Students and faculty checked out 3,587 books from the Upper School library last year. That isn’t a misprint or a statistical anomaly; the library is indeed an active and popular place to kindle the intellectual curiosity of the entire community.
Looking at checkout trends, it appears that Catlin Gabel has a cerebral contingent of readers. The most popular genre of books
checked out is, surprisingly, math and science. Historical fiction, current events, fantasy fiction, and graphic novels round out the other popular genres.
Books that are considered “fluffy” fiction best-sellers are not as popular on our campus. Generally, the most checked-out books are complex enough to spark interest, but not exceedingly dense. Top titles include Brave New World, Slaughterhouse Five, and After Dark.
One of the biggest programs the Upper School librarian, Sue Phillips, has implemented is summer borrowing. In 2004, all materials in the library were locked up for summer vacation. Now the Catlin Gabel community can check out books to take home for the summer. Some faculty even bring shopping bags to fill up with books at the end of the school year. Phillips reasons that since everyone is so busy during the school year, the summer offers a prime opportunity to rest, relax, and read books.
Phillips says that the books that are added to the library annually are based on the quirks and interests of the community. With some students who have never checked out a book, and others who spend the majority of their time in the library, there is a wide range of interests.
Last year, the most titles one student checked out was 55, and the top faculty member checked out 68 titles. Ten students checked out 16 or more titles.
Phillips stresses that “Libraries are built on relationships.” She relies on the recommendations of students and faculty to determine which new books to purchase. She gave an example of a student who loves graphic novels, who frequently suggests new graphic novels and comic books to purchase.
The Upper School Library is supported by the Jonske Fund, an endowment set up by the family of Karl Jonske, so there is a significant number of new books purchased solely for pleasure reading, and not academic purposes.
In the 2011-12 school year, the library added 344 additional titles. Since there are approximately 11 thousand current titles in the library, this is about a 3% increase. Every year, anywhere from the low to mid-300 titles are added.
The library is also finding its way into the classroom. Just 11 years ago, when Phillips stepped in as the Upper School librarian, only the English department worked with the library to integrate book check-outs with the classroom. Now every department, including arts and modern languages, has found a way for students to supplement class work with resources from the library.
Considering the massive influx of resources from the Internet, it is becoming more and more important to hone the ability to discern accurate and useful information. Phillips frequently visits different classes to teach students how to judge the quality of materials found in databases and websites.
Of course, the digital era also promises to bring significant change to the role of the library. Phillips is considering purchasing Nooks and/or Kindles to supplement paper books. She says that data will need to be gathered to find how to best use resources to purchase E-books or electronic textbooks.
One issue the library will have to make a decision about is which E-book carrier to choose. Some popular carriers like Amazon may hurt the library’s value with their proprietary format, which stores far too much personal information on its readers and restricts the ability to use or share the E-book.
Even though many students do not check out books on a regular basis, most students use the library daily as a place to study. In a recent survey sent out to the Upper School, the students overwhelmingly responded that they wanted the library to always remain a quiet place to study. In the words of Phillips, “It is bucketloads more work to keep a quiet library than to have a chatty library. But we need it.”