Facing Barriers in the Library: Self Check Out

Most people know of my motto of expecting the miraculous, but even when you expect the miraculous, it doesn’t mean that you don’t face frustrations, challenges, and barriers. What it does mean is that you don’t give up in the face of a challenge.

Several years ago, our library assistants were cut when education funding was cut due to the economy, and they’ve not been added back. When that happened, I had to examine our library and think about what I could let go of and what I wouldn’t compromise. One of the things I let go of was worrying about whether every book was checked in or checked out correctly. I also somewhat let go of library checkout limits since I really couldn’t watch that closely.

Since students in grades 2-5 visit the library alone in addition to their library lessons, I focused on those students to learn how to do self check in and self check out.  I setup a computer dedicated to check in and a computer dedicated to check out. I also recorded sounds such as “stop. check screen.” and “hold shelf please” to prompt students to look to see if there was an error message on the screen or to put the book aside for the next student.

When students check in their books, they simply scan them and then put them on a return cart in any order. When students check out, they type in their student id, press enter, scan their books, and scan a reset barcode. I have instructions printed and taped on each screen if students forget the steps.

When assistants were cut, I also had to start a volunteer program. The main job of volunteers was to shelve books, process books I cataloged, repair damaged books, and help prep for special events. It was slow to start and then grew. Some years we have many volunteers and others are a struggle. This year some of our most dedicated and dependable volunteers have faced some hardships in their lives, which means that there are days where no volunteers come in to do any of the things I’ve counted on in the past.

All of this is to say, I’ve hit a wall. I’ve found myself running back and forth in the library trying to juggle all the library circulation pieces in the air while teaching classes, but they just keep crashing around me. I often have to stop and take a deep breath and try to not pull my hair out. Here are a few of the things that have been happening:

  • students who return books, scan them and try to put them in the closest part of the return cart rather than find an empty space. Books pile up and end up spilling all over the floor.
  • students get in a frenzy of grabbing books off the shelves (a good problem) but as space opens up, entire shelves of books fall out in the floor multiple times per day.
  • large groups of students come to check out books, have trouble taking turns at computers, and end up logging the computer out or closing Destiny.
  • these same groups of students are yelling across the library for my help at the same time and again I’m running back and forth trying to put out fires about logistics

I won’t keep going with this list because I don’t want to complain, but the thing that is truly frustrating me, is that I haven’t been able to have quality conversations about books because I spend so much time just trying to keep the library running. That’s what really made me pause and reflect about what I could do to support students with the logistics of check out so that I could have more meaningful conversations with them about books.

The first thing I tried was sending out a short Google form to students for ideas of how to improve the check in experience. Many students responded with how students needed to be more responsible. This helped me realize this wasn’t just something that was about me. I had some amazing insights about changing the way students return books. One of those was returning the books in stacks rather than standing them vertically since many students were trying to do that anyway. We tried this one out for a week but when a student wanted a book in the middle of a return stack, it just resulted in even more books in the floor.

Next, I decided to make myself an observer and stand back and watch what was getting in our way. I made a list that I add to as I see new things. Flipgrid now has a feature called “Shorts” where you can use Flipgrid’s camera to record a video up to 3 minutes and upload it with its own link without actually creating a Flipgrid topic. I love this because it saves me the hassle of creating a video and then having to upload it to Youtube and also allows me take advantage of the camera tools such as whiteboard, stickers, text, and filters if I need them.

I used Flipgrid shorts to make a video for each “problem” or “clarification” that I identified. At first, I was sharing these in our daily announcements and encouraging teachers to show them in class as they came out, but I quickly saw that there was a need for them all to be in a central spot. I used Smore to put each link on the same page as a question. I shared this Smore with teachers. Many teachers have been sharing the videos in class and discussing them before that day’s check out time. Others have shared the Smore in Google Classroom and encourage students to watch them on their own.

In the library, I have the Smore pulled up on a computer right next to our circulation area. If a student has a question and I can easily and quickly help them, I do.  However, if I’m assisting multiple people or teaching a class, I can essentially clone myself by sending the student to the computer to watch the video in the library. This has already saved me a lot of time with library holds.

This isn’t magically fixing our problems. When you have up to 20 kids coming to check out books at the same time while also teaching a class, things aren’t going to be perfectly smooth. However, I’m trying to not compromise student access to books just because of some logistics we can work out.  Within a week of rolling this out, I’ve already seen students working together to stand up books on the return cart. They even use language directly from the video when explaining to the other student what to do. Lining those books up is super helpful, because with limited shelving help at the moment, I need students to be able to see those books on the return carts so they can pull choices from there too.

There have been several instances where I’ve been able to direct a student to a video while I have a conversation with someone about their reading. I’ve also been able to help situations quickly by saying something like “did you watch the disappearing cursor video”, and then they immediately know how to fix the problem.

Teachers have also been amazing. Some have spent a good amount of time watching the videos. Others have designated kids within their check out groups to be a leader and remind members of their group what to do to help the library stay user-friendly.

This is something I’m going to continue to focus on and find ways to make small improvements. I’m not stopping self checkout or limiting students coming to the library. I have to remember to keep involving students in ways to take ownership of our library and remind myself that I am not really alone in the library (plus remind myself to take plenty of deep breaths throughout the day).



The Student Book Budget Books Have Arrived!

book budget unpacking (41)

After almost two months of working on the 2015-2016 student book budget project, the books are rolling in to the library, and the excitement is brewing. This year’s budget was made possible thanks to a grant from James Patterson. Students had $5,000 to spend on books. They created a survey, surveyed the school, analyzed the results, set goals, met with vendors, compiled wish lists, cut lists to match our budget, and helped order the books.

Now the books are arriving, so students are meeting once again to go through the process of unpacking, inspecting, and marketing the books.

We have many more books than usual, so it is taking a bit longer to unpack the books. So far, we have books from Capstone and Gumdrop. Students came in by grade level for 30-minute shifts. Each company required a different process. This was mainly because we opted to not have full processing on Gumdrop books so that they would ship faster. I’m sort of regretting that decision, but it’s giving students an additional experience.

For Gumdrop, students had to apply the barcode, spine labels, and label protectors. This was tedious work for them to locate the correct labels for the correct books, and they passed this job off as often as they could since it was so time consuming. This process is still not complete, so no Gumdrop books have gone out to readers yet. We need to finish labels and check books off of the packing slip.

For Capstone, our books were already processed and ready to go. All students needed to do was unpack them, check them off the packing slip, and stamp them with the library stamp.

Additionally, Capstone let each book budget member choose one book that was their personal pick. They also sent us labels that could be put into the front of these books so that students could write their names to remind readers who selected those books.

The crew loved locating their books and applying the labels. As an added treat, they were the first to check out these books.

One student took it upon herself to start displaying the books while everyone else worked on all of the other tasks. Ajacea cleared out spaces in  the front of the library and started standing up books. If she didn’t like the way it looked, she took it all down and started over. I saw her do this more than once.

Finally, she had the idea of maximizing display space by putting books in the windows of the library facing out to the hall. There was room to put a top level and bottom level of books. She also used some of our library cushions, tables, and counter space.

It was a prime time for setting up a display because many classes were leaving lunch and walking right by the library. I saw many conversations happening in the hall about the books, and it wasn’t long before those same students were rushing back to the library to checkout what they saw.

There were moments of frantic grabbing when a whole class ended up coming to check out. The books were only on display for a little more than an hour and I would say at least half of the displayed books were checked out.

Students will come once again tomorrow to finish the books we have, and then they will reconvene when our order from Avid Bookshop arrives. I’m always inspired by how proud students are when they see their hard work pay off on unpacking day. They realize that the time they sacrificed was worth it to add more books to the library. They love getting the first look at the books, and they are amazed when the books fly off the shelves.

Ajacea stopped by at the end of the day to see what happened to her display. She had told me earlier in the day that her job would be ongoing because she would need to refill the empty spots. Her mouth dropped when she saw just how empty the windows were at the end of the day.

Our friend Amy Cox with Capstone Press followed along with our day on Twitter, and Ajacea was so proud when Amy said that she would be a great marketing intern.

Ajacea’s response? “Tell her to call me.” I love the real world implications of this project and how many times it has given an opportunity to students to explore their interests and realize that their voice is heard and matters. Bravo student book budget team!


Setting Up a New Elementary School Library (Part 3)

It’s hard to believe that the unpacking and arrangement of our new school library began only one week ago!  As of today, every box has been unpacked thanks to many hours of work from me and some dedicated volunteers.  This included working on 2 furlough days and the weekend.  There’s still a lot to do, but it’s nice to know that everything has been unpacked!

When people walk by, I often hear, it looks like you are all ready.  I’m glad that the library looks like a library as our kids enter the building tomorrow, but there are many things left to do like:

  • Setup our iMac computers for video editing
  • Setup up our morning broadcast equipment and prepare the schedule/contracts of the new crew
  • Get power and data installed to the circulation island and have technology image the new circulation computers
  • Install a wall case which includes 2 white boards and a touchscreen for ebooks
  • Finish putting together 2 computer tables
  • Put together our lego robotics area
  • Update 30 ipads and make sure they are working for the new year.  Install apps that have already been requested
  • Re-label and re-catalog over 200 books that were pulled from fiction in order to move to everybody, graphic novels, and series sections
  • Distribute 250+ netbooks to classroom teachers after shuffling them among the carts to make grades 3-5 one to one
  • Test out media center equipment and how it interacts with our new projectors before releasing it to teachers to check out
  • Create some type of signage to help students in locating the books they need.  I may get students involved with this piece soon!
  • Create orientation videos that students may use to make orientation more individualized
  • Finish setting up the teacher book room which includes guided reading books and professional books.  Also setup a self check-out/check-in area in this room
  • And several more things……

Today I want to highlight some of our areas of the library that I haven’t talked about yet.  One is circulation.  Throughout the planning of our library, I repeatedly said that I did not want a circulation desk.  We don’t have a library paraprofessional at the moment, and even if we did, we don’t sit behind a desk all day.  Instead, I wanted a self check-in area and a self check-out area with places for students to easily store books that were checked-in.  We went through many rounds of discussions and drawings, but this is what we came up with:  a circulation island.

Circulation island instead of a clunky circulation desk

Circulation island instead of a clunky circulation desk

As students enter the library, they will turn right, check in their books at the check-in computer, and store their books on one of two rolling carts stored underneath the circulation island.  If both of these carts fill up, a third rolling cart can be pulled out to replace one of the filled cart.  This third cart also stores within the island.  Once students find their books, they will stop by the opposite side of the island to check-out their books as they leave.  On the wall right behind the island, there will be casework with multiple opportunities for displaying student work and books.  There will also be a touch screen where students can browse the ebooks in our collection.  I hope that this becomes a user-friendly area for our students.


Some shelves have stools within the curves where students can sit and read or use the shelf as a counter/work space

Some shelves have stools within the curves where students can sit and read or use the shelf as a counter/work space

Another item I want to feature in our library is the multiple ways that students can sit and interact with the space.  The curves of the shelves provide opportunities to put stools, bean bags, or soft curved seating.  With stools, students can sit and read or they can face the shelf and use it as an additional workspace.  As I display books on the tops of shelves, I’ll try to leave spaces open so that students can take advantage of these workspaces without having to move all the books.

At our iMac video editing stations, students can sit on the rectangular soft seating, wobble around on a Hokki stool, or pull up a chair that can face forward or backward.  It will be interesting to see which seating gets used more than the other.

iMac video editing stations

iMac video editing stations


There are many more features that I look forward to sharing in the coming days and weeks, especially as students start to use them.


Library on Wheels

Each year, just as I get the library up and running, classes in the routine of coming to the library for lessons & checkout, and kids excited about books, the library has to “close” for two weeks. For two weeks, our students are involved in Scantron testing. This testing provides valuable information to teachers about student strengths and weaknesses as they begin the year, but testing takes place in the media center. During testing, we are only open for checkout before school and from 2-2:30 at the end of the day. It always saddens me to see kids unable to come checkout books, so this year, I’m taking the library to them. Today I filled my rolling cart with books, got my laptop and scanner, and set off to classrooms. I did an impromptu lesson using the book My Librarian is a Camel and showed how children around the world get their library books in many unique ways. Then, I spread the books out on the floor.  Students looked at the books and decided if they wanted to keep their current library books or if they wanted to exchange for a new one.  The kids were so excited, and they didn’t even seem to mind the limited selection of books that I had to offer. Since today was a success, I think my next step is to see if there are genres of books that teachers would like me to focus on in my cart when I visit their room. My time to visit classrooms is limited because I have to help with the Scantron testing, but I was overjoyed to see books leaving our library and getting into student hands. It was a mini access enabler project, and what fun it was!