Please Miss, can I have some more?

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By Jeannie

Sometimes we do things because that’s the way we’ve always done them….. it seems to work, everyone else does it this way, but sometimes it pays to have another look at our what we are doing and measure up against best practice and the “big picture” of what we know is really important and what we want to achieve.

I’m talking about library borrowing limits. How many books can your students borrow from your library and what happens if they have an overdue or lost book?

We know from research that:

  • Children read more when they have access to books – not the theoretical access of a school having a big library collection, but real access to something to read when they want it, actually books in hands. When students read more they do better academically – Jeff McQuillan’s research showed “access to books in the school via the library was the most powerful predictor of academic achievement among several variables analysed, controlling for socioeconomic status.”  
  • Children read more when they choose their own reading.  Richard Allington states “Self-selected reading activity seems to be about twice as powerful at generating reading development as teacher-selected reading.”Beyond the research, it makes perfect sense from our own instincts and observation that if we want children to read for pleasure, avidly, at every opportunity, then we need to provide them the wherewithal to do so.

I suggest if you haven’t already done so, think about your school library borrowing limits, talk about it in your library team and with all school staff,  then abolish limits, or at least make them GENEROUS.

Consider what is most important

A library that is really well used will lose some books,  but our most important goal  is to create readers by giving all children as many positive reading opportunities as possible,  not to end the year without any lost books.

flickr image by librarian in black

Increased numbers of books means variety and volume.

When children borrow more than one or two books they are able to select a variety; take a risk on something they may or may not like; have a hard book and an easy book on the go at the same time. The can try a new genre; follow a friend’s recommendation; read what they are in the mood for; choose fiction and also some non-fiction.  It takes the pressure off choosing a single “just right” book, it provides plenty of reading until the next library visit, and it might provide a book for parents to read them a chapter at bedtime.  From the experience of a practicing teacher, read this great Nerdy Book Club blog post about self-selected reading 

Don’t work to the lowest common denominator

Imagine 20 children in a class.  Five of them are reading like rockets and always bring their books back, eager for the next one; another ten children are regular readers and their books usually come back. There is an occasional overdue or lost book, but on the whole no problem. Then there are five children who for one reason or another struggle to keep track of their books – they forget them or lose them or a younger sibling scribbles in them.   Why bring the whole class down to that level? Start off with high expectations and trust, and have strategies to use if needed such as a chat, an incentive chart, or a book limit for a term to see how it goes.

Proportion of the collection being borrowed

How many of your books are being borrowed each year, and how many are sitting on the shelf? If you have a collection of about 8,000 books and a roll of 200 students and every child is borrowing 2 books maximum that means about 5% is being borrowed at any one time.  95% is sitting on the shelf! There will probably be class or teacher loans too, but 90% of your collection sitting on the shelf isn’t really fulfilling its role!

Sometimes it’s the librarian, sometimes it’s the teacher

Sometimes it is the librarian who has to be persuaded that abolishing or increasing borrowing limits is a good idea, being loathe to risk precious books carefully chosen for the library, duly processed and promoted from a stretched budget.  Sometimes it is a teacher, despite the librarian’s best efforts, who insist on limits for their students as a way of managing things, perhaps driven by a fear of losing books.

Sometimes it is simply how it has always been with rules like:  “One book for juniors, two books for seniors”,One fiction book, one non-fiction book”, or even “You have an overdue book so you can’t borrow another one until it comes back”, or “You lost two books last term so you can’t borrow any more until they are paid for.”

Either way, school libraries exist to support student learning and there should be a real conversation about benefits and learning outcomes.  Then if necessary, have a trial period with more generous limits to see what the issues (!) really are.

Evidence-based practice

This is an opportunity to use evidence to inform your practice.  Your library management system can give you many reports about borrowing statistics:  who, how many, how often, and you might want to survey students and staff too.  Consider how you can use this information to investigate what is happening, identify trends, and report the impact of any change or initiative you make, and then build on it further. 

Stories from other schools

I know schools which have abolished their borrowing limits and relaxed about over dues, and they report that children tend to find their own borrowing level – some more, some less, and that over dues are just the same as ever they were but no more of a problem.  Issue statistics always go up, so you could extrapolate that reading mileage is going up too.  Conversations in the library tend to be more about books and reading than allocations and over dues.

You may wish to retain limits on high demand areas such as graphic novels, or books in a particular popular series, but these can be managed by manners rather than rules, and strategies such as reserves.

Add a comment here about what you’ve done at your school with borrowing limits. Have you reviewed and relaxed your borrowing limits?  What sort of impact that has had? Or what conversations you are planning to have in your school about making a change? Ask any questions you may have… I’m looking forward to reading your comments.

  • McQuillan, Jeff, The Literacy Crisis: False claims, real solutions, Heinemann, 1998.
  • Allington, Richard, What at-risk readers need in Educational Leadership, March 2010