Living in Canada, I sometimes feel out of touch with what’s going on down south of the border. Today, as I was researching the importance of nonfiction in elementary school libraries, I did quite a bit of reading on the core curriculum in the United States. The new Common Core Standards that impact the educational systems in most states stipulates that 70% of books studied should be nonfiction. This is a huge turnaround.
It’s accepted practice in most libraries that 50% of the collection should be nonfiction. Yet with years of budget cuts, I’ve seen many collections with very old books whose time had come years ago. I had to hold my breath when, as a new school board librarian, one library volunteer informed me that the students got most of their factual information on the Internet; the library was not a research library. I found this very shocking, but as I travelled to other school libraries, and saw how old the collections were, I realized that it was better to have no nonfiction, than very outdated nonfiction. Yet even the international organization, UNESCO still prescribes the 50% non-fiction benchmark for school libraries. Some experts say it should be more.
According to The Whole Library Handbook, “A reasonable collection for book resources should comprise 10 books per student. The smallest school should have at least 2,500 relevant and updated items to ensure a wide, balanced book stock for all ages, abilities and backgrounds. At least 60% of the stock should consist of curriculum-related non-fiction resources.” (Woolls and Loertscher) http://goo.gl/yVMBQ
Does nonfiction matter in developing reading skills? Yes!
Interestingly enough, I found reference to a study cited by the New York Times in March of 2012, that found that 1000 students who learned to read using an experimental curriculum that emphasized nonfiction texts performed better than those who did not.
Marc Aronsen, who lectures at Rutgers School of Communication and Information commented on the importance of nonfiction, “As you may know, there was a study in 2000 about the amount of time spent on nonfiction reading in elementary school classrooms. It was 3.6 minutes a day on average, and in poorer districts, it was 2.7 minutes. We have a situation where schools have only been spending 3.6 minutes on nonfiction, and now it’s supposed to be 50%? This is not happening, and it’s especially not happening without the librarian. Every librarian knows some subset of kids who love nonfiction. Why do librarians buy The Guinness Book of World Records every year? Because we can’t keep it on the shelves. We know that there are kids who like weird and wacky facts, knights, warfare, whatever it is.” (Corsaro) http://goo.gl/nBNUg
Nonfiction matters, and there is a wealth of books that are informative and fun to read. While it is imperative that students are exposed to great literature, whether it is award-winning picture books or Shakespeare, nonfiction can open up the world to children and teens and help them develop the reading and analytical skills that will serve them well throughout their academic careers and their lives.