Q&A: Patrons Ask; Librarians Answer. Where do you keep your Level K books?

Children’s Librarians talk with parents, caregivers, and children all day, every day. In October, many parents find out their children's reading level from tests given at school. Their children's teachers may encourage them to find books at that level at the library. So where do we keep them?

Q: Where do you keep your Level K books?

A: The short answer is that Oakland Library doesn't label books with reading levels using any of the systems associated with proprietary testing...

...however, we do have areas of the library that gather a range of reading levels together. This allows readers to browse an area that encompasses their reading level and includes choices of subjects, visual presentations, genres, and writing styles. Our hope is that (without too much effort) readers will find books that appeal to them and are close enough to their reading level. 

So, when you ask us for leveled books, let us show you the section that includes the level you need. At that point, many readers decide to get any books that look interesting and seem close enough to the right level.

We basically have 4 categories; ReadersMoving UpFiction (I like to call these Chapter Books), and finally Picture Books, which often means books meant for an adult to read aloud to a child, but includes many different reading levels.  Also, we have Non-Fiction Readers, Regular Non-Fiction, and Picture-Book-Non-Fiction at most library locations, so a person can find informational books at different reading levels, too. 

However, if we have time and you're committed to finding the specific suggested level, you can get any book that looks good, and we will look it up online to find out its reading level.  The process of looking up each title is time-consuming, but it is very likely that you'll get a feel for the level after a dozen searches or fewer, and then you can guess the level yourself. We would use these sites to search by title; Scholastic, opens a new windowAR, opens a new window, or Lexile, opens a new window

The owners of these sites do not enter every book ever published, but between them, we can usually find your title. You can also use these sites to find other titles at the same reading level. In fact, trying that sort of search a few times will give you some perspective of the strengths and weaknesses of leveling books.

Q: What does level "R" mean, anyway? How do I make sense of those "proprietary" leveling systems?

A: Ah, you want the long answer!  At my last count I found three systems that use the alphabet ("Fountas & Pinnell", "Reading A-Z ", and "Basic Reading Inventory" or "BRI"), four that use a numbering system ("ATOS" or "Accelerated Reader", "Reading Recovery", "Developmental Reading Assessment" or "DRA", and "Lexile"), and two that use terms ("Seedling" and "PM Readers").  Occasionally we find a chart, opens a new window or two, opens a new window that compares them to one another. However, another system could be invented while you are reading this blog!

The easiest one for me to make sense of is ATOS, because the numbers correspond to the grade level and the month of the school year. For example, ATOS level 3.5 means your child is reading at a level most commonly seen among students in the fifth month of third grade. It's tidy because there are 10 months in a school year – Yay for decimal systems! For that reason, I use ATOS as my benchmark to which I relate all the other leveling systems. You don’t have to, though.

Each proprietary system uses some kind of algorithm to calculate the level based on either the entire text or a sample of the text, some with a differential for the length of the book. For fun, paste something into this ATOS analyzer, opens a new window.  For example, this text is level 8.9, but the vocabulary is only 3.5, which means it was challenging, but well-worth reading, right?  

Oakland Public Library Children's Librarians are standing by to answer your questions!