Finding the Perfect Book


I’ve noticed that I’m stuck in bit of a collection development brain cloud right now. Don’t get me wrong. I know the importance of having a solid expertise in all the tech toys, but here’s the truth. In my heart, I love the books. I wish I had a magic wand to pass that love on to every person, creature, spirit that walks the planet. Unfortunately, the only wand at a librarian’s disposal is a solid book collection and expert book knowledge. A librarian must be able to discern the best books in a multitude of genres. She must read books almost as often as she eats. That’s the only way. No shortcuts.

I had a déjà vu moment last week when I was searching out some new children’s books at the public library. A young girl, about 8, had solicited the help of a library assistant to help her find a realistic fiction book she needed to read for school. I painfully listened as the librarian recommended The Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew and Beverly Cleary. I knew this girl would not jump at any of these choices. Those books are ancient by today’s standards. It was easy to judge, but truth be told, there was a time when I was no better at recommending books.

When I started out in my first librarian job, I was an instant pro in all areas except one. My reader’s advisory skills were deplorable. I simply did not have enough books under my belt to adequately deal with all the varying interests of my students. I felt like a failure all the time. There was nothing I could do but search out book recommendation lists on the web and hope they didn’t lead me astray. Many of them DID lead me astray. And be warned. Some of the lists that come from the “professional organizations” are the worst. Here are my suggestions for how to disguise your lack of book smarts during those first few years.

Know the Series

Zero in on the current series. Top sellers often evolve into series. When people like a story, the author settles in and writes more. Kids love series because they don’t have to think about what to read next. When you have several books on a shelf that clearly go together, they suddenly become more visible, interesting and desirable. But use caution. Series get dated. Don’t go back further than 5 years. Kids today have many options, so they have little patience for the stuff we loved.

Find Useful Websites

You need to find websites that are current and creating new content often. Librarian bloggers are an indispensable source for book reviews. Many of them are experts in collection development and are motivated to empower other librarians with that knowledge. Check out these awesome websites/blogs for reviews and lists that are honest and constantly updated.

Create Cheat Sheets

Cheat sheets are great if your brain is like mine and you have a hard time remembering the books you’ve read. Creating lists unique to your collection can help ease the pressure.

  1. Decide the big genre categories that interest your students; such as mystery, humor, historical, fantasy, dystopian, sports, etc.
  2. Choose one book that you think best represents each category.
  3. Go to websites such as or and type in each book title.
  4. Cross reference the recommended books with your own collection.
  5. Type up a list of 10-20 books with a 2-sentence description.
  6. Eventually skim read each book to decide if it is worthy of staying on the list.
  7. Maintain the list by adding/deleting so your list remains current.
  8. When a student requests reader’s advisory, refer to your lists.

People are tough customers. You may only have one shot to turn them on to a good book. Read often. Read fast. Read strategically. If a student stumps you or you draw a blank, don’t give up. Work on it later and get back to that kid as soon as possible. Your skills will grow, and secretly he will think you are the coolest adult in the building.


The New Nonfiction


You’ve finally made peace with the fact that the nonfiction section is the official No Man’s Land in your school. I know. It hurts. It’s hard to let go of a tradition that spans centuries. It’s hard to acknowledge that those beautiful, big repositories of information are no longer the preferred source for life’s big questions. The fact is that they are little more than dust collectors. As such, it’s time to bite the bullet and put the brakes on your unpopular paper and ink collection. Now hold on just a second. I didn’t say pull the plug. It’s ok to continue a little dabbling in nonfiction books. You just need to be super selective and really pay attention to what kids want. Books must be able to sell the topic and offer something that the internet can’t easily satisfy.

So how do you sell the topic? First of all, it’s important to understand WHICH topics sell. Since the internet has successfully cornered the market on teacher-assigned research topics, it’s safe to say that loading up on traditional information books for those history or science classes is not going to improve your circulation stats. Sadly, Google is the new card catalog when it comes to class assignments. However, when it comes to personal interests, kids will still gravitate toward a good book they can hold and spend a little quality time with. Here are some tips to help you find great books for your nonfiction collection.

  1. Analyze the fiction circulation stats. Chances are that if there’s a popular book in the fiction collection, kids will want to devour whatever related material they can get their hands on. As the curator of the collection, you will be able to direct kids to the related nonfiction books.
  2. Choose books with themes that kids aren’t likely to think about when they are sitting at home on their computers. Teen issues, natural disasters, self-improvement, pop culture, and current events are examples of topics that kids will explore if prompted by an interesting book. Current events cross many content categories so you’ll have no problem filling out your Dewey sections.
  3. Choose books with a conversational tone. Nothing speaks better to kids than a voice they can relate to, or at least one that doesn’t sound like a professor. Historical books are now written to be enjoyable rather than impressive and kids are taking note.
  4. Choose publishers that are known for their high graphic display of information. DK publishing relies heavily on photographs to draw readers into the content while keeping it interesting and unusual.
  5. Work with the teachers. Ask each of them to provide a list of assigned research topics. Update your collection with new books on those topics. If the books also meet the criteria for language and graphic quality, they may be able to compete with whatever the internet has to offer.

There you have it. A few suggestions to help you tackle the monumental problem of nonfiction desertion. The collection doesn’t need to go away; it just needs to change. And probably downsize quite a bit. Employ a few strategic methods and you will likely see an increase in circulation. Internet competition is here to stay. The challenge is to prove that a viable alternative still, and always has, existed.

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Let It Go…Let It Go


There comes a time when every librarian must face the inevitable. The physical collection is no longer viable and must be weeded. I’m not talking about pulling a few books here or there. I’m talking about a full-on dump truck load of discards. The realization is usually painful and may take days or weeks to prepare for. There are two ways to look at this. One is the pessimistic approach which laments the passing of a bygone era and the dumbing down of our intellect. The other is the optimistic approach which celebrates the load of money your school is going to save, which can be used for all those great programming ideas you have.

Let’s face it. Information books are expensive. Reference books are a downright financial liability. Don’t get me wrong. I love books. All books. My hand would be the first one raised if someone asked “Who wants technology to slow down?” I would also gladly be the guinea pig for a time machine experiment if it would take me back to the library of my youth. But here’s the reality. Pages turn yellow. Pictures get dated. Vocabulary changes. Fonts get bigger. Spines break. The internet takes over. Eventually, that $100 book must go.

It’s important to remember that old books ruin a collection. It’s better to have a small, high quality collection then a large, outdated collection. Old books act like weeds. They block the flowers until eventually everything looks like a weed. Failing to weed your collection results in reduced circulation, which leads to reduced funding, which leads to complete elimination of the library. The time is now. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the task, here are a few tips to get you going on.

  1. Don’t think you’re going to accomplish this in one year. You have a library to run. This requires a plan. Besides, if you cut your collection in half too quickly, you’re going to send your administrators and faculty into shock. Plan on it taking up to 5 years, depending on the size of your existing collection.
  2. Start with the Reference Section. No one uses reference books anymore. They are cumbersome, probably outdated, and extremely inconvenient. Go to any decent public library and you may not even find a reference section.
  3. Next tackle the Nonfiction Section. You can do this one of two ways. Start at the beginning, working your way numerically through the Dewey Decimal System. Or, begin with the sections that have the most outdated books, finishing up with the most popular sections. Either way, you need a plan. Decide how many years the project will take, and assign the sections to be culled each year.
  4. End with the Fiction Section. Discard any books with yellowed pages or tiny print. No matter how great the book is, a classic or favorite book from your childhood, no one from the current generation is going to check out that book. EVER.
  5. It’s a good idea to inform your administrators and faculty about what you are doing. The likelihood is that they will be grateful. If you need to justify your actions, run a circulation report of the books you are removing. You won’t likely get push back when you can prove a book has never been checked out.
  6. What to do with all those discarded books? First, you should offer them up to anyone in your school who might take them. Teachers. Students. Parents. You’d be surprised at how many people will gladly take a free book they would never dream of checking out. Next, toss the damaged or discolored books into the recycling bin or trash. You don’t need to feel like a criminal doing this. If no one on the planet wants the book, it’s trash. And believe me, there are books that no one wants. Donate any remaining books to the public library foundation, a used book seller, or nonprofit organization in your area. They may be able to sell them. But seriously, don’t pass on any books that you believe have no value. That just transfers the book discard burden to someone else.

That’s it. You can do this. Your students will love you for it.

Upcycling old books