How are school libraries like an ice cream shop?

Think about the last time you walked into an ice cream shop. You may have seen customers browse through the dozens of flavors, looking for what will satisfy them that day. Maybe some opted for two scoops of opposing flavors, others may have wanted a sundae with a variety of toppings. There may have even been one or two that came in for the whole banana split. There may have been some customers that ordered the same vanilla cone they get every time they visit. Ice cream shops stay viable when they offer a variety of flavors, keep their stock fresh, and customize their menus to appeal to their customer base.

Now imagine walking into an ice cream shop that had only three flavors: chocolate, vanilla, and, I don’t know, say pumpkin pie. The chocolate and vanilla move pretty well, but the pumpkin pie looks like it has been there for awhile. It’s hard to scoop and a little freezer burnt. It doesn’t look so appealing, so you choose chocolate or vanilla. Now imagine visiting this ice cream shop week after week, and there are the same three flavors: the predictable but safe chocolate and vanilla, and that same ancient tub of rock-hard, ice-covered pumpkin pie. Not so appetizing, right?

Now think of your school library as an ice cream shop. Is your school library like the first one? Do you offer a wide variety? Do you have something for everyone? Do all your “customers” leave satisfied? If not, then your school library may look more like the second one, predictable and unappealing with its limited choices. If so, it’s likely you need to take a hard look at your collection. It may be time to create a new plan to boost business. In the library world, we call this a collection development plan.

What flavor are you?

When you walk into a national ice cream shop chain, you know what to expect: a broad range of flavors, a variety of toppings, and a standard of customer service. Big chains take pride in business models that provide a certain expectation of consistency that customers can rely on. So no matter what city you are in, if you head into that particular ice cream chain you already have an idea of what to expect.

This is NOT the case with school libraries. School libraries are under the supervision of a trained school librarian, usually for a number of consecutive years, often with little or no supervision. It is up to the school librarian to curate the collection, make decisions about what new materials to buy, and maintain the facility. In my experience, the school library takes on the personality of the school librarian in charge. This autonomy can be a good thing, but not everyone has the same expectations or investment in maintaining a quality school library collection. Basically the “flavor” of the school librarian comes through. In my experience, school librarians come in all different flavors. Some are plain like vanilla, others are super sweet, some are a little fruity, and a few can even be kind of nutty.

So, which flavor are you and why?

Keeping your stock fresh…

Here is a self-assessment. Ask yourself the following questions:

“In my school library…”

  • Do I have what students are staff are looking for?
  • Are the books in good shape or are they past their prime?
  • Do I have books that haven’t been checked out in years?
  • Is the average age of my collection older than my students? Worse yet, the staff?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then it’s time to do some weeding. Remember, it’s a library….not a museum.

So you may have 30,000 books in your collection…but if the books are collecting dust, don’t circulate, or have outdated information then they probably need to go. If you weed those books that are obsolete, not only will your school library look better but chances are your circulation will increase. 


Author: Sedley Abercrombie

Sedley Abercrombie is the district digital learning and library media programs specialist for Davidson County Schools in North Carolina, an NCSLMA executive board member, and an adjunct instructor at East Carolina University.

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development

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1 reply

  1. Wow…I agree! Always looking for more money,

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