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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 Comment

"We are reading champions... WE must not be the thing standing between that child and the book that forever changes them." What an incredibly beautiful mission for teacher librarians. I will forever think of a lost or damaged book as an investment in a child's story, not as a $15 gap on my shelf. Libraries should set minds free, not burden them with more worries. Thank you for sharing these wonderful values.

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