Monday, June 10, 2013

Can You Say Overdue Process Made Easy?

Recently I was asked what was the most difficult aspect of being a school librarian. As I paused and searched my thoughts of unpleasantries in the library world, nothing surged to the forefront worth mentioning. As I was about to respond working with people with grave philosophical differences, the entire overdue library book process quickly came to the tip of my tongue. Yes, I must say even after 24 years as a school librarian, I dread the end-of-the school year overdue library list.

When I began my first library position, my two adult library assistants would daily hand type names into our Apple IIe computer from hand written checkout cards. With our state-of-the-art technology, we would mail merge the names every week to produce library overdue notices. Times have changed much from those days to 1 librarian easily generating the overdue notices in Follett Destiny on any given day with just a few clicks. The process may have changed but this time consuming event is by far one of the most unpleasant rituals in my role as a school librarian.

This year I seemed to have mastered the process with a few twists added to help with gathering all our library books. Although my heart feels our students should be able to checkout books during the summer, the rational side of me understands the financial accountability of gathering all the library books. With students graduating to other schools and students moving over the summer the loss of library materials can be overwhelming. I prefer next year's budget be spent on new and exciting titles rather than replacing lost items.

As the sole library personnel with 670 students and 80 faculty members I find minimal time to spend throughout the year on the tedious overdue procedures. Since all students needed a book during STARR testing I waited until early May to begin the big overdue book gathering campaign. The first step I took in May was to change the student check-out limits from 3 regular books to 2 books and increased check-outs from 1 e-Book to 2 eBooks. In the middle of May I again changed the limit from checking out 2 regular books to 1 book and began promoting our e-Book collection. During this process I launched our summer reading program and promoted the use of our e-Book collection.

On May 15 our school had nearly 350 student overdue library books with still one more week for students to check-out books. Sending out overdue notices can be very time consuming with my student aides delivering to the classroom. Many times the student information in the library database was inaccurate. We would have the front office student aides look up schedules and I would make changes in Destiny but with the next batch of notices the problem continued.

Here's basically an outline of how I was able to manage 350 overdue books down to 6 overdue books in 3 weeks.

1. First, have inventory completed before the last week of school so you may concentrate on getting all library materials returned, organized, and ready for check-out for the next school year. Scanning all books proves to also help with library check-in mistakes.

2. I used our phone messenger to send out a message starting with, "You are receiving this message because your son/daughter has an overdue library book." That tip actually came from a parent.

3. In late April or shortly after Spring Break concentrate on the overdue books from first semester. I would generate an overdue list in Excel and call students into the library 1 month at a time. This process cut the 1st semester list down by 50%. It still amazes me that over the years students don't understand the concept of time when it comes to checking out library books. When questioned about the books they checked out 3-4 months ago they still answer they didn't know the book was overdue.

4. In the beginning of May I started calling students to the library with overdue books from 2nd semester. Again the face-to-face conversation would generally cut the monthly list down by 50%. My student aides were critical in delivery the notices.

5. Solicit help from your staff. Since most of the students checked these books out from their English classes, I would send an overdue list to all ELA teachers minus the actual titles. Again I would use an Excel document and attach to an email. Once all books were due for the year, I would send an Excel attachment to all home room teachers. On occasion I would include the financial value to all overdue books. For some reason when a value was associated with the problem it became more personal to the faculty as a group. During the last week of school I sent daily emails to faculty members with the overdue book data. This allowed everyone to witness the overdue countdown and provided the positive progression of our efforts.

6. The second time students were called in I requested they make some type of home contact in my presence. It could be a text message, phone call, email, or other any means to contact their parents. Through this process we were able to bring our overdue list under 100 books.

7. The 3rd time students were called in I pulled out the lunch detention slips and requested that the student fill them out. It was amazing how filling out a simple form can bring an overdue list down to under 50 books. I would give the students until the next morning to either return the book or serve detention. In most cases the book was returned.

8. Flexibility is also a component. Frankly, some students cannot pay so get creative with solutions for them to resolve the problem. In a previous school I always offered a "work off" option for fines. I do not collect fines in my present school but I'm still open to a "work-off" solution. I actually keep a shelf of books that find their way into the library where students may work-off their debt and than choose a book from the shelf to add to our collection. I also accept books of the same value, title, or genre from a store or from home to replace overdue books.

By the last day of school my student list had dwindled from 350 overdue library books to 6 overdue books for the 2012-2013 school year and I still have hope some books will be paid for next week. My final act will be to include an overdue notice in the report card mailing. I believe the key to our success this year was persistence, collaboration, creativity, and compassion. By far this is my most unfavorable time consuming task but as we all know necessary in the life of a librarian


  1. I ama relatively new librarian and these tips on how to extract overdue books from the dozens of students who seem to have absconded with them. I've gotten this year's overdue list down from 200+ to 75, but that looks final. Next year I will try some of your methods>

  2. As many years as I've closed out the school year one would think I have perfected the process. Each school has been a little different but the key is consistency and help from your staff. Good luck for next year.


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