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That's a long book-shopping list
New River's Pam Willoughby gets to spend $80,000 to stock the school's new library.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published October 7, 2007
WESLEY CHAPEL - Imagine walking into Borders with $80,000 in your pocket, all for children's books.
You'd be like a kid let loose in the toy store with a gift card from grandma, right? All excited to buy, but not sure what to choose.
That's how Pam Willoughby feels these days. She's got the reader's dream job of creating the initial library collection for New River Elementary School, which moves out of portables and into its new campus in February.
She's supposed to send in the final order in November. If the recently approved purchase list for Gulf Trace Elementary, which leaves Trinity Elementary for its new digs in January, serves as a guide, New River stands to have about 5,900 titles on the shelves when it relocates.
That's way smaller than the collection of a more established school. The amount is but a blip on the School Board's consent agenda, a minuscule portion of the district's $1.3-billion budget.
The relative smallness of the expense doesn't diminish the importance of the decisions, though. And Willoughby is well aware of it.
"I want to make sure the kids are getting literature that is recognized by reputable groups as good literature," Willoughby said. "I also want what they're interested in."
So how does a school go from zero to 6,000 books?
District policy governs some of the process.
The district expects schools to have titles that support the chosen curriculum and reflect community diversity, said Wendy Spriggs, who supervises all Pasco County school media centers.
The schools should have print reference titles, though they have fewer than in the past now that online materials are so readily available. And the district encourages the inclusion of award-winning titles, such as Caldecott and Newbery awards; classic literature and Sunshine State readers. Vendors often have lists of suggestions to help.
A collection also should be broad enough to encompass the wide range of student abilities and interests, Spriggs said. "You've got to consider your population."
Willoughby considers herself lucky because she will have had daily contact with her students for nearly three months before she has to make her final choices.
"You watch and see what the kids are reading," she said. "I ask every day. They tell me what they like."
She also relies on her 11-year-old son, Ted, for guidance, as well as the advice of three other media specialists she counts as mentors and friends.
As a result, Willoughby planned to have lots of books about animals and pirates, series including Harry Potter and the Spiderwick Chronicles, and fun titles including Junie B. Jones and Captain Underpants.
Wait. Captain Underpants? Is the black-and-white graphic novel really school fare?
"Part of it is, if you can get them in there reading something that they like, it gives you the opportunity to suggest something else to them," Willoughby said.
Kids who like the silly superhero might eventually get turned on by some other heroes, maybe the Greek gods of myth. Perhaps they'll enjoy some other humor titles, but with more words than pictures.
"That's a large part of my job, to get them to fall in love with reading," Willoughby said.
There's also the question of controversial titles. Gulf Trace is getting a copy of And Tango Makes Three, the most banned book of 2006, and New River has it on the order list, too. It's the true story of two male penguins who raise a chick together.
Willoughby acknowledged it's a fine line to walk between letting children know that a wide variety of views exist and making sure not to override community or family values. Still, she said, "My gut feeling would be not to censor."
That wasn't her final decision, though: "I do have a media technology committee to help guide me. I'm going to bring that up at my next meeting. Do we want to put any of the controversial books out there in the first collection?"
Overall, she called the book choosing process "an interesting journey," one that she looked forward to completing the first round and building upon into the future.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.