What I Learned When I Gave Away Books

First some necessary background information.

1. My school didn’t have a librarian for at least 3 years before me.
2. My school is Title I, which I discovered means that many publishing companies send the school a TON of copies of a few books for “classroom libraries” at the end of the year.
3. My school has gone through a HUGE number of transitions in the last 15 or so years. It was a middle school, high school, “learning center” (whatever that means), twilight school… It also received a lot of leftovers from other schools when they were closed. And at one point, a high school from down the road was moved to our building “temporarily,” along with all of their stuff, and never moved back.
4. As far as I can tell, no one had ever gone through most of all the stuff that had fallen into corners of classrooms and the library.

So I decided to go through it. Because we are moving and it’s a good time to clean house.

As I began to go through the process, I realized that something better should be done with all the books I was finding than donating or sending to classroom libraries to collect dust. I couldn’t justify adding all of them to the collection. Most were old, paperbacks that I didn’t think would get enough attention off the wall and would just end up being weeded out within three years. I also didn’t want to just throw them away. But they needed to be used somehow.

I decided that I wanted my students to have first crack at these books. Obviously, my students come from low-income households. They’re struggling in school. They need to read over the summer but they have no books. Why not let them take these? So, with no rhyme or reason or method whatsoever, no display-like advertising, I threw these books, cover up on the work tables. They were everywhere. There were so many of them. And I told the teachers to bring their classes for a few minutes and I spread word through those students who were constantly checking books out over the course of the year. And I made sure that every student who walked in knew they didn’t ever have to bring these books back, that they were theirs to keep or give away or whatever they wanted.

THE RESPONSE FROM STUDENTS WAS OVERWHELMING. They flooded the library and took as many as they wanted. Boys who hadn’t checked out anything all year FREAKED OUT and took all the old “Star Wars” books and then told their friends to come get more. They asked me how many they could get and when I said “However many you want!”, they asked if I had any bags to hold all the books they wanted. They asked me over and over again if they really didn’t have to bring them back.

I almost cried.

I believe that this occurred because the books were free to take, to keep, to have. There was no responsibility on the student to bring the books back. If a book got destroyed, it didn’t matter. I truly believe, after this occurrence, that my students want to read, but do not have the ability (for a number of reasons) to do so.

I will do this at the end of every year, in every school I work at. I don’t actually know what happens to books I weed out and box up to be collected by the Media Services department, but I feel certain they wouldn’t mind if I gave them to students instead.

Ah crap. I’ve been doing it wrong.

Well, this was an epiphany of pretty high measures. Check out this article about why you should give the student a pencil when they need it, every time they need it.

While it is opinion, every thing this guy says makes total sense. I always kept a slew of writing utensils when I was teaching and asked students to give me something if they needed to borrow one so I would get them back. I don’t know why I was concerned about getting them back, in hindsight.

Anyway, just something I wanted to share. If I’m ever back in a classroom, this will be a difference from the last time. And it definitely is already the norm in my library. I have a drawer of nothing but writing utensils in the supply cabinet in the middle of the library. I just shove everything extra in there and students are welcome to it whenever they need.