3 Reasons to Love Self-Checkout in an Elementary Library

I know what you must be thinking: I am late to this party! If you complete a quick Internet search you find many, many posts from librarians who have been using self-checkout for years. I mean, years! So now I have to admit that I was not one of them. Until now!

Up until this school year, I had been working with preschool to second-grade students.  I was always under the mindset that self-checkout would be too difficult to manage with this age group. I was wrong! Additionally, I was concerned that I might upset the school community if checkout was not managed by me. Wrong again!

At the start of this school year, a new library space was created and my position changed. I now work with students in preschool through fourth grade. The third- and fourth-grade students were already using self-checkout in their old space, and I did not want to change that. I just had to figure out how it could work in our new library.

So I starting reading about other elementary librarians who used self-checkout with their students, especially in the younger grades. What I found was that there are many librarians who are doing this and doing it well!

Here are a few resources that were helpful to me:

Now that I have had an opportunity to try this out for the past three months I wished I would have started it sooner! Below are three things I love about self-checkout:

Time to Talk about Books

We use a hybrid schedule with first through fourth grade. The students come for a fifteen-minute scheduled checkout each week and all curriculum objectives are taught through collaborative lessons with the classroom teachers. This checkout time is short! Prior to this year, I basically sat at the circulation desk while students looked for books. I was not able to give much guidance to students, and that always bothered me.

This year I have time to talk to kids about the books they are reading. Give them suggestions and help them find them. Additionally, I have been able to start conferencing with students who are not checking out and find out why. This check-out time is more productive than it used to be, and I can really foster a love of reading.

They Know What They Have

Another positive is that my students are able to more effectively keep track of what they have checked out. As they check out something new the system shows them what else they have out. Instead of just their parents receiving an e-mail with overdue items, it makes them more responsible for their library materials. Since they can easily see what is missing, I am finding that books are returned quicker too.

Never a Line

Since I had two scanners available I was able to set up multiple self-checkout stations. This makes the process faster and the students spend less time waiting in line. This gives them more time to read or work at the library stations after check out.

How It Is Managed

I currently use self-checkout with second through fourth graders. I am hoping to introduce this to first graders toward the end of the school year as well. Each student has a library card with their name, picture, and bar code printed on it. This card is put on construction paper that is color-coded by grade level. The cards are separated by homeroom. Each homeroom class has its own container inside the drawer of the circulation desk. These containers are also color-coded by grade level. This way when the class arrives I can pull out their container and easily place their cards on the circulation desk.

When the student comes to check out a book they first scan the barcode on their card. They check to make sure that their name shows up in the catalog. Then they scan their books. Then they place their card in the class container. This makes it easy for me to see who has and has not checked out.

It is not a perfect system! There are times when the computer does something funky and I have to stop and fix it. I am sure there have been times when a student did not scan their books quite right or maybe at all, but the benefits outweigh the issues. Overall this has been one of the best changes I have made in my library so far this year!


Author: Kelly Hincks

I am the librarian at Detroit Country Day Lower School in Bloomfield Hills, MI. I have worked as a school librarian for the past eleven years. I was a classroom teacher for four years prior to that. I have worked in charter, public, and private schools. My favorite thing about being a school librarian is the opportunities I have to work both with students and teachers. I love the co-teaching opportunities and connections I have been able to make! I have served on AASL committees as a member and chair. I currently serve as secretary of my state association, Michigan Association of School Librarians (MASL).

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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18 replies

  1. Thank you, Kelly, for sharing this personal experience of self-checkout in an elementary library. Here at Novato, we have also applied this to our libraries. Also, I do agree with the points you have mentioned and our school librarians are finding very good. Thank you once again. Keep doing good work. Cheers!

  2. Hi Kelly, thanks for sharing this information. I’d love to do this as well. What kind of software do you use?


  3. Wouldn’t having a self checkout impact the job of a library’s assistant if you have one? I’m asking both as a middle school library assistant and as a grad student going for my MLS. In our district we are blessed to have library assistants in all 4 elementary, 2 middle schools and high school libraries.

  4. Hi Abby,

    We have Follett Destiny. I have just created an account called self-checkout that I log that into circulation computer. This has just the options I wanted the kids to have available. Let me know and I can see if I can send you my settings for it.

    Thanks for reading!

  5. Hi Melissa,

    You are so lucky to have an assistant! In Michigan, only 34 percent of Michigan students have access to a library with any sort of staff; only 18 percent are certified librarians, and only 8 percent are full time. So I can advocate for an assistant, but it is unlikely that will happen. This was a good solution for me, but it may not be necessary for your libraries.

    Thanks for reading!

  6. Hi Kelly,

    Thank you for shairng your experience with us!
    I am the only librarian in our school serving Grade 1-Grade 9.
    We are a new school which opened in Sep 2019. So far there are 120+ students and 85 faculty. There is no way that the school will get a library assistant soon.
    So I think I will try self-checkout this year.
    I used to think that I migt try with secondary first. But after reading your post, I think I can try all grades!
    By the way, I am using follett destiny too.

    Keep the good work!

    Luna from China

  7. Hello Kelly,

    I use Follett Destiny at my school’s library. I have been doing self-checkout but students have to type in their names, which of course brings problems with elementary students. I would like to progress to cards with the students picture IDs.
    I would be happy to have you share the process of uploading pictures.

    Yaa from Mali

  8. Awesome post, Kelly. Your experience is really helpful for the new librarians and I also believe that self-checkout is the best way to maintain the book records and I will also suggest to the librarians at OGDEN to follow the same. Thank you once again.

  9. Kelly,
    I would love to know what settings in Destiny you are using. I am thinking about utilizing self checkout for my upper students next year. Thanks!

  10. Self-checkout in Elementary Library is the new skill acquired by many schools. This post by Miss Kelly will surely boost the initiative taken by Amphitheater School District to achieve its goal for its library.

  11. Hi Kelly,

    I would love to get some more info from you on the logistics to self check out. Our district is loosing all of our assistants starting next year, so we are trying to train our kids this year while we still have an assistant to assist them.

  12. Hi Sarah,

    Feel free to email me with any questions you may have! I am actually not using self-checkout this year because the library is on a cart in classrooms, but it was definately something I would do in the future!


  13. Hi Kelly,
    I use Destiny as well, but I am unsure how to print barcodes for student card, or bags for the little ones and I would love some help. My first year as a librarian was on a cart due to COVID, so this is my first year in the library and I need as much help as I can get.
    Thank so much,

  14. Hi Natasha,

    When you log into Destiny you would need to click on the “reports” tab across the top. Then choose “patron reports” along the left-hand side. Then at the bottom, you will find Patron ID Cards. When you click on that you can choose your preferences. I always print by homeroom. I also change the format to be first, middle, last name. I also change the cards to the 3 x 5 size too!

    I hope that helps! I am excited to bring self-checkout back this year…hopefully!


  15. I am going on my 2nd full yr as a 3rd/4th grade librarian, I started after spring break 2021. We have always picked one student to scan everybody in the class. I write it down when they scan and go through the list. The former librarian did this as well and she had a scan sheet for each classroom, so I continued this practice. It has all the students’ names with their barcode & school ID number under their names. I had never thought to have each kid scan their name every week. I just might try this out. Thank you!

  16. Our schools in upper westchester by are completely doing away with LIBRARY instruction and libraries. It is saddening to me as a trained librarian and teacher. They have replaced all the school libraries as STEM rooms now. They kept some books in the old library space just so kids can have something to check out and their parents think they’re having LIBRARY and therefore the district doesn’t lose their state money. It’s disgraceful.

  17. I find that when I am checking out books that helps me to manage how many books the child currently has out, remind them of books that are late, as so forth. With this system how do you manage keeping up with those things?

  18. Hi Melissa,

    I run a report for myself and send home notices through email once per month to remind students about books they have checked out. Students check out books to take home, but also for reading groups so I don’t worry too much about what is late because sometimes it is being used in a classroom at school. While students are checking out it gives me time to conference with them about what they are reading. Here is a post I wrote about how I use conferencing: https://knowledgequest.aasl.org/talking-about-books-student-conferencing-in-the-library/. That is when I have an opportunity to talk to them about what they are reading or what books they might be interested in. However, everyone has to figure out what works best for them!

    Hope it helps!

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