East Lothian library service has completed a project funded by the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) to implement Accelerated Reader (AR) in all public libraries; the first public library authority to do so. This means that AR quizzed titles are identified on the shelves and can be searched by level on the catalogue. In addition each library has at least one member of staff trained by Renaissance Learning who produce AR.
Susan Boylan, East Lothian’s Young People’s Services Librarian, explains how the scheme is working.
AR is a progress monitoring software tool. Each book is computer analysed to assign a level of difficulty, taking into account factors such as length of words and sentences. A Star Reading Assessment establishes a reading level for each individual pupil, and quizzes test their understanding of the books. AR has been used by some of the secondary schools in East Lothian since 2000 and is now used in more than 90% of our primary schools.
Implementing AR in schools creates a huge demand for books. As the requests and the number of interested parties increased, it became apparent that a more systematic, proactive approach was needed. We had the product, skills and expertise to do so. It was an opportunity to highlight and make better use of our existing stock, increase our issues, attract an increased number of children, families and schools to the public libraries and promote the library service in general. It was also a means by which to expand our role in the community and develop or enhance our links with schools.
However, during the implementation process, we became concerned that instead of encouraging reading for pleasure, the way AR was used in some schools may become prescriptive. We wanted to avoid the situation where children read books solely for points rather than enjoyment. We wanted them to borrow both AR and non-AR books. That is why we did not want to indicate the level of the book on the spine – AR books were solely identified with a small logo and the level was indicated inside the front cover. We also refused to shelve the AR stock separately, to encourage children to browse the whole stock. Staff were trained in AR levels, which was just another tool to allow them to help children choose another non-AR book at a similar level.
Potential problems with schools can be mitigated by our close links with colleagues in Education. We have, and will continue to emphasise, the potential motivational aspect of AR in encouraging reading for pleasure.
In addition, the reading levels assigned to titles are automatically generated, which can result in inconsistencies in age and book levels. The involvement of librarians can alleviate some of these problems due to our knowledge and experience of children’s literature.
New quizzes are often added retrospectively which means that our implementation of AR in public libraries will always be a work in progress. The retrospective and open-ended element of AR is an area for caution. The continued success of the programme depends on the long-term commitment from and involvement of staff, establishing ways of working to identify quizzed material, and regular updating of catalogue records. Every month we provide each local library with a list of titles in their stock, which have had quizzes added.
Despite these concerns, the overall impact has been very positive. The number of class visits to libraries has increased. Some schools have introduced regular and more frequent visits to their local library, while other schools, which had never visited the library before brought their entire upper school! Local librarians have been invited to their local primary schools at parents evening to talk to, and show, parents how to find accelerated books for their children on the catalogue. A parent’s guide to Accelerated Reader produced by schools highlighted the role of their local library.
Finally, with all local libraries having at least one member of staff trained by Renaissance Learning and confident in their knowledge of AR, the credibility of librarians amongst teachers was raised. We can see that reading engagement in school has improved and it is heart-warming to received emails such as this one from a primary school teacher: ‘Thank you so much for the great range of books sent. The pupil who the books were meant for has actually surpassed his AR reading range recently and has found a love of reading which he didn’t have before!’
There were a few factors contributing to the success of this project. First, we were responding to a need. Second, we are a small authority and so library services to schools and public library services to young people are overlapping functions within the same department. And third, we work very closely with colleagues in Education and with our six secondary school librarians, sharing the same library management system and catalogue.
AR is not a panacea; it is just one of the many tools that libraries can use to get children reading, but librarians have the skills and knowledge to ensure that this tool is used effectively.