Summer Checkouts and Opportunity Costs


In a few weeks I will begin the most popular program at my elementary school library: summer checkouts. My kindergarten through third grade students will be checking out 10 books apiece and keeping them until school starts again in the fall. I’ve written about this program here and here, presented about it at a conference, and talked about it with individual librarians…and the most frequent question I get is, “But did the books come back?”

In a word: Yes.

In spite of flooding from Tropical Storm Irene that damaged some of my students’ homes and turned the village center of the town where I teach into this:

my loss rate was still under 1%.

But what if the loss rate had been higher? Would it still have been worth it?

Along my somewhat winding road to becoming a school librarian, I took a bunch of accounting classes. I don’t remember all of it (do the debits go on the left? or the right?), but I do remember the useful concept of opportunity costs. Opportunity costs are everything you give up to get something else. For instance, the opportunity cost of the nonfiction books I bought with the last of my library budget was the picture books I didn’t buy instead.

And the opportunity costs of NOT doing summer checkouts – that is, everything my school would have given up if I hadn’t tried this last year, or if my forward thinking administrator (@principalberry over at hadn’t agreed to it?

  • My students had access to $20,000+ of books that otherwise would have been locked up inside the school building all summer. Even my students whose families have a hard time getting books for them had at least 10 good books in their houses over the summer
  • My library got a lot of good PR in the school community, especially with parents
  • My school showed in a tangible way that we care about students’ summer literacy
  • My school showed in a tangible way that we trust students and their families to take care of A LOT of library books over the summer

I’m glad my loss rate was only 1%, but I would be running this program again even if it were larger. The opportunity costs of locking those books away are just too high.


If you’re thinking of starting a summer checkouts program at your school library, please take a look at the links above for more details about how my program worked. If you would like more information, please contact me through this blog or my Twitter account: @bethredford

Richmond Flooding video is by MightyLeFlod, linked from YouTube on May 27, 2012


4 thoughts on “Summer Checkouts and Opportunity Costs

  1. Deanna Seigler says:

    I’d love more details on your summer checkout program. I found you last week via Twitter. My principal is on board. 🙂 Did you require permission slips, etc?


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