5 “Hacks” for a School Library

5 "Hacks" for a School Library - Hack Learning is about educators who see big problems and create simple solutions to implement within their own classrooms. If your school library program is languishing, try these 5 "hacks" that improved my School Library Program. #NoSweatLibraryThe Hack Learning Series is a series of books by educators who see big problems, and have figured out simple solutions to implement within our own classrooms and school libraries. The books are so reasonably priced a teacher can afford them. As I read my “Hack” books, I realize I’ve been “hacking” the prevailing methods in my school library for years!

After certifying and moving into a school library position, I suddenly had so much more “stuff” to manage. My focus shifted to “The Library” but, without a clear strategy, my library management suffered. Then, with only intermittent visits with classes, I lost focus as “a Teacher,” and my library lessons with students weren’t successful, either.

After a disastrous first couple years, I regained my focus and and my purpose. I see in listserv posts and Facebook groups that other brand new librarians have this same problem, so here are the 5 “hacks” that improved my entire school library program.

HACK #1: Get rid of overdue book fines.

One of my wisest decisions for creating a reading culture in our school was to eliminate overdue book fines. A kid is far more important than a book—certainly more important than getting a few cents for an overdue fine. Furthermore, fines just don’t serve any positive purpose:
"Hack" School Library Overdue Book Fines - I have good reasons to eliminate overdue book fines in the school library, because we cannot refuse a child the opportunity to read! #NoSweatLibrary

  • Kids hang on to overdue books instead of returning them because they can’t pay fines in order to check out new books; thus, kids aren’t reading and books aren’t circulating.
  • Fines don’t “build responsibility.” For well-off kids the paltry amount is of no consequence and when poor kids have to decide if they’ll still have money to buy lunch, that’s not responsibility, that’s sacrifice. Offering “fine forgiveness” incentives to get overdues back is not only unfair to kids who’ve been paying fines, but undermines the reasoning about “building responsibility.”
  • Due dates pass before teachers can bring classes back to the library and some aren’t willing to release kids from class just to return a book on time. Kids have more pressing concerns than getting to their lockers for an overdue book during such short passing times between periods.
  • In my case—and maybe for you—the public library doesn’t charge overdue fines, even for adults, so why would my public school charge kids?
  • Collecting fines is time-consuming work for us with little benefit, either monetarily or promotionally. We can’t continue to use overdue fines as an excuse to “raise money for the library.” There are more positive ways to do that.

Initially I’d override the overdue fine alert, but my principal supported my decision to eliminate fines, so there was no pushback at the district level and the system admin removed fines from our school library altogether. Even now with an overdue book, I check out a new book to a student with a reminder about the overdue, because we must never discourage a child from reading!

HACK #2: Establish silent reading and invited book checkout.

From kindergarten through high school, teachers bring students to our libraries to quickly grab a book, check it out, and return to the classroom. Instead, our goal as School Librarians must be to give students the time they need to find something they want to read and then give them more time to begin reading to make sure it’s what they want.

"Hack" Book Checkout with Silent Reading - Stop the noise & chaos during book checkout by establishing Drop Everything And Read time. Here's how I "invite" students in small groups so checking out books goes much more quickly & quietly. #NoSweatLibraryI establish a standard checkout procedure at the very first library visit and we follow it for every visit at every grade level for the entire school year. After students find their book(s), they return to their seat and silently begin reading—we call it DEAR (Drop Everything And Read). When students are settled, I go to the library seating area and quietly invite students at a couple tables, depending on numbers, to follow me to the circulation desk and check out. They line up single file, continuing to read as the line moves up until I check out their book, and then they return to their seat.

When that group is done, I go over and quietly invite a couple more tables for checkout, continuing until every student has checked out. This is an orderly process with only 8-10 students checking out at a time, and I avoid the noise and turmoil typical of whole-class book checkout. It actually takes less time, even with double classes in the library.

Silent reading time during checkout allows students to become immersed in the story and they finish more books faster. My ELA teachers bring classes to the library every other week and, rather than return to the classroom, they remain in the library the entire period for DEAR. The real value of this Hack came near the end of each school year: with this recurring free reading time, our State Reading Test scores moved steadily upward!

HACK #3: Do Dewey Decimal Orientation with Math classes.

Dewey Decimal Orientation with Math Classes - What better class for a lesson on numbers than Math? #NoSweatLibraryMy eye-opener about Dewey Decimal lessons was during an incredibly boring orientation my 2nd year as a School Librarian: I suddenly realized DDC is for me to know for organizing books, not for students to know for finding one. They just need to know how to locate a number on a shelf, and what better class for a lesson on numbers than Math?

My 3rd year I created a Library Lesson for 6th grade Math and the following year I created one for 7th grade Math. We have few opportunities to bring Math classes into the library, and not only are these some of my favorite Library Lessons, the Math teachers are excited to have a fun, non-graded review where they can see which students are having trouble—they come to me to ask when they can bring their classes in! I wrote more about this Hack in a prior post, Do We Teach Dewey … or Don’t We?

HACK #4: Use Content-Area Standards as the basis for Library Lessons.

This Lesson Planner Integrates Content-Area & School Library Standards! - Teachers will realize the value of a School Librarian as a Teaching Colleague when we bring them a Library Lesson Plan that is based on—and enhances—their content-area activities. #NoSweatLibraryI cringe when I see library lessons that have no relationship to what students are doing in their classroom. When I first realized my Library Lessons needed an authentic curriculum connection, I created a Library Lesson Planner that begins with Content-Area Curriculum Standards and then adds National School Library Standards. Every section of my Library Lesson Planner begins with content-area criteria so the lesson is an integral part of classroom learning. Teachers realize my value as a Teaching Colleague when I bring them a Library Lesson Plan based on their lesson plans. As a result, my collaborations increased, my library use increased, and my lessons were actually meaningful and helpful for both students and teachers!

Try my Library Lesson Planner! Just download it from my FREE Librarian Resources page.

 NoSweat Library Lesson Planner Template - page 1

NoSweat Library Lesson Planner - page 2


HACK #5: Create a Curriculum Matrix for Information Literacy Lessons.

We school librarians see young children perhaps once a week and the older students become, the less we see them, maybe only a few times during the school year. How can we build Information Literacy skills in students with such sporadic visits? I realized I could scaffold short lessons throughout each school year and across the 3 years I have our middle school students, so by the time they leave they’ll be prepared for their next stage of education and library use. I needed to know when to do which lessons with which subject areas, so I created a Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix, a visual guide to track intermittent lessons so they fit together into a comprehensive program for Information Literacy instruction.

I use a separate grid for each grade level with each week of school along the top and each subject area down the side. I examine curriculum guides and identify a unit that could benefit from a library visit. I highlight the time period for that subject’s unit on its row, and write in the name of the unit and the assignment. Then I fill in the Info-Lit skills that can be introduced or reviewed. Library Lesson Matrix exampleAt right is a composite example of an older version of my Library Lesson Matrix for part of the 1st grading period. My Matrix occasionally changes as standards and course curricula change, but I’m able to maintain a broad view of Information Literacy visits.

At the start of each grading period I go to each teacher whose subject appears for that span in my Matrix and propose a collaborative lesson. I bring a print version of my Matrix—so teachers see what a school librarian’s job is all about—and a printed Library Lesson Plan I’ve prepared that incorporates their unit Standards and activities. I make it pretty easy for them to say “Yes, indeed, let’s do this!”


So, there you have it, my 5 Hacks for a School Library: simple, practical changes that challenge “what is” and fix problems we continue to wrestle with, whether we’re brand new or have been in libraries for decades. If you have some “hacks” you’d like to share, please share them in the comments below!

For a real treat, we now have our very own Hack book: Hacking School Libraries: 10 Ways to Incorporate Library Media Centers into Your Learning Community, written by Kristina Holzweiss and Stony Evans. I encourage you to look into other Hack Learning Series books, too, and become inspired by changes you can make in your library or classroom to fix seemingly big problems in an innovative way.

line of books laying down

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Feedback in the School Library

Feedback in the School Library - Feedback for students is important when done correctly. Even School Librarians can use feedback with students during library lessons and other activities. Here are some suggestions... #NoSweatLibraryGiving feedback is one of the most misunderstood aspects of teaching. Many teachers confuse feedback with grading. Feedback is not a grade, nor written comments on an assessment rubric or finished project. Feedback is what we give a student before grading an assignment.

Feedback can be in many forms, but whatever the method, it’s main purpose is to guide a student toward overcoming misunderstandings and errors as they work to achieve the learning goal.


Before I became a school librarian I taught Biology, Chemistry, and Physical Science for 8 years in an at-risk alternative high school. In order for students to receive high school credit in a course, they had to get at least a B grade on every single assignment. Believe me, when you take a 14-year-old with a 3rd-grade reading level through 2 semesters of high school biology and end up with one of the best culminating essays you’ve ever read, you’ve developed a lot of feedback strategies! What I learned about feedback during my years with these discouraged students is exactly what researchers have confirmed:

  • Feedback focuses on specific knowledge and/or skills.
  • Feedback shows a student how to improve to get to where they need to be—and the how may need to be different for each student.
  • Feedback comes regularly throughout the learning process.
  • Feedback is upbuilding and interactive between student and teacher.

I admit that the alternative setting allows for a lot more direct, hands-on feedback and guidance than a regular classroom setting, but there are a number of feedback strategies that can be used with larger groups of students without overwhelming a teacher. You may not realize you are already using the feedback mechanisms on this short list of direct student-teacher interaction and between-students interaction (so you can observe & provide direct feedback as needed):

Direct Student-Teacher Interaction Between-Students Interaction
  • Content-Literacy Graphic Organizers
  • Shorthand List of Codes for Comments
    and Student Responses
  • Single-Point Rubric
    (I reject standard rubrics!)
  • Student Comments Rubric
  • Answer Stations
  • Think-Pair-Share
  • Chat Stations
  • Reciprocal Learning


It may surprise you that I still use the same feedback strategies for my Library Lessons. It’s a little more challenging to provide feedback within a single class period, and maybe not interact with those students again for awhile. So the most important point about feedback is that it isn’t just from student to teacher, to see what they’ve learned; it requires the teacher to respond back to the student with some specific guidance. Group sorting activity

For example, in some lessons I ask students to locate a resource in the library, like a particular book on a shelf. They raise their hands when it’s located, and a teacher or I tell them if it’s correct or we guide them toward figuring out why it’s not, then allow them to find the correct location. Specific, timely, direct. And quickly done even with two full classes of students.

I use a lot of graphic organizers, hands-on interactives, and student discussion for Library Lessons. The teachers and I can roam the library tables listening and guiding students during the activity to make sure they’re achieving the purpose of the lesson.

An Exit Ticket is a great ending to a Library Lesson—and a great daily grade for the teacher—but it isn’t feedback unless we do something with it by responding to students about it at their next visit. Even a quick quiz can be feedback if it’s checked and discussed in a timely manner.


School Librarians can consider an overdue notice as feedback, if done as such. Many librarians run overdue notices on a regular basis—weekly or every other week—to be handed out to students in a class or homeroom. I abandoned that practice. I do run overdue notices at the end of each semester in order to clear students for exams, as required by my principal, but otherwise, I have a better solution.

Use Feedback for Overdue Notice Bookmarks - Alert students to overdues during school library book checkout with these humorous bookmarks. This simple feedback mechanism results in higher returns than traditional overdue notices. Download the FREE template & print your own on colorful paper! #NoSweatLibraryI created a set of funny overdue notice bookmarks. When a student comes to check out a book and I see they have an overdue:

  • I grab an overdue bookmark
  • I write the title of the overdue book on it
  • I put it inside their current book

all the while chatting them up about finding and returning that overdue book. With a bookmark, the student sees it every time they read their current book, and whether at school or home, it reminds them to find and return the overdue book.

You can download my overdue bookmark template
from the FREE Librarian Resources page.

Another strategy is to invite the student to use my phone at the circulation desk to call their home or their own phone and leave a voice message about the overdue. When they or their parents get home and check messages, the reminder prompts a search for the overdue book to be returned the next day. The bookmark or the phone call takes a little more time, but both are specific and timely, direct between the student and I, and upbuilding rather than demoralizing. The knowledge/skill I am building with these two strategies? How to be organized and responsible.


In an article from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development’s (ASCD) article on Feedback, the author writes:

According to Prensky (2007), the addictiveness of video games can be partly attributed to the constant stream of feedback they provide. At each level of the game, players learn what works and what doesn’t, and they can immediately use that knowledge to advance to more challenging levels. And researchers have found that the same dynamic applies in education: One of the most powerful keys to unlocking student motivation and perseverance is feedback.

If we tackle feedback as if making a game of it, we can design innumerable pleasant and productive strategies to use in the classroom or in the school library.

Here’s another excellent article that can provide some insight on feedback: Why Giving Effective Feedback Is Trickier Than It Seems.

With so much research support for feedback, it makes sense for every educator to use feedback, and, more importantly to use it correctly, to build student knowledge and skills!

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