Features of Elementary School Library Poetry Collections: A Collection Analysis Study

Article excerpt

An analysis of the poetry holdings of 72 elementary school libraries in one American public school district addressed the research question: What are some distinguishing features of elementary school library poetry collections? The study data was collected using the reporting feature of the district's online library catalog software. Nearly 90% of the poetry collections in the study sample were less than half the recommended size. Most collections were near the 14-year age limit for a state standards compliant school library collection, and poetry circulation totaled less than one percent of the average library's circulation. It is improbable that these small and aged collections could support modern poetry pedagogy which requires large, current collections of poetry that can be used to read aloud, enhance curriculum, and support literacy instruction. These findings suggest the need for additional research using catalog systems to analyze collection size and circulation as a part of collection development and management.

Celebrating Poetry through the Curriculum

Celebrating the joy and accessibility of poetry by reading it aloud and often during the school day can unlock a lifelong love of the genre in the wariest young student. Ask the fourth grade teacher who ends each spring term at my Texas elementary school with a poetry festival for her students (ages 9-10). It is a day the children anticipate with eagerness, so uninhibited is their enthusiasm for the poems they will read aloud. Plainly, this teacher's love for the goofy rhyme and silly metaphor of the day is contagious and irresistible.

Choosing their poems for the festival is a task the students assume with gravitas, some obsessively pouring over every volume of poetry in the school library. But for the first years of the festival, the library's poetry collection could not stand up to the challenge. Children discovered that most of the poetry books in the library were too old, so they selected poems from teachers' more recent anthologies, collections they had at home, and even from their basal readers.

The initial condition of the poetry section likely indicated its underuse in the curriculum. Poetry teacher Gregory Denman (1988) called this neglect the "curricular side step" of poetry pedagogy (p. 57). But it prompts the question-are elementary school library poetry collections languishing? Concerned scholars and school librarians have raised red flags about neglect of poetry sections in school libraries since the mid-1980s, warning that indifference toward maintaining a current poetry collection means disregard of an essential and enjoyable part of the curriculum with substantial, proven potential to enhance children's literacy (Faver, 2008; Harms & Lettow, 1987; Sekeres & Gregg, 2007; Vardell, 2006).

Modern poetry pedagogy makes unnecessary the dry analysis that characterized poetry pedagogy in classrooms of the past. For example, poet and teacher Iris Tiedt (2002) suggests that children be introduced to poetry in ways that foster their natural love of repetition, rhyme, and play and that, in turn, prompt phonemic awareness. Calkins (2003) advocates exploring poetry skills that transfer easily to students' writing such as condensing ideas into few words and using figurative language. Stanley (2004) points out that teaching children's poetry covers each of the skills required for literacy acquisition: phonemic awareness; phonics; fluency; vocabulary; and comprehension. Kane and Rule (2004) affirm this notion and add that teaching poetry can help to build students' academic skills when poetry is connected to lesson content. The work of Kane and Rule frames the general orientation of poetry pedagogy toward reinforcing and enhancing curriculum by reading poetry aloud and including it as a natural, daily part of the classroom routine.

Other scholars have noted that teaching poetry with technology can attract students to poetry, especially when the poet combines video or sound with the words of a poem (see, e. …