February 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

2017 Scholastic Reading Report Reveals Extent of Book Ownership Divide

KFRR_2017_DigitalBook_FINAL-f-1Scholastic has unveiled its sixth Kids and Family Reading Report, its biannual look at the habits of young readers ages 0–17 and their families. Among the biggest takeaways for librarians are the issues of access and discovery, according to Scholastic’s senior library manager, Deimosa Webber-Bey.

the book ownership divide

One of the key findings of the report is just how important reading is to all kids. But there’s a big divide in book ownership among families. The average home has 104 kids’ books—but that number jumps to 127 books in households with an income over $100,000 and falls to 69 books for families making less than $35,000. A similar discrepancy exists among Latinos and African Americans. On average, Hispanic families have 91 children’s books in their homes and African American families report having 67.

That creates a tremendous opportunity for librarians to supplement these numbers through library usage and book ownership, says Webber-Bey—especially as 51 percent of children and teens are turning to school libraries and teachers for book recommendations and another 16 percent rely on public libraries. When Webber-Bey was a librarian in Rio Rancho (NM) Public Library, for instance, she used advanced reading copies she’d gotten from ALA conferences or from publishers to use as prizes for raffles and during summer reading challenges. “I also became friends with the owner of a comic book shop who gave me prizes and included me in on his orders for ‘Free Comic Book Day’; all I had to do was let him stamp the shop’s information on the back of the comics!” she notes, adding that libraries should “quadruple their comic book, graphic novels, and manga collections” to attract more tweens and teens.

divide and conquer

Another tactic: Go to the kids, wherever they are. Since 2005, the Fairfax County, VA, public libraries’ early literacy teams (plus volunteers) have fanned out to childcare centers and Head Start programs across the county for read-alouds every month. Every year the program has grown, says Ted Kavich, the library’s program and educational services manager. Last year, the program distributed nearly 25,000 books to 2,200 preschoolers, or 10 to 12 books per child.

While the early literacy program is geared to the youngest readers, the Fairfax County library also has creative ways to entice grade-schoolers to check out its offerings, including parent-kid book groups, STEM-related events with LEGO, and a Summer Reading Adventure that not only features a reading challenge, but events showcasing magic and live animals, says Kavich.

talk up books—and read them aloud

Even with all this help, 41 percent of kids and teens confess to having trouble finding stories they enjoy—something most parents don’t really realize, according to Scholastic’s report. That’s where book talks and readers’ advisories can help, says Webber-Bey. “I like to ask library patrons what they have read that they didn’t like, in order to see what turns them off, as well as what they have read that they loved,” she explains.

Don’t underestimate the power of storytime for older kids, either. While 72 percent of kids ages 6–11 love being read to, only 38 percent of parents are taking the time for read-alouds with their 6-to-8-year-olds, and a mere 17 percent of parents tell stories to their 9-to-11-year-olds, according to the report. If you want to “sell” a book to a kid, read a passage from it—especially if it’s a funny one, such as Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going, and anything by Gordon Korman, notes Webber-Bey. (Bonus points for changing your voice up to imitate the character.)

“Overall, the report is a reminder for librarians that parents and kids want good stories, humor, and strong characters,” says Webber-Bey. “If we can improve access and discovery, then we are giving kids the opportunity to practice and develop the reading skills that allow them to achieve academic success, as well as the chance to fall in love with stories and expand their world through nonfiction.”

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  1. Anonymous says:

    “The average home has 104 kids’ books—but that number jumps to 127 books in households with an income over $100,000 and falls to 69 books for families making less than $35,000. A similar discrepancy exists among Latinos and African Americans. On average, Hispanic families have 91 children’s books in their homes and African American families report having 67.”

    Can we please stop kitten-footing around the truth? It has never been easier to find books, whether second-hand, third-hand, given away, purchased in stores, thrift stores, online, or through book fairs. There not a problem with access. There is, in general, a problem with parenting priorities and with there being two parents — not two adults, two parents — in a home to give children the reading attention they deserve.

  2. Francine Allen says:

    True, but I’ve been a children’s librarian in low-income communities, and some of the parents are involved with their kids’ social and intellectual development, try to get them into reading, etc. But most, even the best if these parents, have to work jobs with crazy hours. They do what they can. Another problem is that some libraries in poor communities have administration that cares about the community, but some of these libraries don’t (lower pay, lower educational requirements, burnout, etc.). I wish the ALA and state library associations would have more resources and workshops on libraries in poor communities. I mean communities where there is little or no social infrastructure – not just communities which serve some poor people but which have social supports like after school programs for kids, safe public outdoor play areas, etc. I’ve told the ALA and my state library association (Michigan) about my concern. The problem THEY probably face is that this type of focus might not be revenue-producing given that the interested library community (staff, stakeholders, etc.) probably have less income to avail themselves of such resources, and the associations do need the revenue. Some grants might be good. Too bad I’m nowhere near wealthy enough to make THAT happen.

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