I had planned to write about something totally different today, but I got an email from an assistant principal on Monday that has been plaguing me ever since. This is a paraphrased version of the email I received, slightly edited to remove personal details.
Our librarian's policy is that when a student forgets to return their book during their scheduled library time, they're not allowed to check another book until the other one is returned. That student is also instructed to sit away from class and wait until library is over. The students who constantly forget to return their books never get a chance to check out more books, and they also do not get exposed to library instruction. I would like to provide feedback for the librarian to change the system she has in place and also develop more ways to motivate the student to take ownership in responsibility of leaving books at home. Do you have any suggestions?
Oh, you'd better believe I had suggestions... 🙂
Here's how I responded, slightly edited to remove personal details:
Thanks so much for your email. I appreciate your concern about your students' exposure to effective library instruction. I am very passionate about library instruction in the 21st Century. In fact, I think it's more important now than ever before.
I have never been a fan of rigid checkout policies. While it is important for students to learn responsibility when it comes to borrowing library books, it's more important to me that the student gets to check out a book that he/she enjoys in the library. I want visiting the library to be an enjoyable experience, not a place where someone is nagging them or punishing them for not bringing books back.
That being said, there is a point where a line must be drawn. I have always allowed students to check out up to a maximum of 5 books. If they have late books, it is OK as long as they do not have over 5 books checked out. If a student already has 5 books checked out (and not returned), he or she is allowed to browse books in the library during checkout time, but cannot checkout.
In my opinion, the best thing you can do is gently voice your concerns to your librarian and come up with some new ideas together. You should also develop a school library policy with your librarian that clearly states expectations for student book checkout. I will have examples of these documents available on my website later this year.
Keep on fighting for what's best for students! I want them to love the library as much as I do.
Honestly, I'm still a little speechless.
If you're the librarian the email is referring to (or even if you're not - but could be), I beg you to rethink this archaic policy. Maybe it's your first rodeo and you're trying to protect your collection. Maybe you've been doing this for many years and just can't stand the thought of losing more books. I understand this to a point. We all know how frustrating it is for a brand new student to check out two brand new books only to find out that he or she moved to another school a week later... or when a student returns a brand new, only-checked-out-once book on the last week of school with wavy, once wet pages and all the library stickers peeled off (which may or may not have happened to me). 😉
As school librarians, we have to be good stewards of our school's investment in the library's collection. We certainly should teach students to be responsible with library books, and also encourage them to bring them back on time. But isn't the job of school librarian about more than being keeper of the books?
What's best for students?
My most important job as a school librarian is to facilitate student enjoyment of reading. It's probably not on the official list of librarian job duties, but it's what's truly important to me (and should be to you, too). Whenever an issue comes up in the library, my first question is always, "What is best for my students in this situation?"
Keeping students away from the library's resources is not what's best. Constant nagging about missing books and being punished for forgetting to bring a book back is also not what's best.
What's truly best for students is to help them love the library (psst... it's also what's best for librarians). We can do that by having a lenient, but consistent, policy for returning books on time. We can also help our students love the library by allowing them to use its resources even if they can't check out that day.
Isn't this teaching students it's OK to be irresponsible?
I can see where you could say that, but I'm not asking for students to be able to check out every book in your library without returning them. I'm simply asking you to be more flexible. If your current checkout limit is 2, increase it to 5. As long as a student does not have more than the maximum number of books checked out, let them check out even if they have a late book. Give gentle reminders, but don't nag. You can say things like, "I see you still have Green Eggs and Ham checked out. Were you able to finish reading it? What did you think?"
In the grand scheme of things, a few lost books are a small price to pay for making your library a more inviting and pleasant place for your students.
What's your policy for late books? Share your thoughts on this issue in the comments!
Patricia Iriana says
My lower elementary may only take one book a week. They also have extensive classroom libraries, so they have plenty of books to read and borrow. They may not take a book until they return the one they checked out. They participate in all other aspects of the class. I also have a shelf of books which I label "I forgot my book book!" These are books which were donated or I have many copies or some of those thin books which I don't put on my shelves because they just get lost. The label has the school name and says "please return this book along with your library book next week." They do not check these out, and I do not keep track of them in any way. I have told students that if they really liked the book, they could keep it.
I can understand students checking out 3 to 5 short story E books and maybe some non-fiction, but why would a student need more than one chapter book at a time, especially if they are coming to the library each week? I allow students check out two chapter books and then they end up turning them in the next week unread. I encourage students to check out 1 chapter book to focus on and if they end up not liking it, they can bring it back during our open circulation in the morning to exchange it for a different one. Letting students have more books is not the key to helping them gain a love of reading. Helping them find a book that holds their interest is key.
My annual library budget is $2600. I work at a Title I school. My current unpaid fines (for lost and damaged books) is sitting at $3800 right now. I collected $1200 in fines last year (many of which I had reduced due to financial hardship) and waived 100 during a canned food drive (can your fine promotion I tried out of desperation to get some of these cleared). I also waived a few by having students work with me in the library. Now of all these waived fines and the $1200 I collected, making s small dent in the disastrous fiscal state of the library, as I drill down and look at my reports, I recognize most of the names on there as students who I have waived fines for. They have checked out more books and lost (or kept) them. Several of them went to summer school where the librarian apparently let them check out books and they failed to return books there so now owe books to that school as well. Now, I am an unabashed bleeding heart and an idealist, there is nothing more important to me than getting books into the hands and homes, heads and hearts of these children. I work at the public library, the teen library program, and am the school librarian. I started a birthday book club whereby each child received a brand new wrapped book on their birthday. We also have a marvelous bookstore in our school run by a like-minded colleague which sells and trades used books for 50c! I head summer reading and have secured funding the past two or three years to also get students new books at the beginning of summer break as an incentive. I also use weeded books as prizes for library games and we do a book walk before school breaks to let kids earn weeded books as prizes. Point being, they are growing their home libraries and earning books. I also do several lessons on book care at the beginning of the year, they moan and groan at the Penelope Popper book doctor damaged book pdf (you should find it online there are some gnarly images).
I have tried: -increasing the amount they could checkout for older students, just got more books not retuned
-letting them get just paperbacks, they didn't like the selection and declined checkout, argued it, or didn't return the paperback
-letting them take a book from the used bookstore, not in the library system, just stamped, again abysmal return rate and other students began picking up on this that it appeared that some students were being rewarded with a free book for not returning their books or paying their damaged book fines, which is essentially correct
-having students "work it off", feasible only with older students who arrive early enough to come in the morning and are willing to do so, in which case- yes absolutely
-can your fine promo, I got lots of expired rusty cans and ended up trying to cart 100 cans out to my car before winter break and drive them all over town to find an open food bank but honestly I would do it again just to try and clear some fines- but maybe limit it to only pet food and take it to the animal shelter
-we now purchase those nice plastic library book bags for primary students each year to help protect their books in their backpacks, though they do tend to also just leave them at home there are many who use them all year long faithfully 🙂
This year I will print little ribbons and hand them to the teacher to put next to their class door that say "Our class returned all their books this week!" or some such. That's all I got.
Parents do not tend to pay their fines at our school (as you may have deduced). I am met with a lot of resistance. I am routinely cursed at and yelled at (I can assure you I am the picture of courtesy). It actually tends to be the most affluent parents who become the most outraged and take wet books to administration, who promptly ask me to relieve the fine. I'm just sort of deflated friends. Any ideas, no matter how small, would be welcome.
Patricia McGraw says
It sounds to me like you are doing your best to keep students engaged and feeling welcome in the library. It is so frustrating when they take advantage of your kindness by not returning books. I have the same problems in my K-12 affluent private school. I've had wallets thrown at me and rude phone calls. I think that sometimes they are embarrassed that they've forgotten books, so I always try to address overdue books in private, never in front of the whole class. I've tried giving stickers that say "I returned my book on time", but even that creates hurt feelings for the ones who don't get a sticker. For lost books, I give the students the opportunity to replace the book with something from their home library. Often times it's just a flimsy $5 paperback "Magic Treehouse" that's lost, and I don't want to nag a student over that, so I ask that they donate something to replace it. That seems to help. My total budget for new books is around $750 a year, which doesn't buy much and I really hate losing books. I really believe that denying a student access is the wrong way to go, no matter what. Telling a student they can't check out a new book because they have forgotten one, in my library, is like giving them permission to waste time and disengage....they can't get a book so they don't participate in anything and they often end up misbehaving. I really don't know what they answer is, but obviously I need to figure out what will work for my school, that's why I'm trying to find discussions about this on the internet!!
carol taylor says
While I agree about your concern for the library, librarians should be in charge of their library which fits their specific community. Each library/class/school is different. Since most librarians have an MLS, a graduate degree with most having a teaching degree as well, they should be left in charge to make policies as they see fit for their school library. They are the professional that was hired to do a job. If the principal wants change, they need to see the librarian and discuss possible solutions face to face.