Collateral damage or passive Anura?

This post was first going to go one way and then through holiday laziness in posting, it has taken a kind of dual direction as I have more time for self-reflection and research.

The first offensive was launched by KC Boyd (2018) in her post “Easy Like Sunday Morning: School Libraries vs Classroom Libraries” where she reflects on Chicago School System and the impact on literacy of shifting from school libraries to (only) classroom libraries (hint – it wasn’t favourable). She refers to Ariel Sack’s post on the importance (and diminishing) role of school librarians who asks “Can this project be done by an individual teacher? Yes. But it’s something different when one person with a vision and the time to implement it leads it consistently for the entire school, every year” (Sacks, 2018). I’d argue there is another factor – one very rarely meets a librarian who doesn’t read (I have however met library assistants without any interest in books or reading); but the Peter Effect is well documented in teachers (Applegate & Applegate, 2004; Binks-Cantrell, Washburn, Joshi, & Hougen, 2012; Turner, Applegate, & Applegate, 2009) with studies in various places around the world documenting aliteracy in teachers / pre-service teachers – “Findings revealed that 54.3% of 195 teacher candidates were classified as unenthusiastic about reading and only 25.2% of teacher candidates reported unqualified enjoyment of reading.” (Binks-Cantrell et al., 2012, p. 526), and the picture appears to be getting worse rather than better (Skaar, Elvebakk, & Nilssen, 2018).

This is something easy to lose sight of when twitter, YouTube, Facebook, blogposts and podcasts are dominated by literacy superstars like Pernille Ripp, Colby Sharp, Mr. Schu, Jennifer Gonzalez, Angela Watson etc. But for every one of them, even a small imitation of them, there are likely to be three or more other teachers who are either not enthusiastic about reading, or, who actually don’t deign to read the types of books their students do – something I know my librarian mentor Katie Day, (successfully) worked very hard on with the teachers at UWCSEA-East when she was there. Based on my own experience I have encountered whole grades where not one teacher has been actively and passionately engaged in books and reading, and where this is apparently not seen as an issue (except when it is reflected in their students’ testing scores – but then the solution has been to work on the students rather than the teachers).

Regie Routman in her article “On the level with levelled books” (Routman, 2018), makes some valid arguments for free voluntary reading, and the choice of a selection of relevant and developmentally appropriate books for classroom libraries, but only makes oblique reference to public libraries and with no mention of school libraries or librarians – not even in a nostalgic or wishful manner. Relying on teachers who care and the intervention of a literacy expert is not a long term solution!

Colby Sharp, boasting a 3,000 book classroom library, ordered in a numbered system unfamiliar to any librarian I asked, talks about book checkout and is quick to dismiss the scanning system a librarian assisted him in setting up as “too much trouble”… (Sharp, 2018)

To which Day responded on FB “as long as he is on top of what all his students are reading, then, yes, it could work. But it’s not scaleable — and he doesn’t mention inventory checks — so at the end of the year you know which books might need to be replaced. With 3,000 books, it might be good for his students (other students? other teachers?) to be able to search and discover what books he has in his class library… Just sayin’… And LibraryThing’s TinyCat is definitely an option he might consider — to be able to see his collection online, whether he uses their circulation system or not.”

And then I found out what his library looked like – with a self-invented number system – ok so Dewey doesn’t do it for everyone, but those random numbers? (Sharp, 2017). I love the idea and potential of classroom libraries – I baulk at the cost, duplication of effort, waste of resources, money and time, lack of discoverability, lack of meaningful data and often stagnant nature of them. I have seen money wasted on thoughtless last minute purchasing without any clear strategy, collection management or development. I’ve seen classroom libraries with books that would better be relegated to pulping or, redistributed to older or younger students. I’d be the first to admit that often no one knows students better than their class-teacher, but just as we shouldn’t have to choose between classroom libraries and school libraries, so too the burden of creating dynamic exciting collections needn’t be the domain of only the class teacher or the librarian – together we definitely are better. Dialogue, collaboration, debate, relative expertise – all these things make us stronger as a learning community.

I started out being a little annoyed at the lack of mention of (school) librarians, but then reading the FB question of a librarian, (who shall remain nameless) challenging whether she should be expected to find a selection of books on a specific theme for a teacher because “she’d already shown the teacher how to find book in the system” and the responses I wondered how much of it was our own fault? We should be falling over ourselves to help teachers, parents, administrators, everyone in the community with lists and suggestions and books and resources they didn’t even to know to ask about. We should be anticipating and proactive. Not whining on FB as to where the limits of our job lie. I love the fact that this is one of the careers where you can pretty much be without boundary and limitless in what you can do – all in the interest of teaching and learning.

Spending a bit of time on Twitter I saw what was going on with Project Lit – something started in an English Classroom that is going viral (Riddell, 2018), (and what an excellent book collection they’ve created!) and I thought, darn it – we’re missing so many tricks here. Why aren’t teacher librarians initiating things like this, or the GRA? Why aren’t we leveraging our knowledge and experience in more ways than just fretting about our increasing marginalization and extinction? Why aren’t we taking more leadership and visibility in these arguments and discussions?

project lit

We aren’t part of these discussions and we’re not top of mind to any of the people who are getting attention. Whose problem is that? Do these “superstars” have a blind spot to anything NIH (not invented here), monstrous egos, or are we / have we become just so marginal to the whole reading / literacy scene that we don’t even merit a mention unless prompted (as the Sack article intimated)?

On FB again, another librarian spoke of her school that has gone from a thriving library system with two libraries run by two qualified librarians that’s been whittled down and compromised to one remaining librarian and was wondering what the moral of the story was – I commented “frog in a pot that slowly comes to boil”.

The problem with being a passive Anura is that no one else is going to turn the gas off and you don’t want to be left alone when the party is no longer in the kitchen – with apologies to Joan Lewie (WiggyOfStHelens2008, 2008).


Applegate, A. J., & Applegate, M. D. (2004). The Peter Effect: Reading habits and attitudes of preservice teachers. The Reading Teacher, 57(6), 554–563.

Binks-Cantrell, E., Washburn, E. K., Joshi, R. M., & Hougen, M. (2012). Peter Effect in the Preparation of Reading Teachers. Scientific Studies of Reading, 16(6), 526–536.

Boyd, K. c. (2018, June 3). Easy Like Sunday morning: School libraries vs classroom libraries [Web Log]. Retrieved 5 July 2018, from

Sharp, C. (2018). My classroom library checkout system. Retrieved from

Sharp, C. (2017). Classroom library tour 2017-2018. Retrieved from

Riddell, R. (2018, March 12). Project LIT: How a Nashville educator turned a class project into a nationwide movement [Web Log]. Retrieved 5 July 2018, from

Routman, R. (2018, June 24). On the level with leveled books [Web Log]. Retrieved 5 July 2018, from

Sacks, A. (2018, May 29). Why school librarians are the literacy leaders we need [Web Log]. Retrieved 5 July 2018, from

Skaar, H., Elvebakk, L., & Nilssen, J. H. (2018). Literature in decline? Differences in pre-service and in-service primary school teachers’ reading experiences. Teaching and Teacher Education, 69, 312–323.

Turner, J. D., Applegate, A. J., & Applegate, M. D. (2009). Teachers as literacy leaders. The Reading Teacher, 63(3), 254–256.

WiggyOfStHelens2008. (2008). Jona Lewie – You’ll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties. Retrieved from



2 thoughts on “Collateral damage or passive Anura?

  1. So interesting! I have been thinking about this quite a bit and I am hypothesizing similar conclusions. Now to see if survey results support the idea.


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