How to Coordinate the School Library Collection & Lessons with Subject Curricula

How to Coordinate the School Library Collection & Lessons with Subject Curricula - As School Librarians we must develop a library collection that supports grade level curricula, not some generic 'balance'. More than that, we must also use those materials to create meaningful Library Lessons that coordinate with specific classroom activities. | No Sweat LibrarySchool Librarians develop a school library collection based on the curriculum needs of teachers and students, not a ‘balanced’ collection based on arbitrary numbers of some purported authority. We know that we are the authority for our school library and better able to determine our print and digital needs than anyone else. We must be bold enough to trust our own judgment—to ignore ‘balance’ and support as much of our school’s curriculum as possible.

But it’s not enough to just add materials based on topics of study in the classroom. We must think deeply about how we can integrate resources into classroom experiences so they are actively used by students and teachers. That means anticipating Library Lessons, especially those that bring authenticity and higher-order thinking to assessment products. Let’s follow the development of one such example.


Early on I began to apply subject sticker-labels on fiction books to aid student choices. I noticed a large number of historical fiction books cover the time period our 8th graders study in U.S. History—discovery of the Americas through Reconstruction. Instead of an Historical Fiction label, I put a Historical America sticker on those books, already thinking I can promote them to 8th graders during their library orientation.

I know that each semester 8g English Language Arts does a novel study using a classic historical fiction novel with a tie-in to Social Studies. It occurs to me that a novel study might be more engaging for students if they could choose their own individual Historical America book to read, and I keep this in mind as a possible Library Lesson.


Though we have a considerable number of suitable historical books, there aren’t quite enough for the whole grade level. Determined to increase the Historical America collection, I run a report for relevant books owned by other district middle school libraries, but not ours (we’re only a couple years old), and find a good number to purchase right away.

Periodically combing through book reviews for good books of the time period adds titles to my acquisition book list. About this time one of our major book vendor representatives shows me how to do various searches in the online book vendor catalog. I perform one for “Popular” (which is as it sounds, the most popular titles purchased by other librarians) and filter for “Historical Fiction” and “U.S. History” which adds more titles to the book list.

Each year, as I begin my collection development, I search for newly published titles. As our school population increases, so does our special Historical America collection.


One day a new 8g Social Studies teacher approaches me: he wants students to “hear another voice of history” beyond the textbook by reading an historical fiction book. Because I coordinate our collection with our school curricula, I could show him our, by now, substantial collection of Historical America titles.

Curriculum to Collection to Library Lesson: An Inter-Disciplinary Project - Learn how creating an Historical America special collection in our school library made possible this U.S. History & ELA inter-disciplinary Library Lesson with unique assessment products! #NoSweatLibraryWe plan the Library Lesson for shortly after the start of the 2nd semester. We’ll co-present the lesson to students, then allow them to move around the library to choose from the Historical America books I’ve arranged on tables by time period. The U.S. History project criteria focus on the historical events of the story and how they align to what students study in class:

  • historical time period and location of the story
  • character’s conditions and lifestyle in historical context
  • political, economic, religious, environmental, or sociocultural issues of the historical event
  • historical accuracy of circumstances that lead to the character’s decisions

We decide students will have multiple product choices:

  • Academic – research paper or slideshow
  • Artistic – mural or foldable flipbook
  • Speaking – talk show interview or debate


Returning from winter break, I discover the 8g English Language Arts teachers plan to assign a book report instead of doing the novel study. I see my initial plan coalesce into my true vision for building our topical Historical America collection. I approach ELA about the upcoming Social Studies Historical America project, and they agree that students can use the same book for both projects! I assure them we have enough books for the entire grade, with a few additions through Inter-Library Loan.

image of biocube-small sampleAlways alert for unique and meaningful assessments that fit with my lesson ideas, I’d found a Bio-Cube on ReadWriteThink that, with a few modifications for content, will be perfect for this assignment. I show the ELA teachers and they are delighted to use it. On each side of the cube students write “biographical” information about a chosen character from their historical story:

  1. character’s name and personality traits
  2. personal background
  3. time period and location of story
  4. significance in U.S. History
  5. biggest obstacle to overcome and pivotal choices (grading period theme) character makes
  6. important quotation from story

Copied to colorful paper, then cut & pasted together, finished cubes are suspended from the ceiling in the ELA classrooms. They are a real conversation starter for classroom visitors. Students also write a one-page summary of bio-cube information that contains a reflection segment.


We’ve done this cross-discipline project off and on over the years…all because I could envision a curricular Library Lesson and build a collection to implement it. I’ve used this same process to build other mini-collections, such as careers books, print/audio book kits for ELL, Spanish language books for grade level Spanish classes, science fair project books, earth science books & environmental books for science classes, and multicultural craft books for art classes.

As school librarians, it’s our responsibility to develop a library collection that doesn’t rely on generic ‘balance,’ but one that supports our grade level curricula. More than that, we must also create Library Lessons that use those materials for meaningful classroom activities and worthwhile assessments.

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5 Tips for Buying Non-fiction Books for the School Library

5 Tips for Buying Non-fiction Books for the School Library - Buying non-fiction books for the school library isn't quite as easy as choosing fiction. Here are my 5 tips for wise spending while getting quality titles to meet student and curricular needs. #NoSweatLibraryOne of a School Librarians most pleasant tasks is purchasing books for students to read. Many school librarians are former English Language Arts teachers, so choosing fiction books is relatively easy. I, however, am a former science and social studies teacher, so I seek lots of input from my ELA teachers when choosing fiction titles for my middle school library.

On the other hand, many school librarians are intimidated by choosing non-fiction titles for their students. While Non-fiction is my strength, it isn’t just my background that helps me choose quality non-fiction for the school library. Allow me to share these 5 tips for buying non-fiction books to guide your nonfiction collection development.


I find it’s OK to buy fiction titles unseen because the format is standard and there are reliable book reviews for the content. That’s not the case for non-fiction. There is such wide variation in non-fiction books by format, by publisher, by grade level, and by topic, so regardless of book reviews, we need to see the book and page through it to be sure it will engage our students and serve the purpose for which we need it. Holding a non-fiction book in our hands, looking at the table of contents, flipping through the pages can give any school librarian a pretty good idea of content suitability, reading level, and appeal for students.

As a second-year librarian this became clear to me while analyzing my 900s country books. Of the 4 different—and all reputable—publishers, one was far too elementary for middle school (few pages and low reading level) and one was far too advanced for middle school (too many text-heavy pages). The other two were comparable in length and reading level, with shorter paragraphs and colorful illustrations spread throughout the book. I knew right away which ones were most useful and would be checked out more frequently.

Seeing is Believing: Buy Non-Fiction Books Through Book Jobber Visits - We have to look through a non-fiction book to know if it's right for our students. A multi-publisher book jobber will bring books to us, in our school library, so we can choose what works for our curriculum and our kids. #NoSweatLibraryCoincidentally, a book jobber representative phoned me at that time. A book jobber handles several publishers and the rep brings books out to the school so I can see them and select exactly what I want. When she arrived toting 3 huge carts of middle school non-fiction books, I knew I’d made the right decision, and vowed to invite other book jobber reps for non-fiction purchases.

After a few years experience with several district-approved book jobbers, I settled on two who provided the widest selection of middle school titles and offered reliable processing and speedy delivery.


Book jobber representatives have access to hundreds of new and recent titles, on a wide range of subjects, but there’s a limit to how much they can transport—or how many books we can look through at one sitting! Before scheduling a visit, survey your collection and target 3-5 specific topical areas for which you need books, and relay those topics to your jobber. This allows them to bring as much as possible for those topics, along with the newest publications and a few topics other middle school librarians have chosen.

For my first book jobber appointment, I focused on country books (for 6g social studies), energy resources (for 6g science), and the Civil War (for 8g U.S.History). These were topics that had been requested for projects the year before and we needed more books. Additionally, I added biographies and careers because students had been asking for them.

I’m always amazed at the ample range of materials my reps show me and, because I focus on both curriculum needs and student requests, my choices are valuable additions for many, many years. With just 2 book jobbers, I’m able to address 6-8 different topical areas of the library collection every year.


If your collection is like mine, it’s about 60% non-fiction and 40% fiction, so I allocate book budget funds the same way. Keep in mind that the quantity of books purchased won’t be the same: non-fiction books are pricier due to illustrations and better bindings. Since non-fiction tends to be useful over a longer time period than fiction, weeding is less extensive and the collection balance stays about the same.

Book jobber reps like to have a ballpark figure of your probable purchase to help them decide what to show you. It’s important to keep the spending ceiling in mind, because so many wonderful titles make it easy to go overboard. My reps create a computerized booklist and give me a running total. Some books are clearly “yes”, but I always have a “maybe” pile that I can add from if I still have have spending room.

Book jobbers rarely offer discounts like huge bid vendors, but I’ve learned how to save money on series books. The rep usually brings 1 or 2 of a series with a list of the rest. I’ll choose a couple enticing titles, then after the rep leaves, I can purchase additional titles in the series from my main bid vendor at a significant discount.


When scheduling a book jobber, pick a slow day with no classes scheduled into the library. Sometimes that’s pretty difficult, so look ahead—even 3 or 4 weeks—to find a day that will probably have only incidental student visits. I’ve tried mornings and afternoons, and afternoons are better for me; I’ve gotten my “To Do’s” out of the way and am able to concentrate on choosing books.

For my first jobber meeting I figured about an hour. Big mistake—I spent more than 3 hours with her! Fortunately it was a slow afternoon with few interruptions, and we were able to get through most of those 3 carts of non-fiction books. Now I allow a 3-hour window as my default time period.

A few students do come into the library, so I invite them to look over the books. Not only do they appreciate having some input, they often offer choices I wasn’t considering. Students spread the news about the great books I’m buying, so when the order arrives students are already excited to check them out!


When you have a couple hundred books spread out on tables in front of you, it’s tempting to choose less expensive books in order to buy more within the spending limit. But, that undermines the whole purpose of using book jobbers and viewing each book individually. I always choose the book that best meets student and curricular needs.

First I look at the table of contents to be sure it has the topical coverage I’m looking for. Then I look for charts, graphs, and other illustrations that amplify the topic. I want the text in readable chunks with plenty of white space around the pages. I try to stay between 60 and 125 pages in length: fewer has too little content at a lower reading level and more has too much text and is too daunting for middle school readers. (The exception is books specifically for ELL and Special Education—those need to be shorter and with lower reading levels.)

I consider DK (formerly Dorling Kindersley) books an exemplar of non-fiction. They have a wealth of organized information in small chunks with beautiful illustrations, so they work well for casual reading and for research. School library publishers realized their appeal and now it’s rare to find a middle school non-fiction book that is packed with text-only titles. Still, we need to look at the features in each book to find the best quality for our students.


5 Tips for School Librarians on Non-Fiction Book Purchases - Non-fiction books are useful over a longer time period than fiction so we weed less extensively. That makes it critical to choose high-quality books that fit our curricular needs and student interests. These 5 tips help a School Librarian make wise professional decisions. #NoSweatLibraryMost school districts send out an RFP (Request for Proposal) to dozens of vendors for district needs, and keep a list of approved bid vendors from whom they want us to purchase. The bid list for school library books and media should include both high volume vendors and book jobbers. It’s always best to go with those, since they offer perks for the expected high-volume purchases of a school district, such as discounts, free processing, and free shipping, plus the purchase order approval process is automatic.

Service from various jobbers varies widely, so if you don’t want to “sample” each one, talk to other local librarians for recommendations. Here are some general recommendations on what to look for:

  • Coordinate book jobbers to view many different publishers. Some crossover is OK, but it doesn’t make sense to look through the same books you’ve already seen from another rep.
  • Don’t use anyone who doesn’t bring books. I had one lovely lady who brought me catalogs to look through—I can do that myself! The exception is for very narrow topical books. I used a small local jobber who only carried materials about our state; they earned my trust, so I’d buy books directly from their catalog.
  • Expect high fill rates. Good book jobber reps want your business so they won’t haul around useless titles that aren’t available. Still, it’s not unusual to have a few titles that are delayed, but not more than about 10% of the amount spent.
  • Processing is important. If they don’t do a good job, drop them. You don’t have time to redo and there are plenty of jobbers who offer good reliable processing.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Should you have questions about buying non-fiction books, leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

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How to Inventory the School Library Collection

How to Inventory the School Library Collection - Are you avoiding a School Library collection inventory because it seems like such an overwhelming task? Understand why we inventory our collection and how to do a series of mini-inventories over time so it's a satisfying undertaking instead of a dreaded one. #NoSweatLibrarySchool Librarian, can we talk?

Let’s face it: our most dreaded task is having to inventory the School Library collection.

My first one was unimaginably time-consuming and tedious, but afterward I formulated a set of procedures that streamlined the process, and I can attest that inventory needn’t be the ominous undertaking that many fear.

We can better appreciate a school library inventory if we understand why it’s important for us to do it.


I rather enjoyed doing inventory because when finished I knew exactly what was on the shelf and what was in the online catalog…and that they agreed with each other—an important consideration when dealing with students (and teachers) who insist they “returned that book” …which, occasionally, I’d find they actually had! That, then, is the most important reason for doing a physical inventory: to guarantee agreement between the physical collection and its documented status.

Most School Librarians dread doing inventory, but the most important reason for doing a physical inventory is to guarantee agreement between the physical collection and the database records, as well as providing accountability for the public funds invested in them. But it can be relatively easy... | No Sweat LibraryNo matter why, items go missing from our collection each year. It’s very discouraging to a patron and to a School Librarian to look for a needed item that’s listed in the catalog, is supposed to be there, but just isn’t. The item may truly be missing, but it may also just be mislabeled or cataloged incorrectly—no matter how careful we try to be, human error happens. Whatever the case, an inventory allows us to reconcile discrepancies. That’s another reason to do an inventory: to correct cataloging and labeling errors between an item and its MARC record.

When we have consistency between catalog and collection, we will generate accurate reports from the automation system:

  • A collection analysis report provides a true picture of our collection so we can weed outdated material and make purchases that develop a balanced, relevant collection. It’s also the evidence we need to request additional funding for improving the school library to meet the needs of our students and teachers.
  • A loss analysis report tells us what’s really missing so we can replace important curricular materials. It also provides our yearly rate of loss which may give us the leverage we need to change library visitation policies or request a security system.
  • A bibliographic and item record report reveals duplicate records and  “empty” titles. If we purchase from multiple vendors, their records may not consolidate in our automation system. When we delete (for whatever reason) all copies of a title, our system may not eliminate the title record. These types of catalog entries confuse our students and frustrate us, so we want to find and correct them by aggregating multiple copies into one title and eliminating titles for which there is no item.

Finally, and not least important, we do inventory as accountability for public funds that are invested in our school library collection. We owe our taxpayers an accurate record of how we are spending their money each year, and how much the School Library is “worth.” Some states even require this type of transparency for schools by law, and we need to comply if that’s the case for us. yellow moneybag with dollar signMoreover, each year schools and school libraries are suddenly destroyed by fire, flood, or weather. An accurate inventory of a school’s library collection is the only way to assess the catastrophic loss replacement for insurance or federal/state funding.


Unless you are fortunate enough to have permanent adult aides, the school library inventory falls on your shoulders alone. I have one suggestion to make the prospect of doing inventory less daunting: create a schedule of mini-inventories over a period of several years! It makes so much more sense to do a small selective inventory every year than to tackle a huge one every 4 or 5. Mini-inventories are quicker and easier, you’re less likely to make mistakes, you don’t have to shut down the library, and your catalog and collection have a higher degree of ongoing agreement.

This is the layout of bookcases in my school library. With 8 aisles of books, I inventory by aisle, both sides of one Dewey and one Fiction each year over a 4 year period.

This is the layout of bookcases in my school library, containing some 15,000 items. With 8 aisles of books, I inventory by aisle, both sides of one Dewey and one Fiction each year over a 4 year period. Year 5 I do Professional and equipment. With far fewer items to scan, I can complete it alone in 2 days.

Image of Harlingen TX schools Library Inventory Schedule - My library shelving is continuous, but if your library layout isn't conducive to my method, you could instead use a by-Dewey-number schedule like this one I found online.

Click to enlarge

My library shelving is continuous, but if your library layout isn’t conducive to my method, you could instead use a by-Dewey-number schedule. At right is one I found online from the Harlingen, TX school district.

If you’ve read about my Fiction by Subject arrangement or my Special Collections, you’ll know that this is also a great way to do mini-inventories. By choosing to do just one or two subjects or collections each year, we can spread the fiction inventory over 4 or 5 years.


Here are pre-inventory tasks you’ll want to take care of:

  1. Repair and shelve any damaged books.
    You want to be able to scan your way down your chosen section of bookshelves, knowing you have everything on the shelf that belongs there. It’s too easy to forget to scan piles of books set elsewhere.
  2. “Read” and weed each section before taking inventory.
    It’s just so much easier to have the shelves in order before scanning barcodes, and there’s no point in tallying and reporting books that need to be cleared out of the collection. If you weed regularly, you may just need a quick look over the shelves as you read them to pull out damaged or old books. If you’ve put off weeding read my post on Weeding Dewey Books: a 6-Step Plan to simplify the task.
  3. Inventory all checked out items.
    This is especially important when you do mini-inventories; trying to piecemeal inventory as you check-in books from the chosen inventory section is asking for errors. (If your system allows you to inventory a specific range of call numbers that are checked out, certainly do that instead of the entire collection.)

Follow These Steps for a Smooth School Library Inventory - School Library Inventory Checklist: 8 steps to complete your school library inventory in record time! Read more ... #NoSweatLibrary #schoollibrary #libraryinventory

During the mini-inventory I used 3 different methods to tally the books in the chosen sections:

  • Scan using an inventory tool or by attaching a barcode scanner to a laptop. Either tool records the barcodes to a spreadsheet which is then downloaded into the automation system’s inventory app. This is the quickest way to do it, but with a limited number of tools in my district I couldn’t always get one, so I used both of the following methods, too.
  • Pull books onto a 2-sided bookcart, scan at the circulation desk, then return the books to the shelves. This is the hardest way to do inventory and I don’t recommend it, but I used it when students were coming in & out of the library so I didn’t have to run back & forth and forget my place in the aisle. Since cart shelves are about the same length as bookshelves, I’d fit 6 shelves of books at a time, and could complete the entire aisle in 8 trips.
  • Run a Shelf List report and print out, going down the shelves, highlighting books on the shelf with one color and  missing books in a different color. I know it seems old school, but this method is reasonably fast for a mini-inventory and it became my preferred method after doing enough inventories to have a well-reconciled catalog and collection. (I’d scoot leisurely down the aisle in my rolling chair.) I could catch the few cataloging errors from new purchases and since the list also had current location, I use a 3rd highlighter to mark titles of still-checked-out books and check them back in later.

Here are post-inventory tasks to complete from your inventory reports:

  1. Check in items that are still checked out but on the shelf. If any of these are items that students have paid for as lost, follow your school’s procedure for arranging a timely refund.
  2. Correct errors between labels and MARC records.
  3. Charge out missing books according to your school district policy and then run a report listing these missing books to reorder desired titles. (Ours were checked out to MISSING and at the end of the following school year, after allowing for reports and being found, we deleted them completely, including the bibliographic record if it was the only copy.)
  4. If using the Shelf List method, do a global/batch inventory of the call numbers on your shelf list after it’s otherwise cleared up!
  5. Record the inventory completion date on whatever you use to keep track of it, and be sure to include the mini-inventory in your next Report to Principal!

As you can see, performing a School Library inventory doesn’t have to be “the thing you hate most.” In fact, the satisfaction of knowing your collection and catalog are in order makes curating resources for projects, creating Special Collections for reading promotion, and collection development more productive and also more pleasurable. So, take a look around your School Library and decide which aisle or Dewey number most needs a mini-inventory and start the process, letting the rest go until another year.

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