How do you solve a problem like picture books?

When I worked in the children’s room of a public library, picture books were some of our biggest movers. Adults and children would come in and take out armfuls, anticipating times spent reading together or looking through the pictures, telling stories of their own making. I hoped for some of the same circulation numbers when I became a school librarian. In my fantasy, students in the lower elementary grades would come in and beg to take home more picture books – or come in during free time and swap out the books they just got a few days before. Well, I’m not sure what it’s like in your elementary libraries – but that scenario has not happened in mine. Yet.

I was chatting with a fellow school librarian recently and picture book circulation came up. “Do your picture books circulate?” I asked.
“Not much” she answered.
“Mostly teachers?”
“Yes,” she replied, “and few with the popular characters like Fancy Nancy or Pete the Cat.”
“Sigh”.
“Sigh”.
That conversation replays in mind constantly. There are times when I wonder if I’m just not choosing the right books for my audience. Maybe I should require the PreKs and Kindergarten to only get picture books – after all, those books are made for them! Not only can they be used for pre-literacy and literacy activities, the stories are created explicitly FOR their enjoyment.

What to do? What to do? “Sigh? Sigh.” Following are some ideas to possibly help make those picture books move. Granted, picture books may never circulate like they do in public library – AND IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT. Most school libraries are missing the second half of the dyad – the parent or guardian or babysitter that takes the child to the public library in the first place. It just makes our job ‘more challenging’ as we get those picture books to move.

Do a thorough weeding
Are your shelves stuffed? Do not underestimate the power of a good weed. Be heartless. If it hasn’t moved much in 10-15 years, it probably isn’t going to move next Get rid of anything worn. Put the worn or dated books that circulate on a list to repurchase (unless the last time it circulated was five years ago). If it bothers you to weed, take a note from Maria Kondo, thank the book for its service and let it go. Depending on your school policy, you could offer teachers first choice then put the rest in a ‘free book’ cart for students and/or find a local library or charity to benefit from your largess. If your shelves look crammed and full, students aren’t enticed to browse for that perfect picture book.

Explicitly teach that displays are for students
Have you ever set up a book display with the purpose to create circulation on some items and have students ask permission to take a book? I have. Now I make sure that I mention during library time that displays are for taking. If you have some displays that need to have books stay and some that allow circulation, it may help to let students know which ones they can take books from or offer to place a hold on a book that needs to stay in your library for a while.

Offer read alikes for picture books
If your story time has a theme or an author focus, make sure students know of picture books that share the same theme or author. I would often put up a small floor display by my reading chair of read alikes or an author’s other works, allowing students to look at them during book choosing time.

Partially ‘genrefy’ your picture book collection
While my inner feminist bristled whenever a girl asked me for a princess book, (“wouldn’t you like this one about a female astronaut instead?”), it’s hard to fight the power of the pink. Whether it’s just the holidays, or princesses, or firefighters, using spine labels or separate locations may help those picture books circulation more.

Extend circulation to parents
Again, this is up to your school’s policies, but parents are the ones gathering the picture books in the public library. Whether you stay open a little later or earlier a few days a week, advertising to parents that they can grab picture books while they’re waiting may help with circulation numbers and provide a needed service to time strapped parents.

Provide a box of books to classroom
Why do you rob banks? Because that’s where the money is. Sutton’s law can also apply to the classroom. Most students only go to the library with their class. While that’s all well and good, their chosen books tend to go home. What if you had a box of books that live in the classroom rotating the selections every few weeks? Not only are you getting some of your picture books to see the light of the classroom, you may be helping a stressed out teacher find something for a child to do when they have finished an assignment early. Granted, some teachers may want nothing to do with this, but I’m sure you can find a few that would be willing to try this with you. Especially if you try to match the books with curricular themes.

Now I’m looking for your input. What are some of the ways you’ve helped increase the circulation of picture books? Let’s get these books where they belong…in the hands of the students!

3 thoughts on “How do you solve a problem like picture books?

  1. In our JK-4 Library picture books fly off the shelves. That is understandable; they are coin of the realm for younger grades. Even our older grades like to pull seasonal books ,from our displays, but I wouldn’t expect them to go to picture books first. You have to give older kids a REASON to check out picture books — an assignment or an author study, a chance to examine the illustrations or a dedicated time in the classroom to enjoy them. At Collegiate our classes pair up with JK and Kindergartenclasses and read aloud to them — naturally from picture books they have chosen from our collection.
    You can tell the older kids that E on the spine label stands for Everyone, but they think that means “Everyone but me” However, give them an excuse and they will love slipping back into the words of long cherished stories.

  2. Thank you for this timely post – weeding my picture books is on my summer to-do list! I can definitely see a decline in my picture book checkout numbers, as well. Thanks for these great ideas!

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