Monday, January 22, 2018

On Lost Library Books And The #BestPartofMyDay

I've written before about how I'm absolutely obsessed with Colby Sharp's #BestPartofMyDay videos. I'm over the moon in love with these short, on the fly, totally unedited video recaps because...

  • They provide us with the gift of reflection which is, as John Dewey said, where the learning happens...
  • They force us to look for positive things throughout the day...
  • And they force us to prioritize and decide what really matters to us. (For example, today I found $5.00 in the street. That was pretty cool, but was it the best part of my day? No.)
If I were working with students in my own library these days, I'd find a way to weave this into my work with kids. Just imagine what you'd learn about your students if you gave them the chance to reflect on the best part of their day! But I digress...

This year, I've been completing these videos as part of my year long residency with Evergreen Public Schools in Vancouver, WA. It's been AWEsome to take a few minutes after each day I spend with them to pinpoint the best part of that day. The hardest part of the whole experience has been picking out one single moment to highlight. These librarians are amazing and I love them.

That said, I want to say a word or two more about today's #BestPartofMyDay video. But you should probably watch it first. 

When I was a kid, books represented something precious and fragile. My family moved around a lot and when I was about seven years old, the few books I did own were used as kindling, and burned in our wood stove, because it was winter, we didn't have electricity and we were cold. But even when life was a bit more stable, it was difficult to keep track of things like library books. I constantly owed money to the public library and despite the fact that I treasured the books handed to me by a teacher or school librarian, they inevitably got lost or, at best, were returned late or damaged. Over the years, there were plenty of librarians who turned me away when I tried to add another book to the list of those I'd already checked out, but thankfully, there were some who didn't. 

Years later, as a brand new librarian, I landed at a school where collecting fines and keeping kids from checking out books, if they owed money, was just part of what had always been done, and I eagerly played along. I worked hard, every year, to collect every last dime that was "owed" to the library, and in the process made a lot of kids feel like they weren't welcome or that they were somehow suspect. It took me several years to pluck up the courage to decide I needed a do-over and to reset my circulation policies, so that they were more closely aligned to my core mission of helping students develop rich and authentic reading lives.  

And guess what? The number of books I lost as a result was minimal. I didn't end the year with empty shelves. Here's what happened instead:
  • I developed relationships with kids who I would never have gotten to know before, because their debt to the library stood in the way. 
  • I changed the library from a place of punishment to one of possibility. 
  • I was able to get books in the hands of kids who would have had no reading material otherwise.
  • My circulation statistics went WAY up.
  • I retired from the role of book police and was promoted to the job of reading champion.
  • I slept better at night.

And, ironically, I discovered that for kids who did lose materials, positive relationships are a far better motivator than the threat of not getting their diploma or not being admitted to a school dance. When kids love you and know that you love them, there's very little they won't do in order to not let you down.

The bottom line is this, being good stewards of the monies we're allotted to build library collections is important. And I don't know anyone who thinks they are allotted nearly enough money, so I understand how devastating losing the one copy of a really popular book can be. AND I know that when one kid loses a book, that means countless others don't get to read it. I know all of those things. But I also know that we don't work for the IRS. We are not debt collectors. We are reading champions. And, for those kids, like me, who don't have books at home and whose home lives make keeping up with borrowed materials challenging, WE must not be the thing standing between that child and the book that forever changes them. We all went into this business, because we know the power of story. We cannot allow the fear of losing a book be the thing that keeps us from putting it in the right child's hands. 


  1. I have got out of the grove when it comes to making these videos. You've inspired me to start up again! Thank you.

  2. Yes. Many of us in Evergreen allow students to check out regardless of lost books. It makes a huge difference.

  3. No fines in my library. If a student damages or loses a book they are responsible for the cost to fix or replace - if the student does not have the money they can work in the library cleaning, dusting, and shelving to work off the cost of the book.

  4. I love this! I am a middle school librarian but have an 8th period class at the very end of the day. I may start asking my class what the best part of their day was each day. I will be at the IntegratED PDX conference in a few weeks. I look forward to seeing you there!

  5. I really enjoyed watching your video and reading your blog today. Your heart is written all over your post and it’s quite inspiring. You have certainly taken the high road when it comes to library fines and I especially liked when you wrote, “I was able to get books in the hands of kids who would have had no reading material otherwise”. Isn't that the truth? Usually the kids who have problems returning books are the ones that cannot afford to get a book from somewhere else. Why not be the hero and let them take out a book?
    I am a new TL in my elementary school. Our policy is that if you lose a book, you must pay for the replacement cost, but we don’t charge for books being late. However, students cannot take out anymore books until they return their other books. This seems to work well in our school. We have a two-week lending period (it’s actually 2 weeks plus 1-week grace). Sometimes a student continues to lose books so we let them borrow a book and have them leave it in their desk and not take it home. This seems to be a pretty good solution so far, however, I wonder if they wished they could take a book home to read still. What are your library policies? Are they similar to mine?
    I changed our policy regarding borrowing one book to borrowing two books recently. I think this has been successful in that if a student doesn’t bring back one of the books, they can at least have another one to read in the meantime. Circulation has gone up too since then and it hasn’t changed the overdue rate. I think when you back off from tracking down every single student to get books in to the library on time it actually changes the atmosphere of the library-one that is more inviting and inclusive.

  6. I think often we jump to a conclusion that a student has not returned a book because they lost it and or are just being careless with returning it. You made me look at this with a different perspective. Perhaps they cannot afford to buy books and they are keeping what is now their favourite tucked safely away at home. Of course, they should keep it. We just hope that those who can buy books for themselves, do return ones they've borrowed so others can benefit too.

  7. Jennifer, thank you so much for sharing this message. I have similar conflicted feeling about lending books to kids who lost books or returned damaged books.

    I have pinned up your quote on my office pin board to remind me the next time I am tempted to say no.

    We don't work for the IRS.
    We are not debt collectors.
    We are reading champions.

    WE must not be the thing standing between that child and the book that forever changes them.

  8. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with extra information? It is extremely helpful for me. Sneek Peek

  9. I am planning on doing a food drive forgiveness program for the first time this year. For every non-perishable food item a child brings I will forgive $1 of their lost book fine. We only charge for lost or damaged books. This will help some of those kids get their fines taken care of.