New Options to Help Parents Navigate Books for Young Readers

Several new options for parents to navigate the library collection for young children are available and others are being explored at Kent District Library.

With Summer Wonder about to begin and tens of thousands of participants expected this year, the library has implemented several steps to help parents and young readers find prize books to suit individual reading preferences. Some of these enhancements also apply to the general library collection. Kent District Library acknowledges and supports the varied interests of readers, taking these steps to help readers navigate the extensive collection.

  • The review of potential Summer Wonder book prizes has been expanded. Having more eyes and minds reviewing the books helps to make sure that we have a good selection with broader appeal.
  • Each library branch will have a binder of fact sheets for each middle school and high school level book which show a book summary and reading age recommendations from professional review sources. Example sheets can be seen here and here. These sheets provide a link to Common Sense Media (see the summary of Common Sense Media below), if available. Books that are not reviewed by Common Sense Media will contain a link to the library catalog page, which includes reader reviews and journal reviews. In many cases, the publishers provide information about subject matter and reading levels.
  • Book prizes for youth will be physically separated from the middle school and high school books to lessen the chance of accidentally picking up a book from an unintended age group. It’s important to note that young readers often seek out reading materials with more mature content or above their reading level. Parents should be aware of their children’s reading interests and involved in guiding and advising them.

In response to inquiries about rating systems, KDL librarians have researched available resources and have been discussing the need with other libraries, publishers and library service providers. Here’s what they are working on:

  • Most, but not all, book publishers provide detail on subject matter and reading levels. When this information is available, it’s included in the catalog record. As an example, look at the catalog record for The Flames of Hope. In the ABOUT section, click on Full Details to learn more about the subject, genre, reading level, etc.
  • Common Sense Media is a resource to read reviews of books for kids. They have also worked with Kanopy to create Kanopy Kids. The library has taken a number of steps to tie-in with Common Sense Media:  
    • Each KDL branch has a full subscription to Common Sense Media so library staff can use it to assist patrons when seeking materials.
    • Summer Wonder prize book summary sheets include Common Sense Media review links, when available.
    • KDL is discussing with one of the world’s largest providers of library websites and catalogs ideas to integrate Common Sense Media book reviews with library catalogs.
    • Discussion is underway with several library systems around the country on ways to improve the way parents and kids navigate the collection. A common thread among all the libraries is that library staff are the most effective resource for helping parents navigate the collection.
    • A team of KDL librarians has thoroughly explored Common Sense Media to see how well it works to generate lists of titles that are free of sexual content, foul language, violence and drug/alcohol usage. Without a doubt, Common Sense Media is the leading service for helping parents navigate book content. The service enables parents to be informed in detail about concerning content in a particular title. We had hoped that using this resource would allow us to generate lists of content neutral titles; what we found, however, was that it is exceedingly rare to find items for older elementary students and teens that are entirely content neutral. To give an example, drug and alcohol usage could be noted in CSM for any of the following reasons: 1) a parent in the novel drinks a glass of wine; 2) A parent has an issue with addiction; 3) a friend casually drinks; 4) the main character struggles with addiction. Parents have varying reactions to these four scenarios, with some of these scenarios being judged acceptable for their child to read, while others would be judged as unacceptable. The beauty of Common Sense Media is that it strives to inform the parent about what to expect in a book so that those who wish to be more cautious can make good decisions about their child’s reading materials. It’s not a perfect system, but it appears to be the best system available. Therefore, it has been incorporated in all the ways described above.

In summary, Kent District Library has listened to and responded to the concerns of parents to implement many new steps in purchasing, cataloging, staff training and displays of the vast collection. Kent District Library is proud of the improvements made so far and continues to work on new and better ways to help people navigate all the great resources that the library offers.

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