Buying books for your school library

No matter your budget, adding books to your collection can be a balancing act for school library staff. Find out how you can get the most out of your collection development funding (and other avenues) to create a great collection of books that your students will love to read and that inspires them to learn.

Young people in a school library reading books
Photo by Lubos Houska. Pixabay. License to use.

What should I buy?

Managing and developing your library collection is central to a school librarian's role. Effective school library collections provide access to a wide range of information and stories with authentic perspectives, which help students understand themselves and their world. How do you decide what you need, and how will you get the books you'd like?

Understanding your school community is essential to good collection development. Find out about the cultures and languages represented in the community. This will help ensure the books you add to your collection reflect and celebrate the diversity within your school.

Look at the vision and plans you have for your school library collection. What do they say about resources to support reading for pleasure, and literacy and learning across the curriculum?

If you don't have anything like this to refer to, take a look at our web page about library guiding documents. It includes a template with lots of useful links to help you get started.

Stay up-to-date with upcoming titles and trends by subscribing to news and reviews about children's and young adult literature. Our web page about selecting and purchasing resources lists some good places for gathering information about new resources.

Encouraging reading for pleasure

Knowing your students and what they want to read is absolutely key to getting this right!

You could check your circulation data to see what's popular — check holds as well as issues. If your budget allows, buy extra copies of popular titles to keep wait times down.

Look at your failed OPAC searches to see what people want that they can't find.

The best thing you can do, though, is to ask your readers what they want. Talk to them in person, create a survey, provide a suggestion book, there are so many ways to do this — but just ask them, and do it often.

Librarians supporting readers

Supporting literacy and learning across the curriculum

You need to know the curriculum, and what's happening in your school this term and this year.

Think about the type or format of resources teachers and students will want to use too. We all know that students do a good deal of their research online. But offering even a small selection of books (print or digital) on a topic can make a world of difference when it comes to engaging learners with information. Look for reliably researched and clearly written titles aimed at a range of abilities, and things with a 'wow' factor.

Talk to your teaching colleagues about how the library collection can support literacy development. As well as providing a great range of stories to encourage reading for pleasure, your collection can also engage readers who need extra support. For example, you may need more high-interest, low-ability titles (sometimes referred to as 'hi-lo' or 'high-low' books). At secondary level, your collection needs a good selection of titles that meet the reading level requirements of NCEA.

Our collection requirements and assessment pages can help you work out what you've got, and what you might need.

Where will I buy from?

You can support your local bookstore and use other avenues too, to make sure you're getting the best deal on the books you buy. It doesn't hurt to shop around.

Local bookstores

If you have a local bookstore, they will most likely have the latest releases, as well as older titles and series by popular authors.

Local bookshops are usually happy to order titles for you that they don't have in stock, though this can take some time.

Many local bookstores and national chain stores offer schools a discount price on purchases for the library. If you're not sure whether you're getting a discount, just ask.

Online retailers

You might want to cast your net a bit wider and buy titles that are unlikely to appear on your local bookshop shelves (or if you don't want to wait for that to happen). In that case, buying online could be the way to go.

If you can use a school credit card for purchases, you could buy online from one of the big international booksellers. If that's not an option, you could spend some of your budget on a prepaid credit card (VISA or MasterCard) and use that for online purchases. Just be aware that purchases where the New Zealand GST payable is more than NZ$60 will incur GST and entry fees (there is no duty payable on books). The NZ Customs Service What's My Duty? estimator makes it clear how this works.

We also have some very fine New Zealand-based online retailers who supply books for school libraries. With these local businesses, you can create an account, order online, and pay on receipt of an invoice. These booksellers usually offer a great discount to New Zealand school libraries too.

What if I can't buy the things we need?

Use our lending service

Whole-school loans support teaching and learning, and reading for pleasure. You can order whole-school loans once a term (4 times a year). We issue these loans for 1 term.

When you place a whole-school loan order, you can request a reading engagement 'top-up'. We'll put together a selection of up to 75 great books — this is over and above your whole-school resource loan allocation!

You can also use our anytime title requests whenever you need to, for example, to borrow specific books for individual students.

Lending service

Connect and share with other local schools

Get to know your library colleagues in other local schools — our school library network meetings are great for this — and talk about what might be possible.

Contact us if you'd like to find out more about our network meetings or join one in your area.

You might be able to share resources with other local schools, for example, if your school is part of a Community of Learning | Kāhui ako.

Grants and crowdfunding

There are a variety of organisations who provide community grants that school libraries can apply to for help. These include gaming machine societies and licencing trusts throughout New Zealand. Each organisation will have criteria to meet and an application format that you need to use. But you should check out some general advice about applying for grants to get started.

Book fairs and online book clubs can help boost your collection. They can be time-consuming, but the rewards (books and/or account credit) may be worth it if your budget doesn't stretch far. See if you can enlist parents to help you with organisation.

Ask for book donations in your school community newsletter. Make it clear what you'd like, and what you'll do with any donations that don't fit the bill.

Ask your PTA for support. Give them a detailed plan of what you need and explain how it'll make a difference for your students. Go along to a PTA meeting if you possibly can — your passion and enthusiasm may persuade them to help!

Need more help?

If you've got questions about buying books for your collection, our Capability Facilitators can offer advice.

By Miriam Tuohy

Miriam is the Senior Specialist (School Library Development) for Services to Schools.

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