Congratulations on beginning your term as ALA president. At the ALA conference in Chicago, your 2013–2014 presidential initiative, Libraries Change Lives, was revealed. Do the Common Core standards have a role in this new initiative?
Absolutely, but it is not a one-to-one connection. ALA is doing a huge advocacy campaign for school libraries—the piece on the Common Core will be to emphasize how librarians can help teachers integrate the literacy skills of the Common Core. Children in America should not be deprived of the right to learn the skills that will help them succeed in college, and for the rest of their lives.
How do you think the new standards will affect librarians?
There will be an impact on the way they serve youth in their libraries, and also the way they assist parents who are looking to help their children succeed. What I see for public librarians is some emphasis on their skills, but more emphasis on the type of resources and books that they provide.
I was on a breakfast panel hosted by Publishers Weekly back in April, and part of what Marc Aronson and I were trying to get across is that there is a shift in the kinds of books that libraries must have available and will need to acquire. For example, [they will need] more high-quality nonfiction, excerpted texts, exemplary speeches, and other pieces that aren’t generic textbooks or watered-down generic nonfiction books. Kids need to probe more deeply, they need multiple perspectives, so I think public libraries are trying to understand what they need to order now, what kinds of resources they’ll need to make available.
What aspects of the Common Core standards do you think will have the most positive impact on student achievement?
First, the Common Core has raised the expectation level for the kinds of critical-thinking skills expected of our kids. The Common Core does not define literacy as just being able to read and write, but as being able to produce information as well as to consume it. That is one aspect that I hope really takes hold.
Teachers are still struggling with the fact that [under the new standards] literacy is the responsibility of every teacher in the school. That is why librarians should have such a vital role, since these are the skills that we teach. For example, a librarian helping a social studies teacher integrate critical thinking and literacy skills into a lesson on the Civil War would be a great collaboration. The Common Core shouldn’t just open the door to greater collaboration between educators and librarians—it should force it wide open.
At the recent ALA conference, many representatives from publishing companies were looking for information on how to best support the implementation of the Common Core standards. Do you have any advice for publishers?
One thing I know is that the quality of the writing matters. So, the generic, cookie-cutter approaches are less valuable in this new environment. [Publishers] should know that more and more teachers are turning away from generic textbooks and moving to trade books.
It seems to me that publishers—if they are equipped to do this—might want to give guidance [to educators and librarians]. It is not helpful for publishers to just declare that all of their books are now aligned with the Common Core. Also, it is helpful when publishers take the time to include controversies, multiple perspectives, and different points of view about the same topic. Those kinds of things are what teachers are going to be scrambling to find.
Some think that the Common Core standards present a great opportunity for librarians. Do you agree with this view?
I think the Common Core is an opportunity for librarians to step into the instructional leadership role in their schools. Their role needs to go way beyond just what they do in the library. The librarian has a chance to collaborate and connect with every teacher in his or her school and to strengthen the teaching that happens in the classroom. It is about the instruction that librarians do, the integration of technology and social media, the research aspect, the strand that runs through K-12. It is about the teaching of critical-thinking skills. It is a golden opportunity. There has never been a better time for us to step up and take a leadership role.