The library media center at my school, Richmond Elementary in Richmond Vermont, has received an enormous gift: a pilot year with a flexible schedule. It’s the ideal situation for school library work: an opportunity for collaborative teaching and creative learning far beyond what fits into a fixed schedule of once-a-week library classes. Please join me for the journey.
Self Checkout: The Why
As I planned for a flexible library schedule this school year, one of my challenges was to make sure that my students would be able to read library books without a fixed, once-a-week visit to check them out. I’m the only library employee and my (fabulous) volunteers aren’t available for full coverage of the whole school day. In the past when I was out of the library teaching in a classroom, or in the library but busy teaching a class, the library was not accessible for students to get new books. One answer to this concern seemed to be a self checkout station, so that students could visit the library any time they needed new books.
I set up our new self checkout station in early September and so far the results have been very encouraging. I often see third and fourth grade students on their way to the library as I am headed elsewhere in the building, and for the first time I don’t have to tell them to turn around because their library is closed. I actually got rid of my “library closed” door sign. For these students, their library is always open.
Self Checkout: The How
As shown in the photos above, I set up a desktop computer with a barcode scanner on an existing lower-level section of my circulation desk (I have since moved the keyboard out of the way because it’s not needed). I installed my vendor’s self checkout software. Then I printed out students’ barcodes plus names on labels, and put the labels on bright pink index cards. The larger size and bright color makes the cards harder to lose than standard wallet sized library cards. They also function as a kind of hall pass; when students walk down the hall or into the library with big bright pink cards in their hands, it’s very clear to adults where they are going and what their jobs are.
Each third and fourth grade class came to the library for a group lesson plus individual practice on how to use the self checkout station. Because the cards all looked very similar, I handed out markers and asked students to put their names plus a small decoration on their cards. This way they can easily find their own cards in a class set and not accidentally checkout books to the wrong account.
After each group lesson, I presented the classroom teacher with a special holder (really just a plastic index card box) for their class set of library cards. I also made a card for each teacher, both for teachers to use themselves and for students to use when they check out books on their teachers’ accounts for classroom projects. When students want new library books, their teachers give them their cards and send them to the library.
I plan to teach second graders to use the self checkout station later this year. I have cards made already for kindergartners and first graders, but I’m waiting until I have a good sense of what skills are needed to use self checkout before introducing it to my youngest students. My system shows students’ names after they have scanned their cards, and I have asked my vendor if they could possibly add student photos to this confirmation screen. That would be a big help for my prereaders.
Self Checkout: Addressing Concerns
The biggest concern I have heard about the new self checkout system is book loss. Some staff members and parents have asked me if I’m worried that the library will lose books if I’m not checking them out myself.
My response has been some version of, well, the library loses some books anyway because students forget to check them out at the end of library class even when I’m there. And the books almost always find their way back to the library anyway; our overall loss rate is very low. Our school community also has an established culture of trust around loaning out library books; students take home 10 library books each over the summer and the return rates are always very high.
But even if I begin to see a higher loss rate with the self checkout system in place, I will think very hard before I consider removing it. Everything in education has a cost, and if the cost of increased library access for students is a slightly higher loss rate then the trade off will be worth it. In many ways it’s a matter of perspective: are librarians book police, most concerned with keeping books safe? Or are we book promoters, most driven to get (awesome, life-changing) books into students’ hands?
A final note about book loss: my third and fourth grade students are having so much fun being independent and checking out their books themselves that I’m predicting my loss rate will go down. I have yet to see a single student forget to check out a book as he or she leaves the library.
If you have any questions about self checkout at my school, please feel free to contact me through this blog or at my school email, firstname.lastname@example.org.