Academic journal article Reading Improvement

Public Library Use, School Performance, and the Parental X-Factor: A Bio-Documentary Approach to Children's Snapshots

Academic journal article Reading Improvement

Public Library Use, School Performance, and the Parental X-Factor: A Bio-Documentary Approach to Children's Snapshots

Article excerpt

The Urban Libraries Project is dedicated to examining how the culture, social organization, and material environment of branch libraries within the Philadelphia Free Library support children's literacy and school achievement. As a research associate with the project, I have initiated a photography exercise with fourth grade students at two elementary schools near the branch library where I have conducted qualitative research for the past two years. The objective for these children was to document their afterschool activities with disposable camera. Utilizing quantative and qualitative techniques to analyze the photographs, I have developed profiles of library users ("The Wonder Kid ... .. The Utilitarian User," and "The Library Latch-Key Kid") and non-users ("The Low Achiever." "The Home Schooled Kid," and "The Independently Intelligent Kid"). Rather than a direct causal relationship between library use and academic achievement, the more salient indicator of functional library use and school performance appears to be parental influence.

Introduction

The Urban Libraries Project is a three year interdisciplinary evaluation measuring the impact of an eighteen million dollar renovation project funded by the William Penn Literacy Foundation to branches of the Philadelphia Free Library system. The project is principally concerned with how major innovations in urban library services will enhance children's access to information. In this capacity, a team of researchers has been committed to documenting library usage through all three stages of renovation: preclosing phase, closed phase, and reopened phase.

As a research associate with the Urban Libraries Project, I have initiated a photography exercise with fourth grade students at two elementary schools near a branch library where I have conducted qualitative research for the past two years. The photography exercise, which I have called - "Picture Perfect," fits within the larger frame-work of the Urban Libraries Project. Both projects attempt to situate library use in relationship to other aspects of children's daily lives. While I do not claim that the pictures these children took are necessarily representative of their dally lives, the photographs do provide a glimpse of what these children deemed "photo worthy."

Through Children's Eyes

The design of this project is hardly unique. The notion of "seeing the world through their eyes" was pioneered by Sol Worth who introduced the concept of a "bio-documentary" film which he defined as:

   a film made by a person to show how he feels about himself and his world.
   It is a subjective way of showing what the objective world that a person
   sees is really like In addition it often captures feelings and reveals
   values, attitudes, and concerns that lie beyond the conscious control of
   the maker (1981:3).

Worth applied this model with John Adair in the famous Navajo Film Project in the summer of 1966 when they instructed seven Navajo adults to make films of their own choosing. Subject-generated imagery has been co-opted in various bastardized versions (such as this one) ever since.

Richard Chalfen, a research assistant on the Navajo project, continued the Worth/Adair paradigm in his work with groups of Philadelphia teenagers (1981). In a slight vanation from his mentor's model, Chalfen called his method "socio-documentary" because he solicited groups rather than individuals to make films. He found two distinctly different patterns of filmmaking behavior: blacks from lower socioeconomic backgrounds preferred to show themselves and familiar aspects of their immediate environments ("look at me") in their films while more affluent whites preferred to create films of unfamiliar things and people found in areas away from their local environments ("look at me see") (1992:230).(1)

Robert Ziller extended and refocused the Worth/Adair approach to study the self concept-a method he calls "auto photography" (1990)-by substituting an Instamatic camera for a motion-picture camera. …

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