Beloved Elaine Wells BKWTR Grant Program Continues


During the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year, the Oakland Literacy Coalition was proud to continue the beloved Elaine Wells Books Kids Want to Read (BKWTR) grant program, named for former FOPSL board member and longtime school library champion Elaine Wells, for Oakland’s school library staff to purchase new books for their collections. This year, the program saw a remarkable increase in funding, with a $75,000 grant for elementary schools and a $15,000 grant for secondary schools, representing over a 300% increase from the previous year. With this significant boost, OUSD’s library staff were invited to apply for up to $5,000 for new library books; we received applicants from 41 schools, and all who applied were awarded at least $1,000!

This school year, over 95% of public school students in Oakland are served by professionally staffed libraries, a thrilling number for both members of the OUSD community and school library advocates who have been tirelessly advocating for staffed libraries. However, with the Measure G funds earmarked for school libraries now going primarily to fund library staff positions, schools have little remaining for collection development. The BKWTR grant is especially important this year as it provides a means for schools to purchase new books for the library. Keeping the collection current is vital to a culturally responsive library: school libraries must continually adapt to the needs of the communities they serve, ensuring that their collections evolve to reflect and support the identities and interests of students.

Multilingual titles are in high demand

For many schools, recent demographic shifts have revealed the need for books in the home languages of growing populations of newcomer students. At Allendale Elementary, for example, 42 percent of students are Spanish-speaking English Language Learners, but Spanish books comprise only 4 percent of the library’s collection. Library Tech Jaelynn Wilson of Fremont High, in her BKWTR application, describes her goal of developing a library collection that centers her school community of Mam, Spanish, and Arabic-speaking students, ensuring that they will find library books they can read in their home languages. She also plans to make sure that there are English language versions of the same texts because “student friendships are not hindered by language barriers. Even if students speak different languages from each other, they can still read the same book, develop their own understanding of it, and know that their friend is reading the same material.” 

The need for books in multiple languages is a pervasive theme throughout the library community, and the majority of applicants indicated this was a priority for their collections. This sentiment is echoed by Sam Solomon, teacher librarian at Life Academy who writes:  “I have found that students who read in languages other than English still prefer to read the same most popular titles as their English-reading peers. For example, the top 10 most circulated books in Spanish in the library right now are all titles that are part of our top 50 English circulating books, including books from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Karen McManus Mysteries, a biography of BTS, and books from the Dog Man/Cat Kid Series.” A collection that reflects the languages spoken by the school population represents a much-needed step toward educational equity, ensuring all students have access to captivating reading material. 

The need for high-interest books

A model school library is a space where students feel welcome, and where they can make independent choices about what they read based on their interests. High-interest books not only attract students to the library but can motivate reluctant readers to explore literature and develop a love for reading. They also provide opportunities for students to explore different genres, topics, and perspectives, fostering critical thinking and creativity. Additionally, stocking shelves with the books that students ask for contributes to a positive reading culture in the school community, which in turn supports students in developing their literacy skills. 

On their BKWTR applications, library staff indicated graphic novels and manga were regularly requested by students, and this award offered an opportunity to provide these books. Other areas of need were replacing highly circulated books that were damaged or lost, replacing missing volumes of series, and acquiring newly published series. For many schools, the BKWTR award afforded the only opportunity to be responsive to student wish lists, allowing them to feel seen and heard.

This helps cement the ethos of the school library, to be a safe, welcoming place where students can be themselves, see their identities welcomed and affirmed,  and grow their love of reading. A thriving school library is one that students want to be in – not that they have to be in. 

The Oakland Literacy Coalition School Library Partnerships program extends a heartfelt thanks to Stephen and Ayesha Curry’s Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation, the Quest Foundation, and individual donors whose generous support makes the Elaine Wells Books Kids Want to Read grant program possible. 

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