Review your policies
Do your current school library policies and procedures enable and encourage students to read for pleasure? Restrictive library policies, such as borrowing limits or limited hours, can send negative messages and act as barriers.
Reviewing your policies on a regular basis is a good practice. As part of your review, find out if your library policies and procedures are in line with your school's policy documents.
Think about the purpose of your policies:
- Do they benefit library staff or teachers more than students?
- Were they adopted for historical reasons that no longer apply?
- Look at your policies from a student's point of view and ask yourself, "Is this a barrier or an enabler?"
Ask students and staff about their views of the library
School libraries exist to support student learning. Have conversations with staff about policies and their impacts on benefits and learning outcomes.
Find out the opinions of the library users — students and staff.
- What do they like and not like about the library?
- Why do they use or not use the library?
- What are their ideas for making it reader-friendly?
Do any of their dislikes or problems relate to your library’s policies? If so, how could you change them?
Review your borrowing limits
Think about your school library borrowing limits. Talk about them with your library team and with all school staff. If we want children to read for pleasure, avidly, at every opportunity, then we need to provide them with the means to do so.
We know from research that children read more when the following happens:
- Children have access to books — not the theoretical access of a school having a big library collection, but real access to something to read when they want it, actual 'books in hands'. When students read more, they do better academically. As Jeff McQuillan’s research showed:
Access to books in the school via the library was the most powerful predictor of academic achievement among several variables analysed, controlling for socio-economic status.
- They choose their own reading. As Richard Allington states:
"Self-selected reading activity seems to be about twice as powerful at generating reading development as teacher-selected reading".
Questions to consider when you are reviewing your borrowing limits include:
- How many books can students borrow from your school library?
- Is there flexibility for keen readers to have extra books?
- Are parents able to borrow books to read aloud at home?
- Are students able to borrow from all areas of the library?
- Are all students allowed to borrow and take books home?
- Can borrowing take place throughout the school year, including holidays?
Benefits of generous borrowing limits
Libraries with generous borrowing allocations are friendlier to readers. If a student is allowed to take out a number of books, there's a greater likelihood that they will find one they enjoy.
Increasing the number of books a student can borrow:
- increases flexibility of choice
- encourages risk-taking with reading choices
- helps increase actual reading mileage
- prevents a loss of reading gains during school holidays.
Use evidence for your borrowing limits review
How many of your books are being borrowed each year, and how many are sitting on the shelf? Use your findings to build a case for more generous borrowing limits.
Your library management system can give you many reports about borrowing statistics — who's borrowing, how many, how often, what books are being borrowed. You might want to survey students and staff too.
If you have a collection of about 8,000 books and a roll of 200 students and every child is borrowing 2 books maximum, only about 5% of your collection is being borrowed at any one time. 95% of your collection is sitting on the shelf. The aim is to get books off the shelves.
Consider how you can use this information to investigate what is happening, identify trends, and report the impact of any change or initiative you make. You can then build on it further.
Have a trial period with more generous limits
If necessary, have a trial period with more generous limits and see what issues come up. Start off with high expectations and trust.
Consider what issues might result from changes to your borrowing policy (e.g. increased overdues or lost books) and how you would overcome these.
You may wish to retain limits for high-demand areas, such as graphic novels or books in a particular, popular series. However, these can be managed by manners (rather than rules) and strategies such as reserves.
Encouraging reading through generous lending policies — how Whangarei Intermediate School broke away from borrowing restrictions, with stunning results.
Effect of fines for overdue and lost books
Do your policies for overdue and lost books restrict further borrowing?
Students and their families may avoid using the library if fines are a concern. Occasional amnesties might help retrieve some books and forgive errant borrowers.
Home-school reading partnerships help families to understand the importance of reading for pleasure. Allowing students to borrow books to take home supports and strengthens this partnership.
Home-school reading partnerships — ways your school library can help parents encourage their children to read for pleasure.
Review your library opening hours
Questions to consider when reviewing opening hours include:
- When can students access your library?
- Is it open before and after school, and especially at lunchtime?
- Does it remain open during stocktaking?
Stocktaking and summer reading
Keeping the library open during stocktaking enables students to continue borrowing throughout the year. Allowing students to borrow books to read over summer is especially important. Summer reading can help prevent a slump in reading levels. It also provides students with an enjoyable holiday activity.
Does your timetable allow for:
- regular class visits
- small-group, flexible visits
- independent use out of class time?
Do students have enough time to:
- browse, search, choose and read
- discuss, share and promote their reading
- discover and learn about new items to read
- issue, return, renew and reserve reading material?
Extended opening hours and flexible timetabling create a welcoming and more reader-centric space. Families with preschoolers can enjoy using the library before and after school. This can help preschoolers transition to school. It also allows every student more time to enjoy activities associated with reading.
Limited staff resources
If limited staff resources make extended opening hours a challenge, consider:
- allowing students to self-issue
- getting student librarians to help with issues and returns
- using a library management system that allows online renewals and reservations
- taking books to classrooms
- setting up social media and online reading communities.
Review access to the library catalogue
Your catalogue helps students to find interesting reading material. It can also help you identify popular titles to share with students.
To ensure students have good access to the catalogue and know how to use it, ask:
- Can students access your library catalogue in the library, from their classroom, from home?
- Is it user-friendly for young children?
- Can students place reserves online?
- Does the catalogue include book-cover images, links to author websites, student reviews?
- Are there guides to help searching?
Use social media to encourage reading
Discussing reading with peers can motivate students to read. Being able to access and use social media can enhance and extend the reading experience. Do you use social media and have a social media policy?
You can use your review to align your library's social media presence with the school's social media policy. Integrate it with your existing online environment for ease of access.
Social media and the school library
Make your collection policy reader-friendly
Students like to read a variety of material, depending on their mood, time available and so on. Increasing the number of titles you have to hand gives them more options to suit.
Other ways your collection policy can be reader-friendly include:
- providing access to a variety of resources in all formats
- using selection criteria that reflect the current interests and needs of your students and school community
- doing regular weeding of old, unappealing books
- keeping the collection fresh by adding high-quality, up-to-date reading material
- using a formal reconsideration process for challenged items to prevent blanket censorship.
Your collection management plan — tips on developing a collection policy.
Complaints about library items — an example of what to include in a form when you or your principal faces complaints about content.
Advocate for change
If you meet with resistance to change during the review process, focus on:
- trialling solutions and advocating in school for them
- collaborating with management and teaching staff — provide them with evidence of success
- the students' perspectives and how restrictions are affecting their reading
- how the library supports reading and whether your policies help or hinder this role.
Find out more
Van Riel, R., Fowler, O., & Downes, A. (2008). The reader-friendly library service. Newcastle upon Tyne: Society of Chief Librarians.
McQuillan, J. (1998). The literacy crisis: False claims, real solutions. Heinemann.
Allington, R. ( 2010). What at-risk readers need in educational leadership.