Circulation Slump

For those of you working in closed libraries, I feel you. For those of you fighting your administration to just let one or two kids in, I understand you. I have been back in my library for two weeks now after working remotely since the quarantine began. The whole of this school year I have tried remote book talks, contactless book delivery, and virtual library displays to try and keep my library relevant with students. The numbers and the data show a sad story: my circulation is down 93% from last year at this time. 

The Slump

School libraries are not just access to books and materials; they are a haven, a safe space, a culture. When you remove the personal touches that make the school library a special place, the life drains. By offering comparative services I felt like I was doing my job. I was offering students ways to have the library outside of interacting with me and the space. This was not enough, not even close to enough. After running the circulations for this year so far and comparing them to last year’s numbers I am down 93%. Yes . . .  93% less of the books are being checked out this year versus last year. 

First Reactions

I hear my colleagues say things like “ This year is a wash.” I get it, I really do. It’s different, it’s uncharted territory, we are all struggling to a new normal. Does it have to be a wash though? Is there nothing that we can’t find a way to carry us meaningfully through the day with? Honestly, my initial reaction to my circulation data was a feeling of discouragement. I felt like I tried so hard and the numbers just didn’t support that. I spent a chunk of time playing around with my Titlewave settings, double checking report limiters, trying to make sense of this massive drop. It took some time to think through, but I’ve come to a meaningful conclusion for myself.

A School Library Is More

Simply stated, a school library is more. A school library is more than just books and materials. A school library is more than just a place to learn. My students can’t come talk with me. Can’t pop in their heads to my office and ask what I’m reading. Can’t see physically the displays of new books that they can just immediately reach out and grab. That means everything.  

Our numbers, data, and circulations can’t be judged by our current world reality. We can’t get down on ourselves during these times because we aren’t performing at the levels we would like. We need to be healthy and safe first and foremost. Open only when it is safe for students and staff. My circulation slump does not define a failure to me; it is undeniable proof that a school library is more.


Author: Elizabeth Libberton

Elizabeth Libberton is the library media specialist at St. Charles East High School in St. Charles Illinois. She currently writes book reviews for School Library Journal. She is a member of the ALA Awards Selection Committee. Also, she is a member of the steering committee for the AISLE Lincoln Book Award.

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics

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3 replies

  1. My library has been open since November, and I’ve felt all of these emotions. Trying to not get down on myself when only one book is checked out during an entire week. Thank you so much for this article!

  2. I really feel badly for your students, and you. Our school has been open for in person learning since August 20 and students have been in the library since the first day. We celebrated the 100th day of school last week. I just checked my circulation stats today because I was feeling overwhelmed with the number of books coming back in. Our circulation is up 35% over last year! Students are starved for something to do, and books seem to be their go to with the loss of some other opportunities! Our students are happy, engaged and safe … and so am I. I hope everyone finds there way back to normalcy soon.

  3. I feel the same way! It’s so sad that I have all of these amazing books to offer and digital promotion just doesn’t do the job. In my latest attempt to reach out, I filled two book carts with fiction and nonfiction, sent photos of them to the staff and students, and let them know they could reserve a book that way. So far, not much response. But like you said, there is so much that we are doing for the school during this pandemic that we have to feel good about those things.

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