For the past several years, I have reserved a portion of our library funding to be completely controlled by students. Over time, I’ve seen student-selected books be among some of the most popular books in the collection. The library collection is mainly for our students, so why not let their voice be heard in the collection development process. Part of our library funding comes from the state, and another part comes from fundraisers such as our fall and spring book fair. Since students and their families shop at our book fairs to build their home libraries while supporting our school library, I see student book budgets as being one small way of giving back to our community.
This year, our book budget process has gone through some changes. In order to involve a few more students at various stages, I broke the process into parts. Part 1 was to gather data from the school. Every Tuesday and Thursday I have a group of five 5th grade boys who work in the library as a service project. Together, we developed a Google form to gather information from the school. We wanted to track the number of students we surveyed at each grade level, the number of boys and girls, specific reading interests, and specific requests.
Once the survey was created, we generated a QR code so that they could quickly scan the code and go out into the school to survey students with iPads. This was mainly needed with our youngest students. For older students, I emailed the survey to them to fill out.
Each year, we tend to see similar results with our data, but I told the students that we can’t assume that we know what people are wanting in the library because it can change. Here’s a look at the main data they collected.
Next, I blocked off some library time during 4th and 5th grade’s recess time and asked for students who would like to participate in an alternative recess for a few days to spend money on books. I’ve tried doing this during lunch and it is just too complicated to juggle food, catalogs, vendor websites, etc. I didn’t get as big of a response from students this year, so we’ll see if we return to this model next year.
On day 1, the 4th and 5th grade book budget students came to look at the survey results. They made some decisions to inform how much money should be dedicated to various categories. I printed the specific requests of students and Savannah and Isaiah spent time highlighting some specific titles that students were asking for. It was a tedious process for them! The even got down to searching the library catalog to see how many copies of books we had like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and discussing if there was justification to order even more copies of existing titles. We finally all agreed on some overall categories of: Comics/Graphic novels, sports, humor, scary, world records, and action/adventure.
Even on this 1st day, they started having some tough conversation. For example, they saw that World Records was a highly requested category, but from experience, they know that students are mostly talking about Guinness World Records. They decided that instead of dividing the budget and giving this category several hundred dollars, they would just buy 2 new copies of the 2014 World Records for about $60. It’s always fascinating to see how quickly students realize how a budget works and how hard it is to make decisions for the library. One of them said, “Mr. Plemmons, I know this is only a small part of your job, but it sure is hard!”
On day 2, we welcomed Jim Boon, Capstone Press Sales Rep. I love working with Jim because he treats the students like young professionals. I also love that Jim listens to what students are asking for and tailors his talk and display to the goals that they have. He setup displays of books that matched their goal categories with a few books that connected to their themes in different ways. He gave every student a new Capstone catalog and a pen. As he proceeded to show students various books, he invited students to turn through the catalog, circle books of interest, and fold down the corners of pages. After he shared some specific books, students came up and started browsing through the books on display. Jim and I proceeded to have individual conversations with students about the books in the catalogs and help them see where prices could be found. We also mentioned to students that Capstone offers Capstone Rewards and various incentives. For example, if we spend $1750 on our order, we get 30% back in Capstone Rewards, but if we spend less than that we get 10% back. I love the math that comes into this project each year because it is real world application of an important life skill.
I also love that in our individual conversations there are stories that emerge. Jim had a great conversation with one of our students, Ember. She consistently asked Jim about the prices of every book. The budget was weighing heavy on her mind and she was thinking hard about how to get the most books for our money. In their conversations, there were a few books that Ember desperately wanted in our collection, and I loved that Jim made sure to leave one of those books that she requested for us to add to our collection! I know Ember will greatly appreciate it.
Students were having so much fun that they decided to take their catalogs with them to continue marking titles of interest. I’m a little scared of seeing what they come back with! It’s such a hard process to cross books off of the wish list, but it is an important process to choose the very best books for our collection at the current time with the funds that we have.
This process is beneficial to me as the librarian too because I get to see books that students are getting excited about. For the purposes of the project, I remind students to focus on their goals and only purchase what matches the requests. However, I’m over to the side writing down titles to put on my own ordering list for this year or the beginning of next year knowing that the titles already have a group of readers waiting on them.
Thank you to Capstone Press for your tremendous customer service, your professional relationship with all of your users including students, and for giving our students a voice in collection development. You are superstars!
Our next step will be to look at one more vendor to fill in some holes in our wish list, and the we will start the tedious process of cutting books from our list until we have our final order.