Can an investment in school libraries pay dividends in student achievement?
The answer to that question, according to Canyons District library specialist Gretchen Zaitzeff, is an emphatic, yes.
With funding approved by the Canyons Board of Education, Zaitzeff and her team of librarians are spending much of their summer refreshing the library collections at each of CSD’s 28 elementary schools, Jordan Valley School, Diamond Ridge High and Union Middle. It’s hard hands-on work, the first step of which entails examining historical circulation data and tens-of-thousands of titles in search of outdated information and missing pages or bent covers.
“But it’s the right work,” Zaitzeff said while pulling from the shelves at Sprucewood Elementary a nonfiction book about Utah dating back to 1990 when Norman Bangerter was Governor. “In a District with lofty literacy goals, we think libraries are part of the solution. We are applying best librarianship practices to update these collections so that they have high-interest titles that meet the academic needs of students and get them excited about reading.”
The books in CSD’s elementary collections are 17 years old on average, according to a review undertaken in 2022. While many of the fiction titles continue to be relevant today, some are in poor condition. Other books simply need to be replaced.
“Some books have shorter shelf lives,” Zaitzeff said. “We have a book about computer technology that was published in the early 2000s before the popularization of smart phones.”
An investment of almost $1.6 million will allow for the replacement of the most beloved and well-worn titles as well as the purchase of new releases. The District will also be able to purchase books in the home languages of the 4,000 multilingual Canyons students and to support the District’s dual-language immersion programs.
“We’re also excited to make updated materials available to teachers in the classroom,” Zaitzeff said.
Librarians and paraeducators got a running start at Sprucewood early in the morning on Monday, Jan. 5 with the aim of completing by summer’s end at least 13 library upgrades. “We’re working as quickly as we can and ask for the community’s patience and understanding as we work through this process,” Zaitzeff said.
Some collections may, at first, seem skinnier than usual — mostly, because they are bloated with titles that rarely, if ever, leave the shelves. The collection at Sprucewood currently numbers 14,000 books, some of which were published in the 1950s, but is more appropriately sized at 5,000 to 7,000 titles.
Zaitzeff explained, there’s a science to organizing books and displaying them on shelves in such a way that beginning readers can find what delights them. Having more space will allow librarians to devote the topmost shelves — the ones that are physically out of reach of students — to colorful displays. It will also make it easier to group books into genres.
“We’ve been making steady improvements to our collections and are already seeing increased checkouts,” Zaitzeff said. In CSD’s elementary schools alone, more than 347,000 books were loaned out in 2022-2023.
“With the investments the District has made in the ‘science of reading’ instruction and new curricula,” Zaitzeff said, “this will allow us to continue to build on that momentum.”