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 Librarians, 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  • A collection analysis report provides a true picture of our collection so we can weed outdated material and make purchases that develop a balanced, relevant collection.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 Fiction 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.

line of books laying down - indicates end of blog article

Join my mailing list to get a brief email about new posts on library lessons & management . You'll also gain access to my exclusive e-List Library of FREE resources!

How Simplified Library Orientations Simplify Library Management

How Simplified Library Orientations Simplify Library Management - Simplifying my Library Orientation Lessons have had a profound effect on how I manage my school library: scheduling, facility organization, collection development, library promotion, and even my own professional development. Simplify your school library management using these ideas! #NoSweatLibraryI’ve written about my simplified Library Orientations with English Language Arts classes, that focus only on reading and narrative literature so students can check out their first Fiction book. Eliminating everything else from orientation gives students a pleasurable visit and makes ELA teachers avid library supporters.

Throughout the rest of the year I began to see that simplified Library Orientations also simplify Library Management: scheduling, facility organization, collection development, library promotion, and even my own professional development.


Establishing sustained, silent reading at library orientation so students can begin reading their book means students are more quickly engaged in the story, are reading more, and need to exchange finished books for new ones more often. Having DEAR Time during ensuing visits convinced my ELA teachers to schedule regular class library visits throughout the school year. Now we have an “ELA Book Exchange” day, every other week, for each grade level and for SpEd/ESL/Reading Improvement. I schedule a semester of visits and send event emails to teachers that automatically add the dates into their online calendars.

Sample of Library Schedule Tab worksheet

Library Schedule

This scheduling—fixed for ELA, flex for everyone else—has been a perfect solution for our library. ELA teachers are very adaptable if we have to change for another library need, but this regular visitation has allowed me to create short Library Lessons featuring library materials for each new ELA unit: expository text, persuasion, and poetry.


My goal for the organization and arrangement of library materials is to minimize the time it takes students to find something they need. Simplifying library orientations led to an ongoing library re-organization and re-arrangement that promotes reading, supports subject curricula, and makes the School Library more student-friendly.

Create Special Collections in the School Library With This Simple System - Special Collections make it easier for students to find a book that interests them. Teachers like them because they support curriculum and reduce the time students spend searching for books. Here's a simple way to create Special Collections. #NoSweatLibraryStudents like the Special Collections I feature at orientations because their smaller size and specific topics simplify finding a book that interests them. Teachers like these customized reading choices because they support curriculum and reduce the time students spend searching for books during visits.

Before creating my first special collection I thoroughly planned how to do it: I applied a Subject sticker under the spine label, a transparent color symbol or label protector over the Call Number spine label, and shelved the books together with colorful customized signs and shelf labels. This S-S-S Systemstickers, shelving, and signage—is simple and fast, and anyone can sort books for re-shelving with a quick glance at the sticker or color label … as in, “Judy, I need you to shelve all the ‘red’ label books.”

I’ve written about some of my Special Collections, but here’s a list of all of them, in the approximate order I created them over the years:

  • Texas State Reading List collections – the middle school Lone Star books and selected high school Tayshas books.
  • Careers – books pulled from other Dewey sections and shelved together under the 331.7 Dewey books; they’re easy to locate for pleasure reading and for the Careers class project.
  • Multicultural Fiction – I added stickers at the top of the spine, but decided not to separate these books from the rest of the fiction collection.
  • Graphic Novels—fiction and non-fiction plus Manga series.
  • Picture Books and Quick-Reads (easy-readers & books <100 pages) – I moved Picture Books, Quick-Reads, and Graphic Novels to adjacent shelves, and by featuring these Special Collections at ELL, SpEd and Reading Improvement orientations, I help these students progressively build language and reading skills.
  • Quick-Bios (books <100 pages) for ELL, SpEd and RI, and Memoirs, a curriculum topic for 8g ELA.
  • Spanish Language Fiction and Spanish Language Dewey collections to support our IB language program. Spanish teachers schedule a Library Lesson for students to learn about, and check out books from, these collections.
  • Multicultural collections in 973.04 for Multicultural U.S. History (Civil Rights movement, etc.) and on the shelf right below, 973.08 for Multicultural America (.08 is for “kinds of people”).
  • Fiction Subjects: Adventure, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Humor, Mystery, Realistic Fiction, Romance, Scary (Horror), Science Fiction, and Sports.
  • Special Social Studies Collections: GlobeTrekkers (fiction & Dewey sorted by continent), Totally Texas (Texas Fiction & 976.4), and Read America (Historical America fiction & 973)

DEAR Time during ELA visits prompted me to add additional furniture and create special seating areas in the library. I now have a chair or bench at the end of each aisle so students can look over books. Students can sit in a solitary chair to read by themselves or in one of the small group seating areas I created. I didn’t use library funds—I raided the district warehouse for discards, accepted donated chairs from parents, and donated a couple of my own. Even the theater teacher gave me seating items to clear out her props room, yet they are readily available when she needs to borrow them back for a performance!

Photo of special library seating at the end of certain aisles of books.

A few special seats


Simplified Library Orientations and Special Collections makes collection development easier because I know exactly what to look for in catalogs and book reviews. The first expenditures from my book budget are for Special Collections, so I can keep them fresh and inviting to students. With vendors I create a separate book list for each Special Collection. After ordering, I print out each collection list so when books arrive I can quickly separate and label one group at a time.

Create Special Collections to Simplify Book Ordering & Processing - Special Collections simplify book ordering and book processing, especially when you follow my simple S-S-S System for creating them. No call number or spine label changes needed! Learn more here! #NoSweatLibraryMy district has a standard for book processing, cataloging, and spine label call numbers, so using only stickers and transparent labels to identify Special Collection books means NO changes to call numbers or spine labels. In my automation system I’ve added Special Collection names to the Home Location field—the one that shows when a book is on the shelf or checked out. I use the global batch feature to set each name so I can scan all the new books in each collection at one time. An online catalog search displays the Home Location field so viewers know that a book is in a Special Collection location (or that it’s checked out). It’s also very easy to generate customized reports using that field:

  • Circulation statistics show which collections are most popular and need more books or which titles need additional copies.
  • Aged and low-circulation statistics allow me to quickly weed books throughout the year, one special collection at a time.


I’m not a bulletin board person. The 3 bulletin boards outside the library near each grade-level hallway were decorated at the start of school and left until the end of the school year. After customizing Library Orientations, I was inspired to create a bulletin board for each grade level that changes each grading period to coordinate with classroom activities and to promote reading and the library:

  • A sign with the ELA grade-level theme for each changing unit, along with pictures of books related to that theme.
  • A sign for the Social Studies grade-level theme, along with pictures of books to coordinate with classroom content. Each board has a pocket with grade-level Social Studies bookmarks so students can grab one if they need it.
  • Signs and Dewey-book pictures for subject area library visits scheduled for the grading period, along with signs or infographics of online services for research projects that bring those subject area classes to the library.
  • When students talk about a good book, I have them create a book review on a 3”x5” card and staple it on the board. It’s a great way to involve students and to update bulletin boards without a lot of extra work.

Learn more about Purposeful Library Bulletin Boards by joining my Mailing List and downloading the ebook!

Snip of several colorful topical bookmarks side-by-side

Examples of topical bookmarks

Changing the focus of orientations to reading also prompted me to create my own customized Reading Records and Series & Topical Fiction bookmarks. Using letter-size color card-stock I can create 6 bookmarks with lists of books on both sides. From a ream of card-stock I get ~3000 bookmarks for the same price as 500 from library suppliers. I also customize bookmarks for Lexiled reading lists for ELL/SpEd/Reading Improvement classes and for research project print & online resource lists.


I’ve written before about my science and social studies background, which helps for choosing non-fiction books and coordinating content reading into lessons, and except for mystery fiction, I even prefer reading non-fiction. Consequently, following orientation changes, my professional development included learning more about ELA standards, about reading levels for students and books, and about reading promotion. I’ve read professional books, attended workshops, and indulged in librarian blogs featuring books and reading promotion. I’m also more attentive to book reviews and recommendations from other librarians in my district and on the listservs. I’m still not as adept at reading promotion as someone who came from an ELA background, but every step forward improves student use of our library, the circulation of books, and most importantly, my ability to help students find a perfect book to read.

Logo for No Sweat Library on Teachers Pay Teachers
For products that support facility organization and library lessons check out No Sweat Library, my TPT store.

line of books laying down - indicates end of blog article

Join my mailing list to get a brief email about new posts on library lessons & management . You'll also gain access to my exclusive e-List Library of FREE resources!