Category Archives: Reading & Literacy

An Opportunity to Directly Support Public Library Education

My friend from library school Laina Stapleton is now a school librarian in North Carolina and is in need of a little funding support to better the lives of her students. Before I say more about that, let me say something real quick about Laina. When I was in library school I, quite literally, thought I was going to fail out every semester. During my first year we were required to take a computer skills course, which included things like basic programming where we had to built a website. I was absolutely lost in this class, was struggling to build a website, and was hopeless at coding. Laina sat near me, and though she barely knew me, took absolute mercy on my soul and helped me through the whole process even though she barely knew me. She just did it because I was struggling. She is, you see, a good person.

Laina’s school is now looking for a little help to turn their library into a dynamic, 21st Century learner-centered environment. Here’s a little bit of info about Laina’s students:

We serve a large, diverse group of students in a mixed urban-rural setting. Many of them come from low socio-economic families; this area of our school system is the poorest. They are historically underserved and are a high immigrant population; we have students from Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Samoa and other Pacific Islands, Romania, Albania, and the highest population of Micronesians in our county. They bring their cultures, backgrounds, and experiences to school, creating a fairly unique learning environment that the library is truly the center of.

They visit the library of their own accord to 3D print, check out board games, socialize, access technology, talk books and reading, and as a safe space in an environment that can be volatile at times. They want to learn, to meet our high expectations, and are smart enough to recognize when we aren’t doing all that we can to help and encourage them and notice when things aren’t up to par.

Donations will directly support student learning in the library:

Our library has been undergoing a change beginning two years ago when both librarians arrived new to the school. Last year, we wrote a Five Year Collection Development and Library Management Plan. One of the goals is to update the physical appearance of the library to bring it into the 21st century and support our 1:1 program. We see an average of 120 students during our open tutorial period, 3 classes, and 17 individual students per day. Our furniture is approximately 30 years old and no longer viable for our programming.

It’s a wonderful proposal for a great person, so please donate to a cause that will really benefit the educational experience of North Carolina’s children. In this difficult political climate where many of us are not sure what we can do or how we can facilitate change, donations such as these, however small, can make a huge and direct impact onchildren’s education.

You can read more about Laina’s proposal (including a detailed breakdown of how donations will be spent) here.

UPDATE: The funding goal on this project has been reached; thanks to those of you who donated. You the real MVP’s.


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Filed under Education, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, Reading & Literacy

Libraries as Autonomy-Supportive Institutions

The librarian doesn’t tell me what to read, doesn’t tell me what sequence of reading I have to follow, doesn’t grade my reading. The librarian trusts me to have a worthwhile purpose of my own. I appreciate that and trust the library in return.

Some other significant differences between libraries and schools: the librarian lets me ask my own questions and helps me when I want help, not when she decides I need it. If I feel like reading all day long, that’s okay with the librarian, who doesn’t compel me to stop at intervals by ringing a bell in my ear. The library keeps its nose out of my home. It doesn’t send letters to my family, nor does it issue orders on how I should use my reading time at home.

The library doesn’t play favorites; it’s a democratic place as seems proper in a democracy. If the books I want are available, I get them, even if that decision deprives someone more gifted and talented than I am. The library never humiliates me by posting ranked lists of good readers. It presumes good reading is its own reward and doesn’t need to be held up as an object lesson to bad readers….

The library never makes predictions about my future based on my past reading habits. It tolerates eccentric reading because it realizes free men and women are often very eccentric.

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How to Survive This Shallow Hell on Earth?: Date Someone Who Reads, Science Says

Interesting article I came across today on Facebook outlining the value of reading, including the value of dating people who read.


The worst part about this looming extinction is that readers are proven to be nicer and smarter than the average human, and maybe the only people worth falling in love with on this shallow hell on earth.

Funny, with useful overview of of lots of interesting research about the value of reading. Whole article available here.

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Filed under Education, On Being Human, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, Reading & Literacy

Donna Tartt and Dandyism

I’ve got a new article up over at Ethos Review on “Donna Tartt and Dandyism: Lessons from The Goldfinch on the Art of Personal Style,” that I thought might be of interest to some of our readers into either fiction or clothes.

An excerpt:

there is not the Donna Tartt who authored The Goldfinch and the one with a high fashion sense who likes to wear bold colored Turnbull & Asser shirts and ties .  These two Donna Tartt’s are one in the same: the woman is a dandy, and it’s these same elements of her personal style that show up full-force in her serious work championing artistic vision as a way of life …

The dandy, according to Glenn O’Brien, “applies everything we have learned about aesthetics and from philosophy to our persons and to our environments.” What interests me about The Goldfinch, then, is not merely a Nietzschean aestheticism about the value of art. It is, rather, Tartt’s defense of the modern dandy, her case for style as noble art.  Art makes meaning – and this is why you’ll find Donna Tartt in a custom suit at four in the morning. She loves beautiful things, whether anyone else sees it or not.


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The Importance of Librarians and Reading for Student Learning (According to Cognitive Psychology)

A  key insight from the cognitive science of learning, as cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham puts it, is that “comprehension depends on background knowledge.” Elsewhere Willingham states that “[c]ritical thinking processes are tied to background knowledge.” Why?

The idea is that our working memory – what we’re currently thinking about right now – has a limited capacity. I can only think about so many things at one time. So, if we have to remember a bunch of background facts, it’s hard to process and think critically about something new; our cognitive processes are all tied up trying to remember various facts, so we don’t learn nearly as much as we could. This is, btw, a great argument for any parents out there struggling to respond to their child’s claims that they don’t have to memorize facts, because they can just go look them up online. By doing so, your kids, in fact, are making learning new things seriously more difficult for themselves, and will end up behind other people who bothered to memorize stuff and don’t now have their working memory complicated by trying to remember their multiplication tables and solve a new algebraic equation, too. Simply put, the more we already know about something, the easier it is to learn more. This is why our students’ background knowledge has an enormous impact on their future learning: they not only avoid a messy kind of cognitive overload by having to look up facts all the time, but they can learn new things quicker because they’re connecting it to background knowledge they already have (and why, say, some students coming into college aren’t “smarter” than others, but some may have more background knowledge, which makes it easier for them to pick up new information).

I mention this because I just had to look something up in Willingham’s wonderful book Why Don’t Students Like School? to get some info for a grant I’m finishing up, and this passage caught my eye:

The effects of knowledge described in this chapter also highlight why reading is so important. Books expose children to a broader vocabulary than virtually any other activity, and persuasive data indicate that people who read for pleasure enjoy cognitive benefits throughout their lifetime …

The school librarian should be a tremendous resource and ally in helping children learn to love reading, and she is arguably the most important person in any school when it comes to reading.

I thought this would be of interest to librarians: given the basic 101 stuff about memory I outlined at the beginning of this post, librarians, especially school media specialists, can have a huge impact on students’ future learning and critical thinking, because the more one likes to read, the more background knowledge they’ll pick up. Reading good books not only has enormous emotional benefits, it has huge cognitive benefits, too.

Real interesting, I think, in explaining the crucial – and hugely substantive role –  librarians can play in education, and also another really interesting takeaway from the science of learning that librarians can apply, and use to advocate for, their work with students.

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Filed under Education, Library Instruction, On Being Human, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, Reading & Literacy, The Library Game

Friday Quote

Not long ago, an English writer telephoned me from London, asking questions. One was, “What’s your alma mater?” I told him, “Books.”


I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.

-Malcolm X

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Friday Quote

There’s more to life than books, you know. But not much more.

-Morrissey, “Handsome Devil” (The Smiths)

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Readers are the Best People (and Lovers), Science Says

There’s been a lot of studies recently talking about how “deep reading” of good literature has many benefits in terms of emotional intelligence. An recent article, “Why Readers, Scientifically, Are the Best People to Fall in Love With” outlines some of this work:

According to both 2006 and 2009 studies published by Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, and Keith Oatley, a professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, those who read fiction are capable of the most empathy and “theory of mind,” which is the ability to hold opinions, beliefs and interests apart from their own.

They can entertain other ideas, without rejecting them and still retain their own. While this is supposed to be an innate trait in all humans, it requires varying levels of social experiences to bring into fruition and probably the reason your last partner was such a narcissist.

Did you ever see your ex with a book? Did you ever talk about books? If you didn’t, maybe you should think about changing your type.

It’s no surprise that readers are better people. Having experienced someone else’s life through abstract eyes, they’ve learned what it’s like to leave their bodies and see the world through other frames of reference.

Since relationships require understanding another’s perspective and recognizing their existence independent from your own, people who read good books – the one’s that get us to feel what it’s like to be another person – have, through reading, learned, in effect, to be better partners.

According to Psychologist David Comer Kidd, at the New School for Social Research, “What great writers do is to turn you into the writer. In literary fiction, the incompleteness of the characters turns your mind to trying to understand the minds of others.”

This is proved over and over again, the more people take to reading. Their ability to connect with characters they haven’t met makes their understanding of the people around them much easier.

They have the capacity for empathy. They may not always agree with you, but they will try to see things from your point of view.

Do y0ur partner a favor and read a good book!

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Love of Reading Matters for Student Achievement: Some Empirical Research from Educational Psychology

A study in the most recent Journal of Educational Psychology by Jihyun Lee, “Universal Factors of Student Achievement in High-Performing Eastern and Western Countries,” sets out to investigate whether there is a common set of attitudes or traits students exhibit that contribute to academic success. One thing that’s interesting about this study is that it’s one of the few that gives us cross-cultural data, East and West, on this important issue: “This study concludes that what motivates human learning is invariant across countries with vastly different educational, cultural, and language systems.” Something that should be especially interesting to librarians is Lee’s finding that one of the main things that motivates learning across cultures was a love of reading.  From the abstract: “[e]njoyment of reading in particular was a strong predictor at both individual and country levels” for student success (particularly in the area of student success with reading comprehension skills). In short, students attitudes toward reading – whether they like it or not – has a lot of to with how well they do in school.

This is all very interesting for librarians, as it illustrates the substantial educational role we can play in facilitating student success, from K-12 School Media Specialists to reference & instruction librarians in academic libraries. And, again, it extends our scope beyond just helping students find resources; it shows how instrumental we can be in determining how students feel about their education. As I’ve argued  in my scholarly work about authentic engagement with students’ interests, students’ level of engagement and interest with their work impacts their motivation to learn, which, in turn, can impact how much they do learn: How we feel about what we’re learning impacts whether we learn it. One way for library practitioners to benefit from the research in education, then, is to develop strategies to figure out how we can share our love of reading with our students, to instill those feelings in them as well.

Pediatricians are now (literally) prescribing books for children’s health; no reason (academic) librarians can’t try to change how students feel, as well.

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Filed under Education, Library Instruction, On Being Human, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, Reading & Literacy

Mind Reading and Literary Fiction

We’ve touched recently on the topic of whether librarians can help students develop emotional intelligence and, also, on the topic of whether academic librarians should be pursuing reader’s advisory.

NPR discusses some pretty interesting research bearing directly on both of these issues:

Your ability to “read” the thoughts and feelings of others could be affected by the kind of fiction you read.

That’s the conclusion of a in the journal Science that gave tests of social perception to people who were randomly assigned to read excerpts from literary fiction, popular fiction or nonfiction.

On average, people who read parts of more literary books like The Round House by Louise Erdrich did better on those tests than people who read either nothing, read nonfiction or read best-selling popular thrillers like The Sins of the Mother by Danielle Steel.

Do you think this means my kitten will start to understand how I feel when he bites my ankles at 5am every morning?


Probably not. But some very cool possibilities available to the innovative academic librarians of the future!

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