Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Kids First. Everything Else Second.

This recent post from Doug Johnson about circulation policies that favor books over kids and learning has been wedged in my brain like that silly pea in the fairy tale about princesses and legumes.  I certainly felt it nudging at me the other day when a student brought me this still damp, molding and completely falling apart copy of 12th Grade Kills by Heather Brewer.  This normally talkative frequent library flyer could barely meet my eyes when he handed over the ruined book and I gasped in horror.  "What happened????" I asked.  "Well..." he said, slowly. "It was so good.  And I didn't want to stop reading.  But then my mom said I had to take a shower.  And...."

Now, I don't know about you, but I don't have money to replace this book.  And, clearly, I can't put it back on the shelf.  But, what I can afford even less is to lose this student, (for whom English is a second language and whose family, I know, doesn't have a lot of money themselves), as a reader by scolding him for loving a book so much he had to bathe with it.  And so, I marked the book lost and sent him to the shelves to find another, reminding him to take a shower BEFORE he started reading the new one.

Fast forward to this afternoon. The same student comes to see me, this time grinning from ear to ear.  When I asked him if he'd finished the new book already he said "no, but I wanted to bring you this" - a brand new copy of same book that had been lost at sea just a few days prior.  When I told him I was thrilled, but that he didn't have to replace the damaged book, he said, "yeah... I know, but I wanted other kids to have a chance to read it."

Mission accomplished.

Of course, I'm not saying we shouldn't hold students accountable for lost books.  And I absolutely believe that we must be good stewards of the funds we are given to purchase materials.  But in the end, our mission is to serve kids, to establish policies that best meet their needs and to break those same rules when they are not in the best interest of the child looking up at us.  Kids first.  Everything else is second.

Doug's post ends with the statement that he hopes kids who are forbidden to checkout books when they forget or lose them grow up to "run for school board or become a principal at this librarian's school as an adult."  And while that's not the best reason to make our policies kid focused, it's a valid point.  Every interaction we have - whether it is with a child, a parent, an administrator or the governor - is a chance to spread the gospel of library.  Like it or not, we are all advocates.  And, now more than ever, we have to make sure both the message and the messenger convey a sincere dedication to kids and learning - not to books, due dates and terminal quiet.

Which reminds me.

I am thrilled and honored to be hosting a webinar next Monday (Nov. 7th) titled "Rock Star Advocacy: Proving Your Worth In Tough Times" as part of the TL Virtual Cafe series.  It's going to be a big ol' juicy hour of tough love, with an emphasis on the love.  So... I hope you'll join me.  The fun starts at 8:00pm EST and I promise to (at least try to) make every minute count.


  1. I love your story! It is that fine line we tread between trying to balance our budget and fostering good reading habits in our students. It's also a good illustration of how "one size fit's all" rules just don't work. We need to consider our students as individuals. At my school library, we've just completed clearance forms for our senior students today and I've been despairing over "throwing good books after bad" when I see several severely overdue books on more than one student's account, wondering did we do the right thing in continuing to issue to them.
    Sadly, we often don't know how some of our small, often unmemorable interactions with our students impact on them, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do what feels right anyway.
    Your post reminds me (again) to think twice before writing some of my students off.

  2. I have a student who comes from one of the saddest and least supportive backgrounds imaginable, and she uses reading as an escape. Recently, she's donated two books in two different series to the library because she noticed we didn't have them, and she was done with them, so she wanted someone else to be able to read them. Love her!

    Sarah Justice

  3. This has made me rethink some of the policies in my own library. Our kids really do come first and I know what kind of lasting impression I want them to have of me and the library, not one of a lost book which forever prohibited that student from developing that passion for reading and learning. Thanks!!

  4. Thanks so much for your feedback. Your stories make me proud of our profession. Keep on, keepin' on, girls!


  5. Thanks for the great post. Everyone that works in a library should read this.