Books per Student

Ask a Librarian, March 2017

by Deborah B. Ford

Our state requires 20 books per student, but how many books per student meet the “recreational needs of a diverse student population”?—Sue in California.

[Sue wrote with a follow-up question to our webcast on diversity.]

The 20+ books requirement in California comes originally from an ALA recommendation. According to the ALA Collection Development website, the 20+ books is now a benchmark among current national surveys. No matter what state your work in, check your accreditation standards to see if it still applies. (I’ve looked and I don’t see the 20 books at all in the Western Association of Schools and Colleges standards.) South Carolina recommends the following for its libraries. (Notice there is no breakdown of the recommended number.)

When you do a collection analysis, it will give you how many books per Dewey number you should have per number of students, but it doesn’t give you recreational vs. curriculum, nor reading level parameters, nor diversity. As I said in the webcast, it’s difficult to even determine which books are diverse—and for that matter which kids are “diverse.”

In addition to that, only 12% of the books written for children are about or even written by diverse authors. (See the CCBC study for more details.) It’s hard to fill a requirement—much less a need—when there are few choices. I think it will be a long time before any kind of percentage could be part of the book per student ratio.

So, the short answer to your question is that there is no formula for how many diverse books per student you should have. And it will probably be a long time before there is one. In the meantime, all efforts you bring to the table at library can certainly help those who enter the door. Do the best you can with what you have.

Sue will receive a Librarians Rock sticker for submitting her question. How about you? What’s your question?

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