So many books to order …

Yesterday I was frantically cleaning out some of my old files, making displays, just trying to ready the library for the start of the new school year and the return of our lovely students (it’s a new school year – they are all lovely)! I’d been excitedly ordering new books when I stopped and thought … we’ve been ordering (print) books the same way for years. Are we maximizing our book budget? Our students range in age from three to eighteen. Our lower school (through grade 4) has the least number of students but they check out more books than the other two divisions combined (which makes sense for a host of reasons), so we generally buy more books for the lower school. However, that collection is fairly complete (although we could use newer non-fiction). Besides ordering and buying for our students, we also try to serve the needs of our faculty/staff and parents. I’ve been expanding our professional growth collection. Plus, besides buying popular YA titles and books to support the curriculum, we’ve been adding diversity and inclusivity books. So, which division/area deserves the lion’s share of our book budget? What is right/fair?

Don’t get me wrong. We love the autonomy of curating our own collection … Ingram has offered to help but we feel like we know our own “community” best … it’s just that there are always more great books than we can possibly buy … I was looking through Kirkus this morning. Of course, I’m drawn to books (with starred reviews) about current events … but their relevance is fleeting, so their shelf life is short. Last year I tried dividing up our budget into thirds with another $1000 reserved for pro grow books (our lower school library does have a source of additional funding through restricted funds) I’m sure others divide their budget in different ways. A certain dollar amount is allotted for non-fiction or reference, for example, or the budget may be divided by whether the books support the curriculum or are bestsellers. However, given the data that supports the reading of literary fiction, are we contributing to the dumbing down of reading by ordering so many popular young adult titles? Not that young adult books by their definition are not literary, but we all know that many of the most popular books would not be classified as “literature.” I’m sure that we’re not the only library that has greatly reduced our print reference collection (online encyclopedias are great and include access to outside websites). We rarely buy reference material but children’s non-fiction and biography has gotten so much better – there’s lots to choose from (as an aside, if you serve lower school children, Chris Eliopolous, illustrator of Brad Meltzer’s biography series “Ordinary People Change the World,” engaged our children completely with his presentation).

How much of our book budget should be allotted to eBooks and eAudiobooks? We buy eBooks through Overdrive. So far the check-outs have been minimal compared to print, and with electronic resources so much more expensive per item, it’s been tough. This year, though, we are joining an Overdrive consortium (thank you, Los Angeles-are ISLE), so our students will have access to a much larger collection. We’re hoping that will help drive an increase in interest and circulation.

And, maybe, to twist a Shakespearean quote, all of this is much ado about nothing. Perhaps there is no right or wrong answer. Our circulation statistics show that our students check out fewer books as they navigate through middle school, with my upper school “reading for pleasure” statistics lower than I’d like them to be. Maybe I should concentrate my efforts into “handing” more books directly to students. In fact, I think I’ll begin my new efforts on Monday. After all, it’s a new school year … I’ll take advantage of everyone’s enthusiasm ….before it wanes.

Happy New School Year, Everyone!

by Lorrie Culver, Library Coordinator, La Jolla Country Day School

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