Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Guest Post: The Secret to Having it all @ Your Library

Image courtesy: This Book Is Overdue! by Marilyn Johnson
I’ve been a teacher-librarian at an elementary school for 5 years and this past year I absorbed the technology classes into my schedule. Struggling with how to manage a library, classes and over 100 laptops, I devised an experiment. I decided to Let it Go!

I’ve always been a bit of a control freak, so I took a deep breath and looked for those areas that I could let go. I’m proud to say that I let go of my collection: overdue notices, shelving and collection development. I let go of the bulletin boards and I let go of the book repair. Librarians are superheroes, but even a superhero needs a sidekick. I gave my library over to my community, the rightful owners. By giving them ownership, they felt more invested and worked with me to keep everything running smoothly.

Here are a few things I did that may help you out as you look for more time in your work day:

Children as young as 7 can learn to check out their own books. Think about it, their moms are already training them by using the self-checkout at the grocery store. I pull one child from the class - you know which one - the eager beaver and I train him/her to use the self-checkout system, how to troubleshoot simple errors. Then s/he watches the others checkout. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. (I keep a checkout station running behind my desk so I can do manual overrides.) Will there be a few books not checked out properly? Of course, but it’s a small price to pay for your time.

Check with your school district: chances are you may be allowed to have the circulation software on more than one computer. I placed my self-checkout station on a laptop, so I can easily relocate it, or gasp! take it into a classroom with me?!

Overdue Books:
A mentor once said to me, “Think of a book as a $20 pencil.” This is my mantra.  Books will come and books will go, relationships with the students are more important. Remember the ultimate goal of the library is to inspire young minds and to create life-long learners, not to squeeze a child out of his allowance. The relationships you form with students will influence their future feelings towards libraries and librarians. By all means, students should be held accountable, but there are kinder/gentler ways to do this without becoming a crazy book lady.  

First and foremost the responsibility should lie with the child. Borrowing and returning books is an exercise in responsibility. My older students attach their email address to the circulation software so they receive overdues via email. Younger students write notes to mom and dad, asking for help remembering their overdues.  After a reasonable amount of time, I reach out to parents via email or with the item’s bill. I always, always give the option for the parent to purchase the item from Amazon in like condition.

I allow students who have a lost book to work off their fines, but only if they genuinely can’t replace it.  My rule of thumb is to have them work ten minutes of their recess time for 3 days in a row. Students vacuum, wipe down tables, sharpen pencils, and dust the shelves, etc. I allow older students to re-shelve books, make bulletin boards, and perform simple computer maintenance. After the book is “worked off”, I make sure students know that their slate is wiped clean and that I do not hold a grudge, ever.

Collection Development - Let others Work for You!
I have a few methods for keeping my collection fresh.  I keep a public Amazon wish list that I refer students and parents to if they’d like to purchase an item for the library. I place a special bookplate inside, honoring the student. I promote this list on the school website and Facebook. Also, I use Google Forms to collect lists of wanted book titles, including ISBN. Navigating between separate tabs in a web browser and cutting and pasting is an important skill for students to learn.  If you’ve never used Google Forms, you’re missing out on an invaluable classroom tool! Here’s a simple form that you may use as a model.

I keep a running list on Follett Titlewave all year long of books that I may want to order. The collection development tool makes it simple to assess my collection weaknesses. Titlewave even suggests books to fill these holes. Another thing I do is survey the teachers every Spring and ask them where they felt the gaps in the collection were regarding their curriculum, again with a Google Form.  One of my favorite features in Titlewave is the bulk search. If you read a great article in SLJ, you can cut and paste the entire article into the search field. It picks out the ISBNs and populates a list for you. Wow! Think about how easy it would be to copy the ISBN field from your book request Google Form spreadsheet in order to search for those books.  Also, don’t forget that your book reps can make lists for you. Just ask!
Library Organization:  Dew-ey or Don’t We?

Yes, the Dewey Decimal system is wonderful, but I decided long ago that my collection needs to be easily accessible, especially for my youngest patrons. I still adhere to Dewey, mostly. This past year, student volunteers labeled our sub-3rd grade non-fiction with E stickers for easy locating. Popular subjects (dinosaurs, animals, transportation) are placed in free standing browse bins for quick selection. Not only does this make it easier for kids to find what they like, but the real bonus is
that these books are easy to shelve! I also use foldable cloth bins from IKEA on the shallow bottom 
shelves of my fiction bookcases for series paperback fiction. They fit so nicely! I label them with a 
picture of the series, and Velcro to the bin. Also,I recently pulled out all my little readers and organized them in awesome IKEA bins that are pre-labeled!

Remember - there is no rule that says your shelving cart  must be empty at the end of the day. No rule at all. I’m going to say it again. You can go home and leave things on your shelving cart! I’ve found that kids don’t mind taking books from the shelving cart. In fact, if it’s on the cart, it must be popular! I have a volunteer position that I call “Shelving Angel”. Several parents who know how to shelve occasionally stop by when they have a few minutes and they shelve. No scheduling required. Some of them even shelve during the monthly PTA meetings that are held in the library. Parents feel needed when you leave them things to help with.

Book repair - 10 minutes is too long!
This was a tough one to let go of because I’ve always wanted to be able to save every book, but the truth is, that’s impossible. I sat down and thought about how much my time is worth. I decided that if it takes more than 10 minutes to repair a book, it’s time to replace it. I hack fix many of my books. Nothing is off the table, duct tape, glue, construction paper. My goal is to circulate those popular titles a few more times. A school library is not an archive. One caveat, I strongly believe that stocking your library with ugly books sends the message to students that they are not worthy of nice things. My goal is to repair items quickly, but nicely. Of course, if you find a brilliant and neurotic volunteer (student or parent) who loves the challenge of tipping pages into your Captain Underpants books, the 10 minute rule doesn’t apply!

Pulling materials for teachers: - Get Them Involved
At the beginning of the year, I make sure my teachers know my preferences for requesting books. I prefer that my teachers know their way around the library and circulation software so that they can pull and checkout their own materials. Otherwise, I ask them to email me a list of titles through the OPAC. I have students pull these titles. I also make sure my teachers are aware that both our school district library and the public library will create book baskets for them within a two week window.

Displays and bulletin boards:
Students and parent volunteers can do these for you! Simple bulletin boards are the best. Have students write book recommendations, post student work, or tear apart some of those broken “Where’s Waldo” and “I Spy” books for a quick bulletin board!

How did my “letting go” experiment work out? I’m happy to report that it was a smashing success. I had more time for lesson planning and computer maintenance. I had more time to investigate Google Apps for Education. I had more time to reflect and refine my practice. I ended the year with only twelve outstanding student books, out of 415 students. The ultimate bonus is that I have created a space where everyone feels needed and welcome. I love it when students walk through the library as a “shortcut” on their way to class, just to say ‘Hi”. That’s when I know I’m doing it right! My next steps are to look for more places I can “let it go”!

Denise Cushing lives and works in Denver, Colorado


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