Library books shelf pixabay

Who says print is dead? Arlington Public Schools students checked out 1.044 million books and other print materials last school year, up from 2015-16 and the second year in a row the number has topped the seven-figure mark.

“While it’s not actually a big jump . . . it’s a million, and that’s kind of exciting,” said Theresa Flynn, supervisor of library services for the county school system.

(The record-setting total also resulted in a workout to the “very appreciated, very hardworking and very tired library assistants who do much of the shelving,” Flynn noted.)

The 1,044,420 total for the 2016-17 school year works out to just under 40 items per enrolled student. School officials reported that, on average, girls checked out slightly more books than boys; Latino students checked out slightly more than other racial and ethnic groups; and students in the ESOL/HILT program for non-native-English speakers checked out more.

Special-education students check out fewer books, on average, something school officials will follow up on, Flynn said.

Her Oct. 5 presentation to the School Board was a chance for officials to put in a plug for reading.

“I love to read for fun,” School Board member Tannia Talento said. “I fell in love with reading in the fourth grade with ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.’ It was a teacher that inspired me.”

But Ingrid Grant, president of the Arlington Education Association, said school officials needs to do a better job digging into data to see if all students are being instilled with a love of reading.

“I would challenge you . . . to break down what students are reading what. Are we challenging them?” asked Gant, who said she was speaking for herself, not the teachers’ organization.

School officials have invited U.S. Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden to speak at an upcoming conference for female middle-school students of color. “She would be a good motivator,” School Board member James Lander said.

School officials said that in addition to increases in the circulation of print materials, they are seeing other positive trends:

• Use of audiobooks and e-books went from 19,000 in the 2014-15 school year to 66,600 in 2016-17.

• Database views went from 353,800 in 2015-16 to 960-900 in 2016-17.

• The average age of the items in the school system’s collections has declined from 13 years in 2014-15 to 10 years in 2016-17.

The number of new materials added to collections last years – 55,081 – was down from a year before, but up significantly from 2014-15.

Flynn told School Board members that all the facts and figures would be irrelevant without the human component to accompany it.

“Librarians are leaders in the community,” she said. “We connect to literacy, we connect to the greater world, we connect to technology and we connect to the whole child.”