about half-an-hour, duly impressed by the library layout and service philosophy. The materials seemed to be logically arranged, as well, even without Dewey. I actually could see myself working in Gilbert, if I didn’t live 400 miles away! Next year we’ll visit the other Maricopa county branches that recently converted to BISAC to see if they’re just as successful. In the meantime, I’m going to ponder how other libraries might look if they adopted the Perry branch model.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Services to Homeschoolers

I attended an excellent workshop last week on serving homeschool families. Offered by Infopeople, California libraries’ premier continuing education provider, the session was conducted by Adrienne Furness, author of the brief but informative book Helping Homeschoolers in the Library (ALA, 2008).

Although I’ve researched kids’ academic needs for almost 20 years now, I still know very little about homeschooled students. I was therefore surprised to learn that more parents homeschool their children out of concern about the school environment (88%) than they do for religious reasons (83%) (see National Center for Educational Statistics). I was even more surprised to find out there are more homeschooled kids in Southern California than any other place in the country.

Several homeschooling philosophies exist, but the most prominent, according to Furness, are “unschooling” and conservative Protestant. Unschooling follows the tenets of John Holt, who espoused a movement of child-led learning that often incorporates “real world” activities. Typically, unschooled kids volunteer at community agencies as part of their education and are well-versed on current events. If there is a curriculum, it tends to be more freestyle and focused on experimentation.

Religious homeschools, on the other hand, are far more structured and purposeful. Conservative homeschool teachers are highly organized and vocal. Curricula come prepackaged and are often shared among families.

Though homeschooling is currently legal in all 50 states, the laws vary widely from state to state. In California, homeschooling families have to declare themselves a private school or enroll their child(ren) in a charter, public or other school that allows independent home study. Instruction must be in English and adhere to the following subject parameters:

• Grades 1-6: English, math, social sciences, science, fine arts, health, and physical education

• Grades 7-12: 1-6 subjects plus an international language, applied arts, vocational education, and driver’s education.

One workshop attendee had a hard time getting her head around the fact that any ol’ parents can identify themselves as teachers and then proceed to educate their kids. My own feeling is that it should make no difference to us whether the parents are qualified or not, just as long they use the library’s resources to teach accurate and current lessons. In fact, I’d rather have them start with the good information available in the library than use questionable information gathered elsewhere.

So what should public libraries do to accommodate homeschoolers? According to the many people Furness has interviewed nationwide, homeschoolers primarily need: (1) space to meet and (2) special borrowing privileges, such as “teacher cards” and extended loan periods. They also appreciate working with librarians to create programs that not only teach library skills, but relate to their curriculum. Library programs should be conducted in the afternoon, because most homeschool “desk learning” occurs in the morning, and should focus on the library’s resources. Since many homeschools encompass a wide range of ages, library programs should be advertised by “skills level” rather than age.

Homeschooled kids know how to talk about books and are extremely well-read. At minimum, librarians can serve homeschooler needs by developing collections that represent multiple viewpoints, conservative as well as liberal. Classic literature should be well-represented for families that prefer not to read contemporary fiction. In addition, the library should carry as many “how-to” homeschool books as possible, even though they are not widely available through jobbers. (For reviews, see Cathy Duffy Homeschool Reviews and Furness’s own Homeschooling and Libraries Blog.) Some libraries even offer homeschool “resource centers” with three-dimensional realia and equipment (e.g., a telescope!) that can be checked out for class use.

Seems like there are lots of opportunities here to develop public library programs for kids from all kinds of educational settings. What's good for homeschoolers may also be just as good for more traditional students. Something to think about when writing that next youth-services grant . . .

Friday, March 13, 2009

Letter to the Editor

Occasionally I’ll get a bee in my bonnet and write a letter to the editor of whatever periodical I happen to be reading. My letters tend to be either political in nature or library-related. My most recent letter to Library Journal (11/15/08), for instance, rebutted Joseph Grosso’s assertion that public libraries have abandoned their educational role. My contention, of course, was that they have not. (Don’t even get me started!)

I am no Luddite, but I am easily aggravated by the shortsightedness of those who think the Internet should replace paper-based information sources. I was especially rankled by last week’s L.A. Times “Webscout” article, which not only predicted the demise of print newspapers, but seemed to gloat in the possibility. I had a fit! Why should a format that has served its reading public well for so long be so summarily relegated to the junk pile? Anyway, here’s my response, which the Times published on Saturday (3/7/09):

Regarding David Sarno's "Online/on paper debate" (March 4, 2009), while I agree that many of today's readers are more interested in receiving their news through the Internet than via newsprint, I have some real concerns about doing away with paper periodicals altogether. In particular, I worry about the demise of newspapers as historical artifacts. Sure, we can currently look-up old copies of the L.A. Times on Proquest, but how long will that last in an electronic environment that's so volatile? I'm far more concerned that whole swaths of history can be eliminated with the simple touch of a delete key than I am about the millions of trees destroyed every year to create newspapers. If publishers do away with newsprint, then they better figure out a way to permanently preserve the historical record of our daily lives.

So there! (I’m glad my letter was printed on paper as this blog will no doubt be completely obliterated someday. . .)