Wednesday, December 24, 2014

ROBOT Incentive (Returning Our Books On Time)

First of all, I cannot take credit for this idea. This idea came from Sharing the Shelves blog, and it is just my middle school spin on a really cute idea.

Secondly, I wrote this quite awhile ago and never posted it. At the time, I wanted to have some results to report. Ultimately, the results were mixed at best, and I decided it wasn't worth posting. I post it now because I figure if someone can benefit from what I did, then it was all worthwhile.


I know I'm preaching to the choir on this one, but chasing overdue library books and fines is the bane of my library existence. I absolutely HATE it. The amount of energy I expend printing overdue notices, tracking down students, and emailing and calling parents is absolutely insane. How many other great things could I be doing to encourage students to read if I didn't have to deal with overdues on this level? How much paper would I save if I didn't have to print 250 or so overdue slips every week?


It seems every day, our district librarians communicate on some email thread topic. One day, an elementary librarian posed the question about what to do with all these overdues. Something that would motivate the kids, did not involve the teachers doing anything extra, and would be easy to manage. One of the librarians sent a link to the Sharing the Shelves ROBOT program, and I was hooked.

ROBOT (Returning Our Books On Time) is an easy concept. Basically, the librarian tracks which classes have the best "rate of return" and those classes get a whole-class prize. To track it, I created an excel spreadsheet by class period. This way, I just plug in the numbers to get the percentages. No math errors--bonus!


I used the above PowerPoint to explain the concept to the students (teacher names were changed). For the current stats slide, I gave the current winning classes on the slides and told each class their rank.

I gave one trial week of stats before they became "permanent." This gives 30+ day overdue students the chance to find their lost items so they can participate.

I also have a bulletin board in the library where I will keep a running tally.

  • Our district operates on a 6-week grading period, so tallying starts over every six weeks.
  • Use ExCel to calculate your totals and make life much easier.
  • Pick one day each week to calculate. Tell students which day it is so they have maximum opportunity to be rewarded for taking care of their business. My tally day is Thursdays, so students have until Wednesday afternoon to get their books in and fines paid.
  • I only count each student once. Students who have 2 overdue books and 2 overdue fines will still only count against their class ONCE each week.

I don't want to punish the whole class for one or two students who will never take care of their business. Therefore, students with books and/or fines more than 30 calendar days overdue DO NOT COUNT against their class average at all; however, those students who are that late are also not eligible to receive any whole-class rewards for ROBOT for that 6-week period. Even one 30+ day overdue will disqualify them for that six weeks period.



  • For each teacher, the class with the highest point value (added together) for the six weeks will get a BlowPop party in the library during their next library time. No, we are not supposed to give sweets, but it seems our students always have some form of candy with them at school anyway. If they prefer, they can eat them at lunch or save them until they get home. This will cost me maybe $10 each six weeks. Remember, only students whose accounts were not 30+ days overdue during that six weeks will be eligible.

  • I also do a six-weeks drawing of all students who a) checked out regularly, and b) were never overdue. These students get a pass to eat lunch in the library with up to two friends of their choice. They can redeem the pass anytime, but if they redeem within a week, I will give them cookies for dessert! Sweets again--don't tell! 

So did this work? Well, sort of. Overall, I got more books back on time or very soon after they were due. Yes, the kids were excited about it, especially those who got the cookies during lunch. The teachers liked it and wanted me to do it again.

The cons? There were several. The biggest is that it was such a pain in the rear to keep track of. The excel spreadsheet was useful, but keeping up with which students were 30+ days overdue from week to week got to be quite tedious. Also, students sometimes changed classrooms or moved away without my knowledge, which forced me to have to go back to recalculate a few times. I also put results on the bulletin board in the library, which was one more thing to do (the students loved checking it though!).

I am also conflicted about rewarding students for something they are supposed to do. Yes, this happens all the time in school and even in life, but it still bothers me in this case. It's not like my library ever closes during the day. Most students walk past the library multiple times each day; is it really so difficult to pop in and return a book? The return bin is right by the door. All classes come to the library at least once every two weeks, not to mention all the classes scheduled in the library computer lab. And what happens when I stop doing this incentive? What happens when students change schools or graduate?

Another problem was that the Pre-AP classes had massively better results than the on-level classes. These were the students who were already returning their books on time, even without the incentive, simply because they tend to be responsible and frequent readers. So all the work I did to tally the results didn't really make much difference where I needed it to.

So now I am back to square one. It's possible that this could work with some tweaking, but I do not plan to do it again. If you know of an easy way to encourage students to return their books on time, I would absolutely LOVE to hear it. Overdues are the heroic librarian's Evil Nemesis, and I dread the hundreds (not exaggerating) of end-of-the-school-year parent phone calls and emails. Return your books, people!

Like this blog? Get updates in your inbox whenever I post new content! Subscribe by clicking the green envelope below:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Let's start a conversation! All commenting on Mrs. ReaderPants is moderated and CAPTCHA-free! Please submit your comment only once--it will appear shortly.