I recently finished my practicum for my MLIS degree – 50 hours in a middle school library and 50 hours in an elementary school library. The middle school was a large one in an urban district, and the elementary was a smaller library in a rural district. The middle school library did everything right as far as good practice goes (budget, staffing, collection), but I learned a lot more in the elementary library as it is a lot closer to the situation I will have soon at my new job in as a K-12 librarian in a rural school district.
One practicum requirement was that I had to do some action-based research. Basically, I had to identify a problem of practice, come up with a possible solution, put the solution in place, and look at the results. This librarian is at the jr./sr. high in the morning and the elementary in the afternoon, with nary a paraprofessional in sight. At the elementary, the students love the library and really use it – so with that combination (high-use and low-oversight), the shelves were a mess, especially the nonfiction. So I decided to implement the bookstore model, in part, anyway, with the hope that students would find books without messing up the shelves. My adviser told me it’d be more accurate to say I implemented “featured collections” and I suppose she’s right. Either way, this is what I did.
I chose six different areas of subjects to feature. The library had a really nice piece of furniture (see below) that could be used to highlight different books. The first ones I featured were horses, dogs, cats, drawing, military, and dinosaurs. Later, I switched out horses for graphic novels, and then at the end, I took out dinosaurs and put in summer fun.
The results? Per-week check out SKYROCKETED. In every area, checkouts increased:
Horses – 28% increase
Drawing – 46% increase
Dogs – 85% increase
Cats – 171% increase
Dinosaurs – 211% increase
Military – 593% increase
Part of the high checkouts can be attributed to the fact that students are encouraged to return books as soon as they were done, so one book usually didn’t check out only once a week but maybe four or five times a week. Still, almost a 600% increase! We ended up finding other books to include, like books from the 900s on wars. A book about World War I that probably should have been weeded for its lack of checkouts was now continually checked out. The librarian decided to buy some more military books. 🙂 It did seem to keep the shelves cleaner, too, although that is harder to quantify.
I still don’t buy into the whole-hog bookstore model, like Darien, Connecticut’s library (for their under-5 collection, anyway – though I’d love to visit it someday). But I think it’s a great way to market your collection. And I think it proves the validity of nonfiction at the elementary level. Even if students are checking books out to look at the pictures (of dogs, of soldiers, of horses), I think we’re doing something right by getting a book in their hands.