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.


What I Learned When I Ordered Too Many Books

or: Genrefying is a Legit Thing

or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Covers

or: Some of the Theories About Diversity in YA Might Be Wrong…

Okay, I didn’t really order too many books. My library is being packed up and moved to another building for the next school year while ours is being renovated, so one of my goals for this school year was to do a major weeding project in fiction and to order mostly fiction to update the collection. I want to come back to the new Learning Commons with a fresh, clean, desirable fiction section. I’m fairly certain that I was pretty successful at this.

But I ordered like 200 new books and they arrived as I was in the middle of my weeding project. I did not want to confuse myself by shelving them and having to put hands on them again when I already knew I wanted them here.

So I put them on the tables in the MC. Literally just cover up on different tables, organized by genre. Essentially I had a mini collection of fiction organized by genre and displayed so you can see all the covers.

The amount of attention this drew was MIRACULOUS. Students who normally read got SO EXCITED. Students who didn’t normally check books out went through them and checked books out. They TALKED ABOUT THE BOOKS IN FRONT OF THEM. It. Was. Tremendous.

Here’s why I think it worked.

1. Genrefying. When we throw all the books on the shelf in alphabetical order by author’s last name, we don’t give possible readers anything to go on to find a book except for whatever they can see on the spine.

2. Covers. I mean just read number 1 again.

I’ve been considering genrefying my library for a while. I did it at a middle school library I interned at and then did a lot of research into it and I really think it’s a good idea. I think I’m going to add that as a goal during the move and transition, but I’d also like to find more ways to shelve or display books with the covers out. Does anyone have thoughts or suggestions?

Also, and I’m going to do a more specific post on this at some point, but I noticed that many students did not care what was on the cover as long as it looked cool. This is a big thing for me. I always thought that a young black girl would probably not pick up a book with a young white girl on the cover, and I don’t think I got that thought from nowhere. I feel like I’ve been hearing it, reading it, discussing its factness for a while. It may be right in some cases, but it really wasn’t the case for my students here. If the cover was engaging and enticing, it did not matter what race the character pictured on the front was at all. I’m very intrigued by this.

My first bulletin board/display…

…feels like an unmitigated disaster.

I created a bulletin board and display for Teen Read Week as well as a display for Banned Books Week.

Here are some pictures of the TRW bulletin board and the display.

IMG_3252 IMG_3258


And the BBW display.





I felt like there were a number of challenges to this whole thing.

  • I have one large bulletin board and one small bulletin board on opposite sides of the library. That upper right picture in the collage is the smaller bulletin board. There is no table or bookshelf without anything on the top near the smaller bulletin board, so I had to think of something to do with it.
  • Neither of my bulletin boards are in a very logical place to be put to use in conjuction with displays.
  • The bookshelves that don’t have anything on top of them (and are short enough to be used as displays) aren’t in very good places for having displays. You’ll notice the Censorship poster is on an office window.
  • There is no better place to move any of the things that are mobile, which is actually only one of the bookshelves.
  • The large bulletin board was actually way larger than I was expecting.
  • My collection is in serious need of a major update. We didn’t have any of the books nominated for this year’s Teens’ Top Ten or any of the Top Ten Challenged Books from last year.

And here is what I ended up doing about each of those things.

  • I put a quote on the small bulletin board that I felt related to the theme of the book display on the large bulletin board. Positives: love the quote; it’s from a book; it’s totally related. Negatives: we don’t have that book, although we do have a couple of random ones from the series.
  • I used them anyway because they needed to be covered ASAP. I was originally thinking I could put always put a related quote on the little bulletin board and put the book that the quote is from on the shelf next to it. I may still try that, but it’s really limiting since my collection could use some help. Still like that idea though.
  • I used them anyway. I had no other choice at the time. It will be different next time.
  • Yeah, I’m not moving them. Not even the mobile one. Oh wait. Stream of consciousness here, but I just had an idea I might try out before doing the next display. We’ll see.
  • I filled it with things I’m not too proud of. Dots and squares for one. I thought the QR codes were a good idea (they link to the voting page for Teens’ Top Ten and the local public library to find the books), but I will print them larger next time to take up more room. Negative to that: my kids don’t actually know what they are because they mostly don’t have the devices to use them.
  • I had to get creative. The TRW display is all previous Top Ten and other award recent award winners, are things like The Giver, whose “sequel” Son is nominated this year, or are other books by authors who are nominated this year. The BBW display is a bunch of books that have been challenged over the years.

I do think I had some small success in using tissue paper to line the board and in finding those colors for the bulletin board letters in the back room.

I’m going to change a bunch of things, hopefully before I switch over to the next displays. Most importantly, I’m moving a bunch of the sections in my collection. That may open up some better shelf space for displays. However, that space won’t be near the bulletin boards, so I will have to do some thinking about that. My stream of consciousness idea may solve that issue, too.

Sorry for the length of this post. I really needed to reflect and figure out how I was going to make this better. I don’t deal well with feeling like something I attempted turned out awfully.