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High school libraries

Written By: markkaiser on February 1, 2012 1 Comment

While transporting my high school son to debate tournaments at various Bay-area high schools, I have found myself parked in high school libraries for hours at end, waiting my turn to judge one of the many events. It is striking the difference one finds between libraries in top-ranked high schools (e.g. Lowell in SF), and those in schools whose API places them somewhere above the CA average, but nowhere near the top 20 in the state.

At Lowell, one finds a wide variety of subjects represented in titles such as Japan: A History in Art, The Company of Wolves or The Autobiography of Malcolm X. In the fiction section we find Austen, Homer, Fitzgerald, etc. The magazine rack features The Atlantic, Congressional Digest, Scientific American, The Economist. Even the fabric on the chairs reflects a culture of reading. photo-1

And at the more average high schools? The non-fiction is less sophisticated, while the fiction was dominated by various vampire paperbacks and other ‘teen fiction’. The current periodicals in prominent display? Teen, People, Ebony, Consumer Reports. Dare we ask what is to be found in the libraries of schools in the bottom half of the API ratings?

We can sympathize with the conundrum facing school librarians in lower ranking high schools: with minimum budgets, do I purchase A Companion to Beowulf (found at Lowell) or a masterpiece of teen angst that might actually be checked out several times a year? What is clear is that the choices they have made reflect an already existing disparity in educational accomplishment, which they, it would appear, only reinforce.

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One Response to “High school libraries”

  1. Youki on: 6 February 2012 at 7:18 pm

    fascinating post! With my work at LHS, I had a chance to do programs in several local elementary schools, and there’s a stark difference between a school like The Berkeley School, a private school here in Berkeley, vs. Santa Fe Elementary in Oakland, which serves very low-income families. It wasn’t just the material resources available, but the “culture of reading” as you point out.

    As part of our research, I did ethnographic reseach with a 5th grader’s family and community. We examined the culture of science in families, and how practices in the family relate to practices in schools. I’m sure there are similar parallels with reading, as Heath’s Ways with Words points out.

    I’d love to see more pictures, if you ever get a chance. It would be very interesting to see the differences between the schools.

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