Overdue Books

Providing students with books for recreational reading and resources for research papers is a major way that libraries extend and enrich the curriculum for the students and teachers at their schools. However, overdue items impinge on this part of the mission of the media center. When I first began working as a school library media specialist, I assumed I would be charging fines for overdue books. But there were so many times when the student claimed he or she had never checked out a book or had returned it two weeks earlier that I began telling students we weren’t going to charge fines until we had gotten the kinks ironed out of the system. I’m not sure exactly how we did that, but over time, our Destiny circulation system did mostly seem to match what the students said. When we returned from our winter break, I decided it was time to get serious about developing a method for getting our books returned in a more timely fashion.

I knew I wanted students to return their items in a timely and responsible manner. I also knew I wanted them to feel comfortable coming to the media center to browse, to ask for help, and to check out books and I certainly didn’t want anyone to avoid coming because they were afraid I might hassle them about overdue items. I definitely didn’t want to charge a patron for a book when the mistake was ours. Therefore, I spent considerable time thinking about a policy that would achieve these objectives. I started researching this issue in the usual way I seek answers to my questions about running a school library: I posted a message on the listserve for the Illinois School Library Media Association’s electronic discussion list which is more commonly known as the ISLMANET listserve. https://listserv.illinois.edu/archives/islmanet-l.html It really helps me to know how others have dealt with problems similar to the ones I’m experiencing.

Several responses formed the foundation for the overdue policy I’ve recently developed. Marcia Brandt said she focuses on getting the books returned and doesn’t charge fines. Knowing someone else didn’t charge for overdue items somehow gave me permission to explore possibilities for developing an overdue policy without fines. From another media specialist, I learned that several days each year they reward all students who have a clean library record with a certificate for a free cookie in the cafeteria. With this incentive, they saw lots of overdue books get returned. Several librarians mentioned sending notices to teachers and calling parents when necessary. I was concerned that calling parents would be too time consuming, but that hasn’t proved to be the case. Rather, it has been an important component of our overdue policy. I also read about libraries where student checkout privileges were limited when books were overdue but I wanted to focus on incentives for students returning books.

With these policies in mind, I began working out the details of an overdue policy that would be effective and with which I would feel comfortable. When I learned that cookies in our cafeteria cost seventy-five cents each, I knew that rewarding one to each student with a clean library record would be too costly. When I talked with my principal about this, he suggested a raffle – perhaps for a book. That was just the kind of suggestion I needed. With 750 students in the school, I knew I needed more than just a few books. But how many? I mentioned the idea of a raffle to one of the students. He said, “We always have raffles and nobody ever wins.” From that I realized I wanted every student to know enough winners that they would be motivated to return their books. I decided to have one raffle for each of our thirty-six homerooms.

My principal also suggested I call parents because he thought that would get results. I feared the task would be too momentous, but I discovered for the most part it's quite manageable and he was right. It does get results.

Where could I purchase books so that this raffle would be affordable? I remembered that Townsend Press sells new paperback books for one dollar each. They publish the popular Bluford series and many other books. For $36 I would be able to let the students choose from a variety of books that would appeal to them.
Publicity for the raffle wasn’t everything I had planned Even after posting numerous notices around the school and several morning announcements, two days before the scheduled drawings, few students knew anything it. The day before the raffle I displayed the books on two tables in the media center. Then the questions started coming. What do I have to do to enter the raffle? Do I have books out? I wished that more students had understood the raffle sooner, but I did learn a couple of things. First, the event itself is excellent publicity for future raffles. Once everyone has had the experience of seeing how this works, they won’t need all the explanations next time. I also realized that I didn’t want long lines of students coming to renew their books so they would be able to qualify. I modified the original rule so that students who had books that were three days or less overdue would still qualify.

The responses I’ve received so far have been very positive. One teacher wrote to me, “Wow … Pretty impressive… we have not done something like this to stir interest in the library in the 5 years the school has been open.” After the winner of her class had chosen her book, another teacher told me, “I didn’t think it would matter to Karla if she got a book or not. But she was really excited to get one and she was real happy with the book she chose. Thank you for blessing her.”

We use Destiny for our circulation system and with the 9.0? update, we can easily let teachers know which students have overdue books. I've been really lucky because they've been great about reminding the students in their homerooms. I don't know how I would manage overdue books without their cooperation.

Becky Schaller
Written while at Burbank School District 111 in the spring of 2009
Published on the Illinois School Libraries Wikispaces in the summer of 2011
Edited Jan 5, 2012