Overdue School Library Books & How to Handle Student Excuses

Overdue School Library Books & How to Handle Student Excuses - Overdue library books are a perpetual problem for School Librarians, but we need a friendly, non-judgmental policy that maintains book circulation and student reading. Here are some typical excuses from students, and tolerant ways to deal with them. #NoSweatLibraryEvery year, about a month after school begins, School Librarians begin to tackle the recurring and everlasting problem of students with overdue library books. Each school seems to have its own special problems and each librarian contrives some unique solutions. There is, however, one constant for all of us: the clichéd excuses students offer about their overdue library book.

The excuses students give us for not returning books can be especially troublesome when they’re at the circulation desk and we’re trying to check out books for 30—or 60—students before the end of a period. However, if we understand the underlying cause of these overdue excuses, we can respond calmly and more productively. No matter if you are elementary, middle school, or high school, when we tell a student they have an overdue library book, the ‘reasons’ offered come in 3 forms: avoidance, blame, or contrition.

AVOIDING THE PROBLEM OF AN OVERDUE BOOK

An avoidance response is non-confrontational, and we don’t want to escalate it. We just need to provide a simple prompt to give the student a possible solution. Here’s how I handle 4 common avoidance excuses:

avoidance-I don't remember that book This is a classic, spur-of-the-moment avoidance response. I tell the student the date the book was checked out, grab one of my handy overdue bookmarks, write the book title, and slip the bookmark into the new book as I check it out. When I hand the book to the student I ask them to ‘look in their locker and at home, and get it back to me as soon as they find it.’
avoidance-I don't know where it is This is probably the truth, and why the book is overdue. I follow the same bookmark procedure and tell them I’m sure they’ll find it if they look around their locker and at home.
avoidance-I never checked that out With this excuse the student is embarrassed and doesn’t want us to make a big deal about it. I gently remind them I scanned their ID badge or they entered their ID number on the keypad, so they must have checked it out. I grab the overdue bookmark, add the title and, in this case, the date checked out, hand it over in their new book and give the standard ‘look in locker and at home’ request.
avoidance-I already returned that book This classic excuse is often a bluff in hopes we’ll let it go. Since even super-librarians make mistakes during check-in, I grab a sticky note, write the call number and title, and give it to the student telling them to go find the book on the shelf and bring it to me. If it’s a check-in mistake I scan the book and apologize, making a joke about ‘these darn computers’ or, in my case, ‘this gray hair.’ If they can’t find it, I follow the usual procedure with the overdue bookmark.

Students get a kick out of my ‘gray hair’ reference: I tell them my hair is gray because all the color has leaked out, and now I make a lot of mistakes because my brains are leaking out, too.

BLAMING SOMEONE ELSE FOR AN OVERDUE BOOK

Blame excuses are confrontational, and we definitely can’t let them go; however, we need to realize that blame is really avoidance accompanied by a fear of retribution. If we respond in a calm manner, offering a workable solution that puts the onus where it belongs, we’ll avoid escalating the situation by removing the fear. Here are 4 examples.

This is the universal middle school answer for anything that’s missing. If your school is like mine, a few library books do get shuffled around in the gym or cafeteria, so I simply sigh and sympathize that it happened, as I’m filling in the title on that handy overdue bookmark. Sympathy defuses the fear and when I hand the student the bookmark I tell them to take another look for it…just in case it’s in a locker or at home. blame-someone stole it

This excuse sounds like such a noble gesture, but it really shifts the burden of responsibility to another student. I ask if the other person is in the library, and if so, have them bring the book up to check it in and then I can check out the book to the newly responsible party.

If the other student is not in the library, I gently remind the student that as long as the book is checked out to them, they are responsible for it, so they need to either get the book or the student into the library so we can solve the overdue…and I give them the overdue bookmark as a reminder.

blame-I gave it to my friend to read & she'll return it
This excuse implies the problem is our fault, but we can maintain our cool. I remind the student that we use our IDs for checkout so a mistake is unlikely, but since it is possible, they can help me by looking around for the book, in their locker or at home, and I hand them the overdue bookmark. blame-are you sure I checked that out

I lament this blame excuse, because I do have ELA teachers who tell students to put library books to return near their classroom door. Often other students grab a book they want to read before the teacher can return it.

I have no control over this, so I tell the student to ask the teacher for permission to get the books from the classroom. If no, then I do an overdue bookmark and remind the student to check for the book in class the next day. Eventually someone does return it.

blame-my teacher was supposed to return it

If your overdue notices aren't getting school library books returned, read how this School Librarian uses these crazy bookmarks for better results. And you can download the templates from my FREE Librarian Resources page! | No Sweat LibraryYou’ll note that, during a book checkout, students whose accounts show an overdue get an overdue bookmark with the book title written on it. Why do I use this method? Because the student sees this bookmark every time they’re reading their current book and it prompts them to look for the overdue one and return it. I do run overdue notices at periodic intervals, but these bookmarks allow a friendly face-to-face conversation and tend to bring books back much more quickly.

Join my e-Group to download these Overdue Bookmarks from my e-Group’s exclusive Library of FREEbies!

CONTRITE ABOUT THE OVERDUE…BUT…

Contrition is when a student admits to the overdue book but can’t return it for some reason. These excuses are easy to handle because the student accepts responsibility and just needs an opportunity to retrieve the book or a reminder to bring it back to the library. The worst thing we can do with these excuses is make a big deal about them, so I laugh and take them in stride.

contrition-it's in my locker This is the typical excuse when a student has forgotten it’s a library day. I created a special ‘Library to Locker for Overdue Book’ Pass and I hand one to the student so they can get their book and return it. I have 6 numbered passes, to limit how many students are out and about during the period.
contrition-I left it in my classroom I know this seems silly since the student just came from the classroom, but it proves my belief that middle schoolers are ‘brain dead’. I tell the student to ask the teacher’s permission to return to the classroom. The teacher knows these students better than I do, and who is trustworthy enough to allow this. If they don’t, the student gets the overdue bookmark and I usually get the book dropped off right after the class period or the next day at the start of the class period.
contrition-I forgot to bring it back to school This is an easy excuse to handle with some sympathy and the overdue bookmark. If it’s a long-time overdue, I’ll have the student leave a phone message to remind themselves to bring the book back to school. The kids find this funny; I find it works.
contrition-I think I lost my book

Often a student says this as I pull up their account on the computer and they know they have somehow misplaced the book.

it's here, you found itWhen the book doesn’t show up on their account at all, they’re thrilled that it’s been turned back in to the library!

I got a book with legs If the ‘lost’ book still shows as overdue, I ask when they last saw the book as I fill out the overdue bookmark. We need to accept that students misplace things—after all, they’re still learning to become adults. I joke that the book must have been partying with the other books, and hand them their new book. The student laughs and says ‘Yes, Ms. P, it’s a book with legs!‘ We all have a good laugh and the book routinely turns up later on and is returned.

DO WE REALLY NEED A “SOLUTION” FOR OVERDUES?

Each morning during the last week of a grading period, I’d take a bookcart to a hallway where kids were getting into their lockers before first period. Reciting my mantra as I walked down the hall, “Library books, collecting library books!”, kids could easily grab books & put them on the cart. I’d do 2 hallways each morning, so by the end of the week I’d done all 9 hallways, and collected huge numbers of books. This tactic did minimize overdues.

Keep in mind that kids are busy. We adults have a single focus—our subject—and we often fail to appreciate that students must re-calibrate their brains 6 or 8 times a day for different subjects with different teachers in different classrooms. If they forget to return a school library book, we can be forgiving, especially since harsh repercussions don’t work and only alienate student readers. I’ve found 3 benevolent tactics that I believe we can all adopt:

  • Get rid of overdue book fines. Whatever the original reasoning behind fines, it doesn’t work. Fines keep books out of circulation and discourage students from returning books and checking out new ones to read, the opposite of what we are trying to accomplish.
  • Always allow a student to check out a book. We can limit a student to a single book if they have overdues, but depriving a student of a book does nothing in the moment to get that overdue back. Rather, it creates ill feeling toward us and the school library, and that’s just plain bad policy.
  • Quit thinking they’re “our” books, or even “the school’s” books. In a school library, the books belong to the students. They are provided for them and we are only the ‘warehouse manager’. A Facebook comment from School Librarian Jen M. Hash-Staley convinced me:

I always have missing books at the end of the year, I don’t let it bother me much anymore. Tax paying parents funded the purchase, so I like to think that they are enjoying a tax rebate. Crazy talk I know.

Going ballistic over overdues does nothing good. We need to figure out congenial ways to cajole students into returning overdue books. Having a friendly, non-judgmental policy toward overdues will increase both circulation and reading, and go a long way toward building positive attitudes toward the school library.

And remember, a student is always more valuable than a book!

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How School Librarians Can Integrate the Workshop Model & Classroom Libraries

How School Librarians Can Integrate the Workshop Model & Classroom Libraries - School Librarians must make the school library about more than just reading. When we focus on integrating Library Lessons into all subject curricula, we won't lament curriculum changes, such as the ELA workshop model & classroom libraries. #NoSweatLibraryIt’s not unusual to see a School Librarian post something like this on my listservs:

The English Language Arts department adopted a reading & writing workshop model and classroom libraries. Students choose books in their classrooms and read for 10-minutes at the start of class, so teachers no longer bring them to the library. Our library circulation has plummeted and I don’t think students have the time and freedom they previously had for free reading.

Friends, this is why our library program MUST be more than just books and reading! If we focus only on promoting reading and checking out books, we will suffer when classroom libraries and reading workshop programs are implemented. Our school library must be a multi-faceted learning space, not just a book repository.

I’m a School Librarian who has gone through this experience, and I can tell you that, because I built strong curricular relationships with ELA teachers, I wasn’t adversely affected when our district adopted such a program. Well, we did follow the “rules” for the first semester, but teachers were very unhappy with our reading results, so the following semester we reverted to our already-successful regular recurring ELA library visits with sustained silent reading. Yes, because of our long record of DEAR/SSR, we were able to see the shortcomings of the new model.

PITFALLS OF POOR WORKSHOP IMPLEMENTATION

  • 10-minute reading doesn’t allow story immersion
    Students need 2 or 3 chapters to really get into a story, and that takes a lot longer than 10 minutes. Teachers found that students weren’t continuing to read a book they’d chosen the day before, but would look for a new one. Limiting their browse time didn’t solve the problem and students just grabbed any book off the shelf, read for the allotted time period, then put the book back and grabbed a new one the next day. Students weren’t really “reading” nor finishing books; they were just fulfilling a “requirement.”
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  • 10-minute reading doesn’t foster comprehension
    Try it yourself. Pick up a new book and read for 10 minutes, then mark your place and put it away. The next day, pick up the same book and begin reading where you left off—don’t reread—for 10 minutes. Do the same thing for a third day, and when you put the book down, write a short summary of the story. The fourth day, start a brand new book at the beginning and read for 25-30 minutes, then write a short summary of the new story. Compare the two summaries: you’ll shake your head at the shallow understanding those short reading periods gave you and how much more you got out of the longer sustained reading session. You’ll also want to continue reading that second book!
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  • 10-minute reading doesn’t build reading endurance
    When we reverted back to our regular library visits with DEAR Time, kids would look at the clock after 8 or 9 minutes to see if the “10 minutes” they’d gotten used to was over—and then they’d get restless and disruptive. Even upper grades who had enjoyed extended reading in prior years did this. We cajoled and stuck with it–providing the same long DEAR Time in classrooms in the off weeks–and eventually students settled into reading for 25-30 minutes.

So ended our experiment with daily reading as a “bell-ringer” activity. In all fairness, the workshop model is intended to provide lengthier reading times, but all too often teachers make “reading workshop” into chopped-up text analysis instead of free reading and an ending summation activity.

DON’T FIGHT CLASSROOM LIBRARIES – SUPPORT THEM

I rarely purchase more than 2 hardback copies of any book, even if popular, because extra copies sit on the shelf after the first burst of interest and are weeded for non-circulation within a couple years. I’m happy to have teachers build classroom libraries with several paperback copies of best sellers. By the time popularity wanes, the books are worn out and latecomers are satisfied by the 2 library copies.

Classroom libraries mean fewer intermittent book checkouts, but those aren’t a huge contributor to circulation. With nascent classroom libraries, teachers limited students to 1 book at a time from their shelves, and with the workshop model’s increased reading, I decided to increase book checkout limits from 2/student to 3/student and, by the end of the school year, to 4/student. Students also read during downtime in other subject areas, so by having an extra book from the school library, they can start a new story instead of waiting for ELA class or bi-weekly library visit. Continued reading increased our circulation beyond what was expected from just increasing checkout limits!

Classroom libraries did produce 2 problems for ELA teachers: lack of shelf space for books and lack of funds to keep purchasing new books. Because they were so supportive of the library program, I wanted to help:

  1. Support Classroom Libraries: An Idea for Surplus Shelves - If your school library has extra bookshelves laying around, use them for short paperback bookshelves that fit under a whiteboard. English Language Arts teachers LOVE them for classroom libraries, your principal is impressed with your initiative, and you've gotten rid of dust-catching clutter! #NoSweatLibraryFor the library’s 5-foot high bookcases I use 3 shelves for books and the bottom shelf to display new or topical books. Since each bookcase came with 5 shelves, I had more than 100 extra solid oak shelves stacked up.
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    Deciding to use these extra shelves, I designed a 6” deep, 2-shelf bookcase to fit under whiteboards in ELA classrooms. I had a high school construction class build 4 of these for each ELA teacher. You can imagine their surprise when I gave each teacher 20 feet of additional paperback shelving that didn’t eat into their classroom space!
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  2. I’d been running a school store during lunch in the cafeteria for a couple years. Priced from 25¢ to $2, students gobbled up these fun & flashy school supplies, and the income purchased more supplies. Still, I had accumulated some significant profits, so I decided to donate $385 of school store profits to the ELA department to purchase new books for their classroom libraries.
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    If ELA teachers were delighted with the bookshelves, they were over-the-moon about the money! They met at our local brand-name bookstore that very weekend and chose dozens of new books–substantially discounted, thanks to a supportive store manager. They praised students for helping to get those books by supporting the school store, and my business boomed even more during ensuing weeks. At the end of the school year I donated another $160 to ELA teachers.

The point here is, instead of complaining about classroom libraries, I found a way to solve the problems my ELA colleagues were having with this curricular change. Instead of a drop in circulation, ELA teachers were even more consistent about bringing students to the library and my circulation soared!

INTEGRATED THEMATIC LIBRARY “WORKSHOP” LESSONS

School Librarians Can Re-align Library Lessons to Fit a Workshop Model - The 4 Instructional Activities of my Library Lesson Planner align with the 4 steps of the Workshop model. Through collaboration with ELA teachers, each literary text unit now has meaningful Library Lessons that align with classroom learning and ensure continued library visits. #NoSweatLibraryIn its simplest form, the workshop model has 4 parts: opening, mini-lesson, work time, and debriefing. This coordinates with the 4 instructional steps of my Library Lesson Planner: direct instruction, modeling & guided practice, independent practice, and sharing & reflecting, so I configure our library visits as Reader Writer Workshops:

Warm-up – I share Learning Targets and allow for the return of books.
Mini-LessonDirect Instruction and Modeling & guided practice to the whole class.
Workshop is Independent practice. Usually we have Reader Workshop where students browse for new books and have DEAR Time free reading. Sometimes the lesson is Writer Workshop where students complete an activity.
Sharing & reflecting – The last several minutes of the period is our by-table book checkout and I can talk to each student about the books they’ve chosen.

With the first Library Orientation visit, 6g ELA teachers liked my adoption of the Workshop model, but I knew I could do more. I studied the new scope & sequence, and I could see opportunities for Library Lessons that would provide a more enriching experience covering the entire class period.

Teachers and I collaborated to customize Library Lessons with Literary Text Unit Themes and integrate their classroom learning activities into a full-period Library Lesson visit. The new Library Lessons are spread out over the entire unit, yet we still allow plenty of time for book browsing and silent reading. Because we collaborated, English Language Arts is intricately woven into every-other-week library visits, and the content and pacing of curriculum is not just preserved, but enhanced.

I’ve adapted 6th grade Literary Text Units for use by any middle school librarian. Units for Narrative text, Expository text, and Persuasion units are available from No Sweat Library, my TeachersPayTeachers store. A poetry unit is under construction.

MAKE EVERY LIBRARY VISIT IRREPLACEABLE

I clarify that my school library program wasn’t negatively impacted by the workshop model and classroom libraries for 3 reasons:

  • We’d already established regularly scheduled library visits with silent reading every other week for all ELA classes.
  • I’d already created short Library Lessons for some visits that supported classroom learning.
  • The strong relationship between School Librarian and English Language Arts teachers prompted collaboration to overcome the deficiencies of the workshop curricular plan.

The School Library can’t just be about reading books. School Librarians need to rigorously contribute to student learning by fully integrating Library Lessons into all subject curricula. Otherwise, we can’t lament a lack of appreciation for the library when curriculum changes affect our circulation.

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