First Book and Education Researcher Susan Neuman Launch Groundbreaking Classroom Library Tool as Students Struggle to Access Literacy Rich Environments

Educator Survey Spotlights Inequity and Financial Hurdles of Building an Engaging and Effective Classroom Library

WASHINGTON, D.C. (August 17, 2022) – First Book, the largest online network of educators serving children in need, in partnership with literacy expert and education researcher Susan Neuman, is launching a new tool to assess and bolster the quality and equity of classroom libraries. The Literacy Rich Classroom Library Checklist offers a complete assessment of a classroom library’s book collection and design features to maximize student engagement and ensure the inclusion of equitable resources that reflect the needs and interests of children in need. Classroom libraries that meet their full potential in supporting student learning take into account the presentation of the physical space, the quantity, quality and diversity of books offered, and the frequency of use.

Informing this innovative assessment tool and accompanying its launch, First Book is releasing the findings of a new survey of more than 1,200 educators nationwide. This study reveals the costly and time-consuming process of building a literacy rich environment, considering nearly all educators (96%) are responsible for suppling some or all of the books and learning materials in their classroom libraries. On average, educators pay $346 out of their own pocket on books and materials in a typical year, and it takes nearly half of educators (47%) more than 6 years to build their classroom library. For many, these classroom libraries were decimated as educators gave out books to remedy students’ limited access to physical books as they transitioned to remote learning during the pandemic. As educators look to rebuild and strengthen their classroom libraries, especially those in low-income communities and Title I schools, it is essential to evaluate the literacy rich nature of these libraries to offer an equitable selection of resources to engage and capture the minds of our youngest readers in low-income communities.

“As we emerge from a pandemic that has shuttered libraries and severed access to high-quality books, classroom libraries will be the linchpin in reigniting student passion for reading,” says Susan Neuman, professor of teaching and learning at New York University. “There is a science to creating a classroom library that expands beyond the simple presence of books. With the guide of the Literacy Rich Classroom Library Checklist, we have provided a research-driven roadmap for educators to foster an environment that invites students, offers high-quality books and resources, and cultivates a love for reading that will drive equitable education outcomes and be foundational for future success.”

This tool addresses the damaging spread of book deserts and provides educators and school leaders with a resource to maximize the impact of classroom resources. According to the U.S. Department of Education, an alarming 2.5 million children are enrolled in districts where there are no school libraries. The pandemic has further strained student and community access to books, exacerbating student reading engagement and proficiency. These survey results represent the classroom library status of First Book members who have access to books at deeply discounted prices and therefore are more likely to have a broader classroom library than non-First Book members working in Title I classrooms. Even across this population, the survey reveals that 30% of classroom libraries fall short of meeting the literacy rich guidelines and educators currently see no way to meet them. These book deficits are especially pronounced in terms of access to diverse books, where one third of educators report that they don’t consider their book collections to have an adequate representation of diverse cultures. Despite having access to low-cost and free books through the First Book Marketplace, without a sufficient tool to evaluate book collections even educators with extensive classroom libraries over-estimated the quality and effectiveness of their classroom library until viewing this checklist.

“We applaud the valiant efforts of educators who recognize it is essential to build a classroom library offering 10-20 books per student that reflect the diverse and unique stories of their students, and that it is central to overcoming the reading level gaps that students, particularly in low-income communities are facing,” says Kyle Zimmer, president and CEO, First Book. “The fact that it takes nearly a third of our educators more than 10 years spending $346 a year of their own money to build their classroom libraries highlights the urgency of our mission to provide access to high-quality, low-cost and free books to support educational equity.”

The development of the Literacy Rich Classroom Library Checklist empowers educators to self-evaluate classrooms and better ensure high-quality, diverse resources that bolster libraries and support a more equitable education for all. The complete First Book Accelerator resource further supports the 96 percent of educators who have personally funded some or all of their classroom library books by offering a crowdsourced toolkit that includes insights on self-advocating for classroom funding.

As a result of this research, First Book will fund 200 classroom libraries across the country in an effort to strengthen student access to high-quality, diverse books and to support educators who have gone above and beyond to establish and fund the development of literacy rich environments.

The Literacy Rich Classroom Library Checklist is the product of a comprehensive research effort, conducted by First Book and Susan Neuman. The quantitative and qualitative undertaking included a literature review, field research and a nationwide educator survey to refine and optimize the classroom library evaluation tool, incorporating feedback and insights from educators serving children in need in Title I schools. The resulting resources have already been well-received by the educators in our survey who used it to assess their own classroom libraries. The survey indicated that 78% of educators found the checklist very or extremely useful in defining what makes a classroom library or reading area “literacy rich.” These free resources and the comprehensive research results can be found at firstbook.org.

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About First Book

Founded in Washington, D.C., in 1992 as a 501(c)3 nonprofit social enterprise, First Book is a leader in the educational equity field. Over its 29-year history, First Book has distributed more than 225 million books and educational resources, with a retail value of more than $2 billion. First Book believes education offers children in need the best path out of poverty. First Book breaks down barriers to quality education by providing its Network of more than 550,000 registered teachers, librarians, after school program leaders, and others serving children in need with millions of free and affordable new, high-quality books, educational resources, and basic needs items through the award-winning First Book Marketplace nonprofit eCommerce site. The First Book Network comprises the largest and fastest-growing community of formal and informal educators serving children in need.

First Book also expands the breadth and depth of the education field through a family of social enterprises, including First Book Research & Insights, its proprietary research initiative, and the First Book Accelerator, which brings best-in-class research-based strategies to the classroom via relevant, usable educator resources. First Book Impact Funds target support to areas of need, such as rural communities or increasing diversity in children’s books. For more information about First Book, please visit www.firstbook.org.

About Susan Neuman

Susan B. Neuman is a Professor of Teaching and Learning at New York University specializing in childhood education and early literacy development. Previously, she has been a Professor at the University of Michigan and has served as the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education. In her role as Assistant Secretary, she established the Early Reading First program, the Early Childhood Educator Professional Development Program and was responsible for all activities in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Act. She has served on the IRA Board of Directors (2001-2003), and other numerous boards of non-profit organizations, and served as Co-editor of Reading Research Quarterly (2011-2018), ILA flagship research journal. Her research and teaching interests include early childhood policy, curriculum, and early reading instruction, prek-grade 3 for children who live in poverty. Neuman has received two life-time achievement awards for research in literacy development, and is a member of the Reading Hall of Fame, and a Fellow of the American Educational Research Association. She has written over 100 articles, and authored and edited 12 books.