Ask the Librarian: July 2017
by Deborah B. Ford

I have some really great books that aren’t circulating. How can I get my kids to read them?—Jessica, Teacher Librarian in CA

Everyone has that problem. The first step is analyzing why the book hasn’t been circulating. A number of reasons can contribute to the lack of love for a book. It could be that they don’t know it’s there. Maybe it has a less-than-wonderful cover. Maybe it’s in a bad location. Perhaps there aren’t enough tags in your circulation system to identify the book in a search. With a little bit of thought and some new-fashioned marketing, you can get under-circulated titles off the shelf.

Location, location, location. Just like real estate, books often circulate based on their neighborhood. Books on the middle shelf go out more often. There’s a reason why the sugary cereals are on the same grocery store shelves, and the healthy cereals are near the ceiling or the floor. Titles on the bottom and top shelf just don’t check out as often as those on middle shelves. San Diego Unified Schools have top or bottom shelf check out day. On those days, everyone is supposed to choose from those books. The amazing thing is that kids will police each other, saying, “He said it’s Bottom Shelf Check Out Day. Put that back!” Who knows what hidden gems are lurking near the floor?

An alternative is to weed and not use the bottom shelf. Use your top shelf for face out display.

Display. Display. Display. Books are often shelved so that the bottom of the book is all you see—you can’t even see the title. Make sure those amazing books get some face out exposure in a display from time to time. Readers like to choose from the cover. Out of sight is often out of mind. Pull books that need some love and add them to your display.

If the cover is awful, create signage, adding an “if you like x, you’ll like this”. You can also cover the jacket and write the first sentence on the new jacket. Remember you can’t judge a book by its cover. You’ll find many other examples on our Pinterest Board: Displays.

Extreme Makeovers. Candidates for extreme makeovers are books that have unattractive covers. Many of these can be saved from “gardening/weeding” by replacing the Mylar jacket or redesigning a new cover. Pull potential makeover books that are still worthy of shelf space and place them on a cart. After you have taught your students about the parts of a book jacket, have students select a book to read and create a new, inviting cover. Be sure they do research about the author and illustrator as well as write an interesting blurb for the fly front. Insert a digital picture of the jacket artist and allow the student to write a short biography for the back jacket. You may even be able to update your Marc record with a notation of the illustrator of the new jacket.  

Market. Market. Market. Just like the newsies in NYC, all it takes is a good headline to sell the paper. Read the first sentence aloud. Create new book trailers. Use software like Adobe Spark or Typorama to create an infopic. Create a podcast channel and ask your readers to record a great passage from the book.

Book Pass. Pile the books on the tables. Start a timer and have kids read for a few minutes. At the end of the time, readers pass their book to their left and read again. They can make notes about books they want to read later or they can keep the book they have and continue to pass. Be sure to have extra books so no one is “stuck” with a book.

Blind Dating. For high schools, cover the books with butcher paper and create a blind date section. You could add a ? (question mark) and select mysteries so that you have a mystery book for a mystery date. Ask the reader to write a review when returning the book.

Final Thoughts. If nothing seems to work, you may just have a book that is not in the right library. There are many award-winning, amazing books that just don’t fit your community. Think about passing it on to someone who will love it. Save your shelf space for the books that merely need a temporary home in-between check outs.

Jessica will receive a Librarians Rock sticker for her question. What questions do you have? Let me know.


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