Thursday, August 16, 2012

Debt Forgiveness.

Do you purchase books for your library collection out of your own pocket?

I assume not, but wanted to make sure the obvious question was out of the way first. I ask because many a librarian, school and public, gets a bad rap as an overdue overlord, a cost kaiser, a rule rajah, a... um... prince or princess of penalties!

Is that being too harsh? Or are we the ones that need to loosen up a bit?

Colleagues in my district go round and round over what to do about overdues. Do you forgive and forget? Do you maintain the lost book record throughout the school year, but allow the student to continue to check out materials? Do you restrict access to the collection? Just how strict is appropriate for this, the most heinous of all library crimes?

We've tried out a couple of things in our library over the past six years but may have finally stumbled upon a solution that gets the books back without the gluttonous punishments: reintroducing the ROBOT Challenge!
Oh, ROBOT wall! How your weekly sticky postings drew their gazes!

Back in April I mentioned on this very blog that we were in need of something new. We were losing far too many books each year (an average of 150 books not returned annually at a value of $13/book = approximately $2,000). True, this wasn't our money. It was the state's money. But this is no excuse to watch thousands of dollars walk out of our library each year.

I know how this could get a librarian mad. I know how this could make you want to tag the offending students' names in the CIRC and prevent them from ever checking out a book again. I know this could turn a really sweet librarian into the Library Dragon. But what if you could let go of all of those angry feelings and find a way to help the students be more responsible in the process?

Well, I'm happy to report that the ROBOT challenge worked! Sending home overdue slips weekly and keeping parents informed of what materials their kids had checked out seemed to be the ticket to cultivating responsible library patrons.

The shining stars meant ZERO overdue books, which also meant a popsicle party... my treat!
By the end of the year we had just 15 books remaining. This is huge! And even better, we didn't have to lock any of our students up in the dungeon or threaten to eat their tater tots for the remainder of the school year. :)

I've had a lot on my heart this year around the topic of debt forgiveness.

  • Are we holding the children prisoner to their lost books? 
  • Are we offering alternatives to patrons who cannot afford to replace lost books?
  • Are we understanding of the various outside factors contributing to the problem?
  • Are we holding repeat offenders responsible? we've resolved the following pledge to our patrons.
  • We will forgive lost books at the start of the school year following Back to School Night. No questions asked.
  • We will allow students to continue checking out books even after a book has been marked long overdue or lost. Limited to one book per visit until overdue book is returned.
  • We will allow students to "work off" their lost book fine by volunteering for one week in the library media center. Responsibility demonstrated is a fine resolved.
  • We will limit students who continually lose books to keeping library books in their classroom. Some home situations just aren't ideal for library books.
  • We will love you no matter what. Books get lost. If you didn't mean for it to happen, we believe you.
What steps are you taking toward debt forgiveness? We'd love to adopt some new practices to continue better serving our patrons.

- Matthew


  1. Hi Matthew! I borrowed an idea from a fellow Anne Arundel County librarian to deal with this issue. I wish I could remember who it was so I could give them credit. Basically, I set up a small book shelf in my library called "The I Forgot My Book Zone," more affectionately known as "The Zone." This shelf houses all of the donated books that we receive throughout the year that are not needed or useful for the library collection (paperbacks, Golden books, etc.) Each Zone book has a sticker on it reminding the students and their parents to look for and return their library book as soon as possible. When a student forgets to return their book, they select a book from our library collection to put on hold and then they select a book from "The Zone" to take home. I don't care if Zone books ever come back because they were free, but they usually do get returned along with the student's library book. The Zone helps me to make sure every student leaves the library with a book that they are excited to read, and it saves me from a lot of Kindergarten meltdowns. Best of luck on the upcoming school year!

  2. Tammy, "The Zone" sounds like a great idea! I might have to borrow that one! Thanks for sharing!

  3. I have "Honor Books" similar to "The Zone" that I let students with overdue books take home. They are on their honor to bring them back... thus, the name "Honor Books." I also allow students to work off lost book fines. I do not charge for overdue books, but I only let students check out "Honor Books" if they have an overdue book.

    I really like your pledge, Matthew. I might have to borrow at least parts of it. My county sets some of the rules as far as when I can allow students to check out again, but I whole-heartedly agree with it!

    Thank YOU for sharing! =)

  4. Always a pleasure, Jo! I hope you're getting lots and lots of responses from our global LMS colleagues signing up for future posts!

  5. Loved this idea! It is such a positive approach. I'm planning on trying it out - thank you for sharing so freely!