How to Be Brave: Book Checkout Limits and Sacred Cows
In School Library Journal’s October 2012 issue, the cover article centered on the hot topic of Dewey vs. METIS classification systems, but the best advice I found was in the “Next Big Thing” follow-up in March 2013 where Christopher Harris quoted a colleague saying,
“perhaps the best way to move forward with this discussion is to put the sacred cows back to pasture.”
My own experiment with simplifying Dewey to whole numbers this year is letting those cows out to wander around, and I’m excited to see how it turns out.
Another “sacred cow” of school libraries, however, is the book checkout limit, especially for young students.
One very brave colleague of mine started letting students check out 10 (yes, TEN) books at a time last school year. Even kindergarteners. Many librarians think of this and start having a mini panic attack. For readers who are not librarians, here’s what probably goes through our minds:
- OH MY WORD! Ten books, WHAT?!?!?! WHY would she do that?
- How does that even work? How does she get books back on the shelves and organized?
- My assistant (wait, I probably even don’t have an assistant) doesn’t have enough hours! I don’t either! I’ll spend my life shelving! UGH!! I can’t do that; I have a family who I love and want to spend time with!
- I teach students who can’t keep track of 1 or 2 books! How can I trust them with 10 items from the library!?!?
- How can I stay on top of MORE lost items, overdue items, parent calls about lost/overdue items, MORE tracking of MORE items!? I can’t even keep up now!
Now, librarian readers, take a deep breath!
Just stop and think a minute…after my colleague mentioned this at a department meeting, first I panicked, then I started thinking and reflecting for a few weeks. And I started asking, “WHY only 2 books at a time? How did we come up with that number? What’s so magic about the number two?” I think the simple answer is: “Because that’s what we’ve always done, and it works.”
Now, yes, there’s shelving and staffing time. Re-shelving HUNDREDS of books, audiobooks, and AV materials per day is time-consuming, and that shouldn’t be underestimated. While shelving may not seem important from the outside of a library, keeping library items organized so students can find and use them IS important to anyone who needs information….and that’s everyone at some point in their life.
Unlike what of society thinks, there is MUCH more to a librarian’s job than shelving books/audiobooks/etc. And as 21st century librarians, I know there’s always technology tools to recommend, book talks to give, education/tech/library news to keep up on, PLN feeds to read…..and it goes on. But if things aren’t shelved right away, students can always pick off the shelving cart and the world won’t end.
At the core of our beliefs as children’s librarians, is the idea that children should have access to high quality materials. So why do we purchase the absolute best materials for our students to read, then limit students to just 2 at a time? 2 items at a time, once a week is still only about 60-75 books a year.
And that’s just not enough reading for me. With a 2-item limit, half my picture book collection isn’t being checked out, and MORE than half of the nonfiction never gets touched. And I don’t think that’s an efficient use of the collection I work hard to build…or a good use of taxpayers’ money.
So I think as librarians, we should consider raising that checkout limit.
Perhaps you might try book checkout that corresponds to grade level — 3 for 3rd graders, 4 for 4th graders, etc. as a trial. For this year, I’m taking the plunge and trying 5 items at a time for grades 2-5. Kindergarten is getting bumped up from 1 to 2 books this week, and 1st grade will go from 2 to 5 items later this year. Students can mix and match…audiobooks, chapter books, first chapter books, everybody books, graphic novels…plus any unlimited-access ebooks students choose to read.
And someday, if I can convince the administrators in my district to increase my assistant’s hours, I’d like to raise that number to ten. For our library, this is the best compromise I can offer and still maintain most of the library services to teachers and students.