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Library Lifeline part 15: Getting books out of boxes and onto school library shelves

21 Jul 2023


We're delighted to share with you our latest blog in our series, Library Lifeline, written in association with the School Library Association. This series is designed to support anyone working in a school library by answering their questions directly. If you have a question that you’d like to ask our ‘agony aunt’ – the SLA’s Member Development Librarian, Dawn Woods – then please email us at your question may be the focus of a future blog!

This month we have a very interesting question. A teacher who also runs the school library has received a huge donation of lovely new books but is reluctant to put them into circulation both because of the task ahead, and the risk that pupils will borrow and not return the new material.

I’m worried there won’t be enough space for the new books if I take them out of their boxes. I am also finding it challenging to be emotionally okay with letting all the good new books into circulation in case pupils who don’t like reading borrow and don’t return them, therefore keeping the books from reaching those who will truly enjoy them

When you receive new titles into school your instinct is to protect them as all stock is hard earned. School library books are stamped, categorised, covered, and added to your library management system, whether this is computerised or manual. Now pupils know the books belong to the library and are available to borrow.

Books are for sharing. They are also for forming connections over time and space between the people who read them, and between the reader and the characters and events on the pages. That’s the purpose of the author's and illustrator's creation. That’s why publishers invest their money – to get these wonderfully produced books into young hands. So books need celebrating and promotion, and for a culture of reading to thrive in the school, all pupils need to be a part of this.

Integrating large collections of titles into current active stock 

This potentially daunting task can become easier when you reassess and weed current stock.

You may need to clear some space on shelves as our rooms are not ever-expanding. Check all books for any that are tatty or dated, especially in comparison to newer stock as these will mask the bright attractive volumes you want to draw to the attention of your pupils.

Don’t be afraid to remove older books or the ones that look perfectly presentable but are not used

Are your pupils really going to thrive on those outdated reading scheme books that are stealing shelf space, or are you holding on to them just in case? Your new, colourful books will be an automatic draw for young eyes, and your collection will be aesthetically better for it.

If you have books that required unboxing, consider making an event of this itself. Get pupils involved and excited about these fantastic stories now in their library and generate enthusiasm around the library in this way.

Please also know that when a good variety of new, attractive titles are displayed effectively, pupils who profess themselves to not being readers, are also very excited about the possibility of immersing themselves in these stories and you’ll be surprised at how enthusiastic they are about borrowing certain books!

What to do when newly displayed books are borrowed but not returned

What happens if new books are borrowed and are not returned? Though this is a valid concern, a priority of the school library is that reading for pleasure is given the space to develop into an enjoyable skill, and the thing to keep focus on is that reading is to be encouraged.

Rest assured, there are ways to encourage reading and ensure your stock is largely maintained. With everything in schools there needs to be boundaries. Stipulate only one or two loans per pupil at any one time, meaning books need to be returned before another is loaned. Use whatever library system you have in place, to manage this. We have loan periods to enable books to circulate, and while one borrower has a book on loan someone else cannot look at it.

If necessary have another brief introduction to the library collection, virtually or in the library itself. All children need to be reminded that the point of libraries is to share books and save money for all. Tell them it is their responsibility to look after the books and return them on time for someone else to enjoy. Get your pupils on board to increase this sense of ownership and pride in the library.

What if a child refuses to return books?

Just as we are attracted to certain books, so too are children, and sometimes they are reluctant to let go of that title. They may not have previously had anything they could call their own, yet this is their library loan. When a child has not returned a book by the loan date, remind them about it. If they still don’t return it, have a discreet word to enable them to tell you if there is a problem. As staff we cannot always know family circumstances. Whilst library circulation is important to you, this may be a low priority for a family going through difficulties.

Give the pupil time, but then accept a loss. You want the child to read more and you don’t want a bad experience in a library to be a prejudice passed down through generations who are wary about using libraries precisely because they are afraid of losing books and being called out on it. However, do make a note so you can see if this becomes a recurring issue.

In circumstances where a child is consistently not returning new books, be consoled by the fact that these books may be very loved at home. However, perhaps keep a box of older, weeded books for this very reason and ask them to choose their next loan from there. This way you are not punishing them by refusing loans, but losses from this book box are not as detrimental to your whole collection.

Quick tips when book-lending

  • The priority is the pupil’s enjoyment in reading
  • Restricting borrowing should not be used as a punishment which detracts from enjoying the library
  • Family circumstances may be difficult and library books are not a top priority for them
  • Don’t waste your own time constantly chasing and consequently disturbing your wellbeing. Sometimes you have to accept the loss and write it off
  • Reward pupils with good borrowing history rather than punish those without

Useful reading

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