Student Book Budgets: Building Wish Lists and Making Tough Decisions

narrowing (12)Our student book budget group is hard at work.  So far, they have made lists that total almost $4,000, but our budget is $2,000.  Isn’ t this the struggle that we all face with budgets?  How do you decide what to buy and what not to buy?

During our most recent session, we revisited our goals.  We decided based on our survey data to purchase books about

  1. Animals
  2. Sports
  3. Mystery
  4. Comics and graphic novels
  5. Action Adventure
  6. Horror/Scary
  7. Fantasy
  8. Humor
  9. “How to”
  10. Music
  11. Games/Video games

As we made wish lists, our excitement over so many wonderful books caused us to add several things to our list that really didn’t match our goals so we had to think about this.  Do we stick with our goals or do we give ourselves permission to buy whatever we want?  The general consensus was to stick to our goals but possibly have some extra additions here or there.

Since we are way over budget, we have a lot of work to do.  During the most recent work session, we divided the responsibilities.  We identified 3 things that needed to happen:

  1. Continue searching through the Capstone catalog for books that match our goals and adding them to the list
  2. Examine the current Capstone list to see what does not match our goal or what might need to be cut
  3. Continue searching for books that match our goals that could be purchased from Avid Bookshop

One group of students formed an independent group to work on the Avid list.  They used Avid’s website, Amazon, and Novelist to look for books that might be of interest.

The students in the Avid group accidentally lost part of a title on our list, so we consulted our friend Will Walton at Avid via Twitter.

The author of the book even jumped in on the conversation.

Another group of students worked with Mr. Coleman, a 4th grade teacher, to examine our existing list.  He was great at facilitating a conversation with this group.  Only one person at a time was in charge of the mouse to delete books from the list, but all students were engaged in conversation about the books.  As usual, it was heated at times and at other times there was quick consensus about a book.  They narrowed the list below $3,000, but they knew that another group was adding more books to the list.

I worked with the third group who each chose one of our goals and looked through the Capstone catalog for books that matched.  They once again used the easy scan feature to scan books into the list.  I had a great conversation with a student who was adding an animal book to the list.  She asked me, “Do you think this is a book that fits the nature category?”  It really seemed like she was just putting the book on the list because it matched instead of putting it on the list because she thought people would read it, so I asked her about that.  I asked, “Do you think this is a book that kids would be excited about reading?” She paused.  “Do you think this is a book that a teacher would assign someone to read?”  She said yes.  It was a good time for me to say that I strongly believe that the book budget group is a time for kids to buy books that they think kids will be excited about reading.  I can buy books that teachers can use or books that fill gaps in our collection at another time.  This budget is all about what students want.  She smiled and continued looking for a books that mattered to students.

At the end of our time, I don’t think we narrowed our cost at all, but we did get closer to finding books that matched our goals.  Our next step will be to look closely at our budget and the promotions that Capstone offers to consider what our budget really is.  With Capstone Rewards, we really have a lot more money because if you spend $1750 you get 30% in rewards.  This might help our decisions during our next meeting.

Students Meeting with Vendors: Book Talking with Avid Bookshop

Avid (2)

One of my favorite steps in the student book budget process is when the students get to meet real vendors and talk with them.  This year at the School Library Leadership Summit someone asked me if I ever used an independent bookshop as one of my vendors for student book budgets.  The answer was no, but this year we changed that.

I email Janet Geddis, owner of Avid Bookshop, and asked if she would like to be a part of this year’s project.  It was refreshing to hear that community outreach is actually a big part of her business plan, so she definitely wanted to be a part.  When our students had their purchasing goals created, I sent them to Will Walton at Avid Bookshop.  Will is an awesome bookseller and has his first novel coming out in May called Anything Could Happen.

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Will pulled several books from the shop and brought them to our book budget meeting.

I made a Google spreadsheet and shared it with all of the students.  The spreadsheet included a spot for title, author, price, and which goal the book matched.  Will put the books into various categories and started talking about each one.  If the book sounded interesting, then the students worked together to capture the details in the document.

I learned pretty fast that they needed to see the title, author, etc so I pulled Avid’s website up on the board and typed in each book as he talked.  The students could easily copy down the info while he talked.

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After talking through several titles, the students had lots of questions for him.  They had a great time just talking books with Will.  Several students branched off to do their own thing, so I decided to add another layer onto what they could do.

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We used our state database, Galileo, to pull up Novelist K-8 Plus.  I showed students how they could look at books by age range and genre.  Then, Novelist shows books that are similar to books that you have read and liked.  I suggested that they use Novelist to find books that sounded good and matched our goals, and then use Avid’s site to find the price and add to our spreadsheet.

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Mr. Coleman’s ELT group is joining us in this project and they plan to continue this process this week before we meet again on Monday.

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We are very grateful to Avid Bookshop for their support of students.  I loved how Will talked directly to them.  He asked them questions about books but also questions about how they planned to spend their money.  He posed interesting questions such as “Have you thought about paperback versus hardback?  The cost difference can be about $10.”  Students were shocked by the price difference but most agreed that they wanted hardback for durability in the library.  That was without any prepping or pushing from me.  I was amazed.  They said the extra $10 was worth it if the book lasted longer.

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I love how these types of conversations naturally surface.  You can’t force plan each one, but they usually come up at some point.  Soon, the students will meet with another vendor and start the hard process of cutting their wishlist to meet our budget.

2014 Student Book Budgets: Real-World Math Lessons from Capstone Press

decisions (1)Each year, I dedicate a portion of library funding for students to control.  Since the library is for all of our school community, I feel strongly that students should have a voice in what goes into the collection.  Here’s what has happened so far:

  • Students developed a Google form survey and surveyed most of the school on their reading interests
  • Students analyzed the results and developed a list of goals to focus on which included sports, graphic novels, humor, scary, world records, and action/adventure.
  • Students met with Jim Boon from Capstone Press and Gret Hechenbleikner from Gumdrop books to look at book samples and catalogs.

decisions (8)Since the visit with the vendors, the student book budget group has been coming into the library on Mondays and Wednesdays during their recess to continue looking at catalogs.  Much of what they wanted was in Capstone’s catalog, so their first step was to finalize what they wanted to order from Gumdrop.  They decided on a Ripley’s Believe It or Not series, a how to draw graphic novel series, a graphic mythical heroes series, and a history’s most haunted series.

decisions (2)When that was done, I hooked up the scanner to my computer and gave all of the students a Capstone catalog.  Capstone has a great feature where there is a barcode next to each set of books in the catalog.  You can scan the set straight into your cart, or you can scan the set and select the books that you want.  As students found books that matched our goals, they scanned the barcode and told me which books to add.  At that point, we didn’t worry about cost.  We wanted to add all of the books that we were interested in and then start narrowing.  This adding process was so smooth thanks to this scanning feature.  In the past, students have circled items in catalogs, written on pieces of paper, etc. and it took a lot of time to compile everything.  I loved that we were all adding to the same list as we worked.

decisions (6)Right now, Capstone is offering an incentive like they often do.  If you spend at least $1750, you get 30% back in Capstone Rewards.  If you spend less that $1750, you only get 10%.  This was a great math discussion.  Our original budget was $1500 for all of the book budgets.  However, if we spend just $250 more with Capstone, then we get $525 in free books.  I’ve really pushed the group to think about budget, but this was a great real-world example where you sometimes have to spend beyond your budget if it helps you in the long run.  The students unanimously agreed that we needed to spend the $1750 since we already had well beyond that amount in our wish list cart.  I pulled out all of the numbers that I had to think about in order to make this happen.  We looked at the remaining dollar amount in our district budget which was about $375.  Then, we looked at the remaining balance in our local account, which holds profits from our book fairs along with any donations we receive.  I told them about remaining expenses that I knew about for the year such as battle of the books.  We agreed that there was enough money to purchase our list from Gum Drop and extend our Capstone Budget to $1750.

decisions (3)The final task, which we are still working on, is to narrow our cart.  We started with a cart totaling almost $3000.  We knew that we needed to reduce the cart to about $2200 in order to spend $1750 in cash and use $525 in rewards dollars.  By the time we stopped talking about the math, students were all commenting on how hard this is.  One of them said, “You mean this is just a small part of what you do?”  I love that they keep bringing this up.  I love buying new materials, but I’ve been very honest with them about what a small fraction of my time this actually is.  As always, it was interesting to hear them wrestle with decisions about which books to cut from the list:

  • We have 3 books about drawing horses.  Let’s pick the one with the most horses that people are probably interested in.
  • Three of our war books cost $27.  Let’s pick something that doesn’t cost that much.
  • That book looks like it would only be for 5th graders.  It might scare other kids.  Let’s take it off the list.
  • We can’t buy every Jake Maddox book this time.  Let’s choose a few of them.

decisions (5)Every struggle they were having is the same struggles that I go through alone.  I loved being able to share this frustration with them, and they had a much better understanding of how I use math and decision making in my job.  My only wish is that more students could walk through this process with me.  Each year, I find new ways to involve different groups of students, but I would love to have larger groups of students involved in the math aspect.

decisions (6)Once we get our carts narrowed down, we will place our order and wait for the books to arrive.  Since I have extra Capstone Rewards dollars, I’ll also be able to add in some historical perspective books that I’ve been wanting to get for our many social studies projects.  While we wait, students will think about how to advertise the books to the school.decisions (7)

Honoring Student Voices through Student Book Budgets with Capstone Press

Student Book Survey 2013 2014For 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.

Student Book Survey 2013 2014   Google Drive

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.

tough decisions

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!”

jim boon capstone (2)

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.

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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.

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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.