Why I’m Not “Weeding” Right Now

I am pretty sure I’m not the only person who struggles with removing books from the collection.  Not the easy calls. Not the books that meet the MUSTY (Misleading, Ugly, Superseded, Trivial or not right for Your collection) guidelines.  We can all laugh at the science text that says “Someday, computers will fit on a desktop” or the copy of Twilight with the cover half off and the text block falling out.  When I came here 10 years ago, this library had sections in need of heavy culling, and I was equal to the task. But I have worked here for a while now.  Many of these books were purchased under my watch.  Maybe that’s why the word “weeding” sticks in my craw. Weeds are interlopers. Weeds are things that pop up where they are not wanted.  These books I am contemplating removing don’t feel like “weeds” to me.  I can look at many of them and tell you exactly why it was purchased, and which readers loved it…six years ago.  I can remember when we couldn’t keep that one on the shelf….in 2010.  When a teacher (now retired) used this video every semester, like clockwork.

The CREW standards (Continuous Review Evaluation Weeding) from the Texas Library and Archives Commission, updated by Jeanette Larson in 2012, offer ongoing ideas for a continuous process of …what shall I call it?  “Deaccessioning” is a bit unwieldy, but accurate.  Downsizing? Right Sizing? Grooming? (Thanks to my colleague, Cindy, for that one!) Removing books from the collection?  Lots of phrases sit more easily on my heart.

Part two of the process is what to do with what is removed.  Since the collection is fairly current, much of what is removed is in good condition (just outdated or low in popularity) so we are making categories.  I will take a batch to give away at the 7th /8th grade study hall, where the pop-up library sets up once a week.  We will invite interested 5th and 6th graders to take a book home.  Upper School students will have their chance.  We will invite teachers to come by — in the past we have invited the whole school at once, but I think we will sort by discipline, and invite smaller groups, with the hope they can more easily see books for their classroom collections.  Less “look at the weeds on our compost heap” and more “look at these interesting things that have fallen out of fashion.”  We will undoubtedly end up with a “free to a good home table” and then a trip to the recycle bin, but I am not coming from a place of yanking something out but from a place of cultivating and grooming a collection.

What sounds right to you, when removing books?  Do you have tips and tricks to share?

Overdues: Overdone?

Ah, the pesky overdue. Does the overdue notice, and its cousin, the fine, still have a place in a library? Matt Ball, from the Woodruff Library at Pace Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, posed these questions (and his answers) on the AISL discussion list:
Why do we have overdues? (To get books back.)
Why do we want them back? (So other students can check them out.)
Do other students want to check them out? (Don’t know.  But with popular titles, yes.)

Matt continued: “Centrally, my feeling is that if a student wants a book and has it checked out, let them keep it until someone else needs it.” Steve Matthews, from the Currier Library at Foxcroft School agrees: “Certainly, there is the chance of missing a serendipitous opportunity of person finding book/media by lucky chance, but since the person who checked it out has already made a connection, that seems enough.”

And yet, the concept that library books are for sharing seems central to me.  Building the character trait of responsibility seems important to me:  if you borrow something, please return it as agreed, or ask for an extension. And since I promote the idea of browsing when you are in the mood to read, I want popular books frequently in and out, to be browsed. When books are (as Carolyn LaMontagne at the Reed-Gumenick Library at Collegeiate Middle School says) “living in a locker or under a bed” how does that affect other library patrons?

One thing that’s been great:  Our circulation software sends an automated email notice two days in advance of the due date, with the subject line: Courtesy Reminder: Library material due soon.  This gives students (if they check their email, which not all do!) every chance to get in front of the overdue. We renew most books upon request.  I have a template for a “gentle reminder” email (Joanne Crotts also uses that phrase at the Skinner Library at the Asheville School) that I send individually, using school email, the first week a book is past due. Week two is a phone call, if there is a family phone. If no family phone, I try to catch the student between classes, or send a second email, rather than call a parent cell phone. The third notice is an email to the child with a cc: to the parent email(s).  Past that is a follow up email, with the replacement cost “if the book is lost.”

To touch on fines:  Our policy is 10 cents a day, but students rarely have money on them, and the fines are usually minimal. Usually I will delete the fine with a smile and ask the student to “pay it forward” and do something nice for someone else. That saves me a headache over 80 cents, and still reminds the student of the policy and holds them accountable for the late return.

This is a blog post without a “right” answer. Different policies will work for different librarians and different populations.  As I expand my notion of what a library is (and it’s expanded it a lot in the past 5 years!) I’m glad that overdue items take up a smaller percentage of my time.

Plaase leave a comment and/or share ideas if you have an system that works for you!

The Project Triangle

In 2012, a conference speaker introduced me to the concept of the project triangle. (I’ve also heard it called the scope triangle and the iron triangle.) We were asked to prioritize: Do you want it fast? Do you want it cheap? Do you want it good? Change in one factor affects the other factors. Good, fast projects are usually not cheap. Cheap, good projects may not be fast, and fast, cheap projects….well, we’ve probably all experienced those.  Sometimes fast and cheap fits the need.

Though project management experts now have a Project Diamond and a six-pointed project management star, sticking with three factors has served me well so far. When taking on (or being assigned) a project I try to be clear on my priorities and those of any stakeholders. Without that clarity, I may be keeping an eagle eye on the budget, when top quality is what the stakeholders have in mind. Or I might seek a certain quality, when speed is most important.

In exploring the project triangle with middle school students, I find that budget does not concern most of them. The middle school project triangle more accurately asks: How much time? How much effort? How good? While a deadline might be set by others, the amount of time invested in the project is under the student’s control.  Effort is under a student’s control.  A rubric can provide standards for rankings of “Excellent” to “Needs Improvement.”

A discussion of the project triangle in the beginning stages of an assignment can encourage students to take ownership of their ultimate result. In juggling multiple projects, recognizing that I have control of how much of my time and how much of my effort I put into a project can help put things in perspective. Reflecting (and asking students to reflect) on personal choices for time, budget (effort) and quality both pre- and post-project can yield insights into choices made, and how different allocations might have benefitted or hurt both personal stress levels and the finished products.

Taming My Inner Middle Schooler

It’s been a while since I was a middle school student, and I’m fine with that. Yet I sometimes engage in behaviors that I discourage in middle school students – behaviors that are professionally counterproductive, or don’t show me at my best. In the lower-stress summer, I have been mulling over these concepts:

  • Include everyone. Our middle school students are discouraged from saving seats in the lunchroom – and I appreciate the chair pat or the rear-scootch in a crowded room, that says “There is room for you here.” Do I notice and include quiet colleagues or those who are different from me? Do I resist changing myself to try to fit with the popular crowd?
  • Be kind. Gossip is so easy and fun! Whether it’s about a crush or a promotion, getting the goods on whose life is on the upswing, and who’s in an awkward place can be hard to resist.  The work-related grapevine has a place in disseminating information, but I will try to be kind about people and their personal and professional lives.
  • Tell the truth. It’s not the outright lie that trips up many a middle schooler (or me). I am more likely to indulge in the dodge that gets me out of an awkward situation, or the half-truth to save face. We encourage students to be kind but honest, saying, “I’m sorry, I’m busy that day” or “I didn’t get it done last night. May I turn it in after lunch?” Adapted for adult use, that sounds like “I’m sorry, I’m busy that day” or “I didn’t get it done last night. May I turn it in after lunch?”
  • Leave it better than you found it. That’s a motto in our Middle School.  It isn’t someone else’s job to keep our libraries, classrooms, hallways (and world) in good shape. Am I doing my part?
  • Take time to smile. I’m not grouchy.  At school, I’m usually busy (and efficient, I tell myself). Without a smile, I have discovered that can seem brusque.  I learned the value of a smile when a moody 8th grader took the time to smile at me when she entered the library.  A genuine smile (or even a faked one) can elevate the mood and decrease the stress level of both smiler and smilee, so what’s to lose?

Like New Year’s resolutions that fade by February, it is easy to turn over a supple new leaf in the relative calm of summer, only to have it blow away in August.  Without any hint of irony, I will encourage my inner middle schooler to “Keep Trying!”