The teacher librarian must work collaboratively with classroom teachers to select materials and design information-rich learning experiences.

SLJ coverHow do I know if materials are good or not? Do I have to read every book and watch every video?

Which are the best professional review sources?

Should I choose hardback or paperback books?

These are common questions of people just getting into the selection game. Buying materials looks like a lot of fun and it is. You get to spend the school's money on interesting and informative materials. The serious aspect is that you're responsible for making the best use of money.

You must select materials for both leisure reading and academic use, so it's important to be familiar with the popular tools of the profession such as School Library Journal. You need to please everyone, yet you have very little money. It isn't easy.

Remember that selection is only one step in the entire collection development process. It's essential that you consider the input from the other stages when you select. For example, the needs assessment may have identified a need for materials in the area of poetry or robotics but now you need to determine whether new items actually need to be purchased.

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How is selection a collaborative process?

Materials review and selection go hand in hand. To make the best use of funding, the media specialist must work collaboratively with the teachers to identify needs, review existing resources, select new materials, and build effective learning environments. Sometimes the media specialist takes the initiative and asks teachers about their curriculum needs. In other cases, teachers come to the teacher librarian with their ideas and requests. The key is creating positive working relationships so that the best possible materials are available for students in a timely manner.

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What are common selection situations?

Rather than thinking about selection as something that occurs once or twice a year, consider an ongoing approach.

Needs often arise at the spur of the moment. In this case, you may not have time to conduct a survey or collect data about circulation. koala book

Example - a teacher may decide to do a new unit on marsupials. She wants all the materials you have, plus she'd like some new ideas and materials. This is the perfect opportunity to build a collaborative relationship.

Standard. Start with the standards being addressed rather than a general topic.

Grade 2 Science

2.4.1 Observe and identify different external features of plants and animals and describe how these features help them live in different environments.

2.4.2 Observe that and describe how animals may use plants, or even other animals, for shelter and nesting.

2.4.4 Recognize and explain that living things are found almost everywhere in the world and that there are somewhat different kinds in different places.

Existing Materials. Discuss the types of materials already available and talk about what it needed. You may already have lots of good books on individual animals such as the koala and kangaroo. The Life Cycle series by Bobbie Kalman may be exactly what is needed. You may also point of the Zoo book magazine issues related to marsupials.

You could share the many websites that are available such as Marsupials at 42eXplore from eduScapes.

Materials Needs. In the end, your and your partner may find that you don't need new resources. Instead, you need to consider meaningful activities that make good use of the materials you already have.

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How do I plan for selection?

Rather than just going through the review sources and buying the "starred" items, the selection process involves a number of steps.

Your activities often start with a call for assistance from teachers. Here are some examples.

Once you've met with the teacher and discussed the needs, it's time to begin a materials review. From the questions above, you'll notice that some projects may involve the selection of new materials, while others may make use of existing items from the physical or virtual collection.

  1. Establish the need for the materials review
  2. Identify existing materials in the physical and virtual collection
  3. Identify weak areas or areas of need in particular standards-based areas
  4. Develop or refer to your selection policy statement and criteria
  5. Explore online and print review sources
  6. Meet with teachers in areas that might be using the materials with students
  7. Recommend additional materials to be purchased in the area
  8. Justify the specific additional materials
  9. Recommend specific ways of using the materials in the curriculum

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What does a materials review project look like?

Let's say you're working with the topic of the Ancient Rome with a sixth grade teacher.

The Goals and Standards. First, you'll need to find out more about the unit being taught. Check out the state standards related to social studies at this grade level for the specific, required knowledge and skills.

Search for and examine those for Grade 6 Social Studies: Standards at the Indiana Department of Education. Look specifically for standards related to the history of the Roman Empire (Hint: look at the 6.1 section).

What exactly is the content? What types of materials from the center will be needed? For example, this teacher may be interested in the politics, culture, food, transportation, philosophies, architectures, or battles of Ancient Rome. Or, the class might focus on comparing Ancient Rome with another civilization. In order to identify the best materials, you need to know the specific goals and objectives. You also need to know the activities being considered. Will the unit focus on fiction or nonfiction materials? Will it cross disciplines or focus just on social studies? What formats of resources are needed (i.e., books, videos, websites, databases)?

Collection Analysis. PBS Romans VideoNext, identify what is already available in the physical and virtual collection. Conduct a mini-map of collection areas being covered. List all the materials you have on the topic identifying the general content, approach, special features (i.e., photos, timelines, easy reading), reading level, and interest level of the materials. You need a clear picture of what you currently have available including format, quality, and quantity. Consider all formats and types of materials including reference, fiction, nonfiction, print, video, kits, periodicals, vertical files, and professional materials. Remember your videos such as the PBS series The Roman Empire in the First Century. Be sure to remember your digital collection including electronic databases, streaming videos, and websites. Think about the grade level, interests, scope, and depth of the materials. Also consider individual differences. For example, the BBC: Romans website was built for slightly younger students, however it would be easy-to-read for sixth graders with poor reading skills.

roman cartoonIdentify Needs. Once you know what you have, you are ready to identify weak areas and needs. What should to be purchased to fill in the gaps? Or, what free materials can be gathered? For example, a pathfinder already exists to quality online materials at Ancient Rome at 42eXplore from eduScapes. Match the materials you currently have with the goals and objectives of the unit. Will enough materials be available? Will the correct types of materials be available for the projects the teacher has in mind?

Make Purchase Decisions. Just because materials are available, doesn't mean they need to be purchased. You can't spend your entire budget on one instructional unit. Consider whether the materials can be used in more than one way. For example, a general book on Italy may be used by fifth grade students studying countries and by sixth grade students studying Ancient Rome. You need to justify each item and weigh it against the other purchase priorities.

Share Materials. When materials arrive, you want them to be used. Create an electronic pathfinder that can be posted at your website. This web page will guide students and teachers through the use of the materials. Create a list of the existing resources as well as new materials and describe their intended use. Included a full citation of items, summary of the materials, and major strengths and features of each item. Features might include ideas for using visuals on a bulletin board timeline, photos that would make good story-starters, or quality glossaries. For example, the DK books like Ancient Rome by Simon James generally have great illustrations. Rome book by DKHighlight materials at your physical location as well as virtual materials. Provide suggestions about how materials could be integrated into the classroom, key words for student searches, a basic vocabulary needed for inquiry-based activities, and strategies for exploring the topic. Be sure to let all the teachers know when the materials are available and the pathfinder posted. You may want to package materials into a kit or learning center that can be transported to the classroom in a thematic bag or colorful plastic box. Consider ways to promote your new bundle of materials and generate enthusiasm by teachers and students.

Reflect. Before jumping into your next project, consider what you learned in this project. What went well? What should be changed for the next material review and selection activity? How could you get teachers more involved with the process?

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How should materials be selected?

The actual selection of materials is a small part of the "selection" part of the collection development process. You may have ten materials review projects going at the same time along with your regular selection practices. In addition, you have the short and long term collection development goals that have come out of your needs assessments.

Materials Review. These are projects that focus on particular learning standards, thematic topics, or instructional units. Often material reviews are conducted when collaborating with a teacher on a particular project such as working with a high school science teacher on materials related to genetics.

Regular Selection Practices. Library media specialists are constantly accessing review sources, attending conferences, and reading review periodicals. These are a regular part of locating current materials.

Short Term Goals. Most media specialists have short term goals. For example, a high school media specialists might set a short term goal related to meeting the needs of three new AP courses being offered next fall.

Si le das un panecillo a unalce coverLong Term Goals. Sometimes there are selection needs that can't be addressed by subscribing to an electronic database or purchasing a DVD. For example, expanding the Spanish language section may take time and money. You might spend a year seeking grant sources, more time taking with parents and teachers, and another year collecting materials such as Laura Joffe Numeroff's If You Give A Moose a Muffin or in Spanish, Si le das un panecillo a un alce.

Keep lists of what's needed and why. Maintain word-processed documents as part of your collection development policy and procedure handbook.

On these lists you need to identify specific needs:

Some need areas that are not a priority may stay on the list until you see a good new book reviewed. You might keep your eye out for recommended audiobooks in School Library Journal. The January 2004 Issue of SLJ, 50(1) contained a review of the audiobook Dream Bearer by Walter Dean Myers (Middle school) and Alt Ed by Catherine Atkins (High School). (Access to SLJ sites will require login)

In cases of immediate need, you might quickly explore Amazon to see what's available.


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What are some general selection considerations?

Selection is the process of deciding what materials are to be added to a collection. you need to consider both quality and quantity issues. Do you buy a mediocre item you really need now, or wait and how for something better to come along?

Below are some general guidelines to consider:

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How do I establish a selection policy and procedures?

A selection policy should contain general statements about why materials are selected and who is responsible for selection. Part of your policy should include selection criteria. you'll want to select the best parts from a number of criteria sets to make up your own personal criteria. Some people like to state criteria as statements and others as questions. A formal checklist or selection form is another option. This form can double as a consideration file form.

Some ideas for selection criteria are listed below:

Needs Connection

Intellectual Content

Physical Form

Hardware Selection


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What sources are useful in selected materials?

The most common source of information for selection is a bibliographic aid. These aids include books, periodicals, and websites containing reviews of materials. When possible, it's nice to be able to conduct your own evaluation rather than rely on someone else's review. For example, some publishers provide previewing services where you can examine books or videos through mail or the web. Other publishers have exhibits and displays at state and national conferences where materials can be examined. Some local and regional groups also set up viewing times during meetings. Technology consortium are available in some areas that provide materials for checkout and review.

Web-based demonstrations and trials are also sometimes available. For example, if you go to Scholastic's Librarians Section , you can read information . You can also visit sections for Teachers Resources and Tools and Scholastic Books for Young Children and Adults.

scholastic logo

Professional colleagues are also good sources of information. Often conference sessions will feature speakers discussing the latest books and materials.

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What the difference between a quality bibliographic aid and a sales catalog?

A number of bibliographic aids are available. These tools include catalogs, books, and periodicals. As you evaluate these tools consider the source of the information. If the aid contains advertising, the reviews may be bias. Be certain that independent evaluators are used. Also, look at the criteria used for review.

Use caution when reading publisher fliers and catalogs. Keep in mind that they are trying to sell their products. Even though they may contain excerpts from professional reviews, be careful. Unless you've read the entire review, you haven't gotten the complete story. For example, the excerpt review might say "...the best book of the year..." However, the entire sentence might read, "This could have been the best book of the year on the French Revolution if additional care had been taken in documenting the facts. Because of a number of errors and misquotes, this book is not recommended."

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What library media journals contain reviews?

Professional journals are one of the most popular type of bibliographic tools. They often contain reviews of books, videos, audiobooks, websites, and other materials. It's important to get to know the philosophy and perspectives of the various review sources. Although expensive, they're worth it. Many journals also contain great professional articles and other essential information. School Library Journal and School Library Monthly are examples of journals that contain more than just reviews.

If you can't afford copies in each building, circulate the periodicals. Once you've read an issue, send it to the next person on the list. The nice thing about being part of a list of people is that you keep up with the reading because you know someone is waiting for the journals. It's also a good way to share ideas between buildings in a district. Everyone writes and shares comments on the pages of the journal. The journal often ended up with dozens of post-it notes with valuable ideas and connections that everyone has contributed. In some cases, this is even a way to share the cost of materials. For example, each school might buy one part of an expensive collection. The collection could then be shared among buildings.

The Horn Book MagazineThe Horn Book magazine is a well-respected sources of reviews. You can read about the history of the publication to get a feel for the perspective and philosophy. you can explore the current issue and visit the Resources for Librarians online. They also maintain a list Recommended Books. A subscription is available.

There are three places that you can find information for making selection decisions: professional journals, selection and review tools, and reader advisory sources.

eye means readExplore Collection Development Resources (Previously assigned reading). Look for materials that could be useful in making collection decisions.

Compare and contrast the most popular professional review journals. Ask yourself the following questions:

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What other journals are useful?

In addition to journals focusing on the library media field, many subject area periodicals also contain reviews. Journals such as Learning & Leading with Technology (publication of ISTE) focus on technology tools and software.

The Reading Teacher and Science Teaching often contain reviews in these subject areas. Appraisal: Children's Science Books reviews science materials.

Often bibliographies are listed in articles. In other cases, selected bibliographies are published as part of a series. How do you know if the books on the list are good?

Use the following criteria when using bibliographic lists:

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What bibliographic aids are available online?

From Amazon to Powells you'll find an endless sources of reviews and purchasing opportunities online. The advantage to these resources is their ease-of-access. The down-side it that most are focusing on sales and may not provide the best access to up-to-date or accurate information. Many of these sites carry excerpts from journal reviews, however be certain you're getting the complete version.

These websites are excellent for making an initial list of options. Then, go back to School Library Journal, The Horn Book and others seeking good quality reviews before purchasing.

It's also fun to see what children say about books. Book Review Projects at Teacher Tap from eduScapes contains a list of website that contain reviews by children and adults.

You may also want to see out award-winning resources. Go to Book Awards at Teacher Tap from eduScapes for lists of individual, state, and specialty awards.

Most of the big bookstore website now carry DVDs, software, and digital devices. However, when searching for electronics, look at reviews from places such as CNET.

There are many other sources that may be useful as your review materials. For example, reader advisory and literary criticism websites often help identify those items that would fit particular needs.

eye means readRe-examine the materials found at Collection Development Resources (Previously assigned readings):
Web-based Selection Tools
Web Bookstores
Reader Advisory

Also look for materials that could be useful in making collection decisions. Explore these resources at Teacher Tap from eduScapes:
Book Review Projects
Book Awards

Software Reviews

Spend some time comparing the information provided. Are professional reviews listed? How are items organized and rated?

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What core collection bibliographic aids are available?

Print-based and web-based bibliographic aids can be effective in building core collections. These materials are available for both print materials as well as electronic materials.

Example - Bowker publishes Books in Print.
This bibliographic aid is used to identify books currently in print. Although your library may not afford the print version, you may use a "hand-me-down" from another library or school. Many people also use the on-line version.

Example - H.W. Wilson publishes well-known catalogs including Children's Core Collection, Middle and Junior High Core Collection, and Senior High Core Collection.

Example - EBSCO Information Services are known for their print and electronic journal subscription services.

eye means readExplore Core Collection Bibliographic Aids (Previously assigned reading). Look for materials that could be useful in making collection decisions.

The Read-Aloud HandbookThere are many books that specialize in book lists. Look for reviews of these books before buying. Look for well-known and respected authors. For example, you will find a list of good read-aloud books in Jim Trelease's The Read Aloud Handbook.



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What's a consideration file?

A consideration file contains items you are currently considering for purchase. The file can take many forms. A word processing document, database, or electronic spreadsheet can be used for this file. Consider a spreadsheet with the categories of title, author, publisher, copyright date, ISBN, cost, review source, curriculum connections, grade level, and priority number for each item. Regardless of your method, you need to keep your options organized. You never know when you may get extra money that must be spent immediately. By organizing your materials by priority, you'll always be ready.

Click the image below to download the sample spreadsheet:

sample spreadsheet

When establishing priorities, consider a numbering system. This will make it easier to sort your consideration file. You may also have different categories of items such as immediate purchases, when possible, wish list, replacement items, and duplicate copies needed. Also consider those items that are needed for the curriculum versus items for leisure reading. Where are your priorities? Your list will always be much longer than your funding.

Get teachers involved with selection. Rather than a formal committee, consider an email discussion or forum where ideas can be posted and shared. Also get teachers involved with seeking new materials at conferences. Let the teachers know that you're interested in their suggestions and ideas. However be certain they provide ideas that can actually be used in the curriculum. In the same way, get students involved with book discussions and idea sharing.

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Is all of this a good use of time?

It may seem like you spend lots of time working with individual teachers on selection activities. This is often the case. Look for ways that the ideas generated in a few different projects can be generalized or shared with others.

After a successful materials review project, be sure to share you results with others. For example, you may have worked with one teacher on a read-aloud list. read-aloud logoHowever, you might find that all of the intermediate grade teachers are seeking good books. Developing a suggested list for each grade level might prompt discussion about the value of in-class read-aloud experiences. This might even encourage teachers to get involved with a state project like the Read-Aloud Books Too Good to Miss program (Indiana Library Federation).

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Check Your Understanding

info powerInformation Power: Learning and Teaching - Principle 3. The library media program models and promotes collaborative planning and curriculum development. (p. 58,

Describe a unit and specific standards. Discuss what types of materials in the library media center might be used in the unit. What kinds of activities would require library media resources?

Create a mini-map of the area of the collection. Look for strength and weak areas. Consider the reading level, development level, and interests of the students.

Develop a set of criteria for evaluating materials. Open the Word Document titled Selection Criteria. Use this as the basis for your own checklist.

Create a pathfinder of suggested materials, grade levels, and descriptions. Brainstorm ways to use specific books in the classroom.

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Make It Real

shelvingSelect a content area standard.

Then, examine materials in a library collection related to this standard.

Look for non-print resources.

What are the areas of strength and weakness?

What kinds of materials would you need to help you address these weaknesses?

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