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Chill Out!: Relaxing Policies to Increase Circulation

Here’s a crazy idea: Library books should be in the hands of students and not collecting dust on the shelves. Here are some tips to increase your circulation and keep your patrons happily reading:

  • (New one added 6-25-12) Make sure items with restricted circulation (such as reference materials) really need to be restricted.

    I love my public library. They do serious inter-library loaning for me. The staff is (almost always) friendly, helpful, and smiling. But I had a not-so-great experience today that could have been so easily avoided.

    My 7-year old son loves to read, and he has discovered a new passion for reading dictionaries. He’s been reading my sign language dictionary for months, so we decided to look for other kinds of dictionaries at the public library. Among our other library “purchases,” he picked out two beautiful children’s dictionaries. When we went to check out, we were told that both dictionaries are “reference materials” and cannot be checked out. Oookkaaayy…Are there any children’s dictionaries we can check out? Without looking, typing anything in, or stopping to ask someone else, the library clerk said “no, they are all reference.”

    Now, I am not going to stand there and argue with this woman with my children standing right there. But seriously, no child in Fort Worth can check out a picture dictionary from the public library? Do they really have that much of a need for in-library use of picture dictionaries? Of the six or so children’s dictionaries we saw on the shelf, you can’t allow even one of them to circulate?

    My point in this whole story is, if you decide some items cannot circulate, make sure you think about why you are not going to circulate them. I get that a few items should be available at all times. I get that really old or rare books may be too fragile to circulate. But just because your ordering specs labeled them “Reference” and you do not check out ANY reference items? That’s really not a great reason to keep materials out of your patron’s hands.

  • Allow students to check out even if they have a small fine.

    Let me start with this: I personally hate charging overdue fines. I do not think they are effective and believe they discourage checkout. But library fines are policy in my district for middle and high schools, so that is the demon I must live with. I tried to fight it in a previous district with no support from librarians whatsoever, and I am not going to do that again. So I live with overdue fines and deal with them as best I can.

    At my school, the fine limit is officially 50 cents; once a student’s fine exceeds 50 cents, he or she must pay the fine in order to continue checking out. Are we still flexible on that in certain cases? Absolutely. If the student makes some sort of payment on their fine when they checkout, we will allow them to check out if they exceed 50 cents.

  • If a student damages or loses a book, consider setting up a payment plan.

    For example, a student who owes us $15 for a damaged book might make a payment of $1 every time he or she checks out. As long as the student makes that payment, we allow checkout. Much of the time, the student pays for the damaged book long before the payment plan ends anyway.

  • If a student loses or damages a book, give him a reasonable amount of time to checkout without making a payment or paying it off.

    I really have no specific time period, but if it goes longer than a few weeks, we will require them either to set up a payment plan or to pay off the book in full before their next checkout.

  • Students who ask have a higher checkout limit.

    Most students at my school can check out up to two items at a time. But if they ask, we will allow them to check out up to four books at once. In Destiny, we created a New Patron Type (“Extra Checkout Allowed”) to keep track of students approved for extra checkout. That way, our student aides know at a glance who we have approved for that.

    We do not approve students for extra checkout if they have multiple unpaid fines or check out infrequently. When we decline their request, we show the students their history and discuss what we need to see in order to allow them additional checkouts. We tell them to work on that and come see us in a few weeks to try again.

  • Before extended school breaks, allow students who ask to check out more books.

    Most students do not ask, but I have a growing number of students who request more books to read over long breaks. I have no limit on the number here because the students who request this tend to be among my best readers. I’ll even give them mesh bags (save them from library conferences) to carry it all in.

  • Increase your circulation period.

    Last year, we tried changing the circulation period from two weeks to three weeks for most items. The only exceptions to this is books on our Lone Star Plus List, which circulate heavily and tend to have multiple holds. The Lone Star Plus books have a two-week circulation period.

    The results of the increased circulation period? We decreased the number of overdue notices we print each week from 90+ pages to 70-ish pages. On average, overdue fines are lower, which means students can continue to checkout when they incur a fine. Our students have more time to finish their books (not as many bookmarks sticking out when we check them in). Fewer students need to renew their books, which means fewer students get declined when they can’t renew due to the book being on-hold for someone else.

  • If your circulation system permits, allow students to manage their library accounts online.

    Destiny Quest allows this; my students are able to view their accounts, renew materials, place holds, view fines, and write book reviews (reviews come to me for approval before going online) from their Destiny Quest accounts. It saves me time doing these things for them, and the renew feature helps students avoid fines as long as their book is not already overdue.

What other ways do you relax your policies to increase circulation? Feel free to post–we’d love to hear!


  • I like your idea about increasing the length of time materials can be checked out. That might help solve some of the overdue issues I experience at my school.

    Our county does not charge late fees. We have too many students who can't or won't pay those fees. I don't let students check out books if they have any overdue books. Since they don't have to pay any late fees, I don't feel like this is a bad thing. It teaches them responsibility. I do allow them to check out an "Honor Book" if they have an overdue book, but not if they owe lost or damaged book fee. (See below for "Honor Book" description.)

    Taking this into account, I let students "work" off their fines for lost or damaged books. They come to the Media Center on Fridays during their recess until they've completely worked off their fine. They owe one day of "work" for every $10.00 they owe. This has worked really well for my patrons who can't afford a $30.00 fine.

    I also have an "Honor Book" section that students who have unpaid fees can "check out." These are paperback books that have been donated to the Media Center, but they aren't barcoded so students are just on their honor to bring them back. This seems to be a good compromise and sometimes students who don't have any fees want to check out an "Honor Book." As long as it gets them reading, I don't mind at all!

  • Hi, Jo! I love the "Honor Book" system–this is a great way to take in some of those donated books without cataloging them!

    What do you have students do to work off fines? I would be worried about having mine shelve (are they careful/pay attention to details?), and having them help with circulation would be a reward for so many of my students. I can see some of them losing or damaging books on purpose just to stay in the library during recess, especially when it is hot outside.

    Last year, I had a "tape ripping" party for students who still owed $$ at the end of the year. The students who owed for lost or damaged books (not overdue fines) had to de-barcode dictionaries and thesauri and classroom sets we were taking out of library inventory. They didn't finish all of it, but I would have had to do it otherwise. Some of them actually enjoyed it!

  • My middle school students may have three books at a time, and we have no fines. The only money they owe is if a book is lost or damaged beyond repair, and if they pay $1 per week on lost books, they can continue to check out one book until the fine is paid off. The one thing I am strict on is that students cannot check out anything else if they have anything overdue. So far this year we have checked out 30,966 books; last year we checked out 34,748. Whew. I'm good if I don't increase my circ any more! (I have 720 students.)

  • Wow! Those are awesome circ stats! Makes me want to compare mine…

    I agree with you about not allowing checkout if something is overdue. I don't do that, either, even if the book is only one day overdue. I do tell the student I will hold the book for him/her for one day if they want to bring in the other book tomorrow to turn in or renew (I don't renew unless they have the book in-hand, although they can renew it themselves online as long as the book isn't already overdue).

    I allow my students to renew as many times as necessary unless the book is on-hold for someone else.

  • I'm not familiar with school libraries but I'm always in my local one & I think some of these tips could be altered to apply to them as well. Especially when it comes to kids & restricted items they'd want to read at home. Excellent thoughts!


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