Revitalizing Our School Library Collection

Back in January, my very first blog post for Knowledge Quest was all about how librarianship is a marathon, not sprint. I wrote about the importance of pacing yourself and not trying to tackle big changes all at once. I was at a new school at a new grade level, and while I knew there was much that needed addressed, I also knew that I couldn’t do it all and remain standing.

This year began very differently from any other for me and so many others. I was in another new school, in a new district. The high schools in our district have been on a 3/2 hybrid plan since the school year began in mid-August. When students are at home, they Zoom into their classes, so teachers are providing both in-person and virtual instruction simultaneously. 

Instead of contacting teachers to schedule classes for orientations or seeking other collaborations, I decided to wait to reach out. I did share a menu of services I could provide during our back-to-school meetings, but with all of the changes and challenges ahead, I figured it would be best to let teachers contact me when they were ready.

With instruction on a bit of a hold, my time and attention turned to organizing and updating the collection. Thankfully a contingent of folks from the district library services department came out before school began to weed the library. Their help gave me the start I needed to do the rest of the work. 

1.Weed the fiction and non-fiction sections. We wedded using a pull list created by running a report from the circulation system on books that have not circulated in 3-5 years as well as weeding based on condition. By removing items that are out of date, are no longer of interest, or are in poor condition, I was able to free up shelf space to highlight great offerings from the collection through faceouts and shelf toppers. Plus, by weeding first, I did not go through the next steps with books we would not be keeping.

2. Move the fiction bookshelves to a central location in the library closer to the circulation desk. Thankfully, all of the freestanding bookshelves are on wheels, so this made the process significantly easier. However, moving the shelves made the alphabetical order previously in place get out of whack a bit as the rows did not line up exactly as before.

(The center of the library before. The fiction section used to be close to the entry doors, a fair distance from the circulation desk.)


(The center of the library after. The main genre categories are directly across from the circulation desk.)

3. Organize the fiction section into genres. I had planned on organizing the fiction collection by genre but thought it would be a little further down the road. Knowing I would need to move all of the books anyway due to the alphabet problem, I decided to move up the timeline on the genrefication. I went through each book and decided where it would fit into new genre categories. There was a previous genre system, but it was not always consistent. I did create and use genre categories in my previous high school, but I made some adjustments to that model based on my past experiences. The categories in the collection now are Classics, Sports Fiction, Realistic, Relationships, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Mysteries, Quick Reads, and Graphic Novels.

4. Add genre categories to the catalog. Once the books were on the shelves in their new category homes, I worked with a member of the library services staff to make sure the catalog reflected their current genres. Our district uses Follett Destiny, and we kept the location as fiction but changed the sublocations to the individual genres. The sublocation shows up right under the call number in Destiny, so it should be highly visible to students. Using a Google Sheet, I set up separate tabs for each genre category. I then scanned the barcode for each book into the proper tab. Using that sheet as a guide, the support person in library services worked some magic to add the sublocations to each record.

5. Conduct inventory. I soon began to realize that the catalog records were not entirely accurate after a few classes came in for orientations and had trouble finding things that the catalog indicated should be on the shelf. That’s not entirely unusual after weeding or for collections that have not gone through inventory for a while. So, the next step was to conduct an inventory of the entire library. I set up my laptop with a scanner on a 3-tier cart and went section by section scanning each book and fixing any issues along the way.

6. Add tinted spine label covers to fiction books. The next step in the process was to remove the previous stickers on the spines of the books as many no longer matched the current genre categories. In their place, I used tinted spine label covers from Demco. I have used these in several libraries over the years, and they make it incredibly easy to identify each genre section and to know where to shelve things when they are returned.

(The circulation desk is between the windowed room (back left) and the fiction section. Nice and close so we can easily help.)

7. Process new book order to match new set up. Due to the generosity of our building leaders, I was able to put in a book order at the beginning of the year to add some current titles that reflect our very diverse student body. I processed the new titles by affixing their colorful spine labels and adding them to their genre category sublocations using the same system of a tabbed Google Sheet.

8. Create signage for fiction shelves. At the beginning of the year, I made temporary signs for the fiction shelves using label sleeves from the Target bargain bins and printouts on plain white paper. I wanted time to think about how it to best make signs to match the tinted spine label covers. In my previous library, I purchased signs that were made of PVC and attached them to the tops of the wall mounted book shelves with industrial strength velcro. Now, years later, I knew I had some other tools at my disposal that didn’t exist back then that are more cost effective. To make the genre category signs this time for each of the sections I cut sheets of black foam core and cut colored vinyl letters with my Silhouette. The signs are attached to the bookshelves with picture-hanging Command strips allowing me to easily move and adjust in the future if needed. Now each section has signs that match the tinted spine labels. Seeing them just brings a smile to my face.

(These temporary signs were held on with painter’s tape.)

(The purple and blue didn’t stand out as much as other colors, so I added a hint of colored chalk around the letter edges.)

While I hadn’t planned to do all of this work in a little over a month, I knew that I should take advantage of the time I had been given during this unusual start to the school year and sprint to reach these goals. Now that the collection is more inviting and up to date, I will turn my focus to engaging more with our teachers and students. I am excited to say that I’ve already received positive feedback from staff and students. One student even said that he isn’t a reader, but the changes in the library make him want to read a book. I think that might be the best compliment I’ve ever received from a student.


Author: Courtney Pentland

Courtney Pentland is the high school librarian at North Star High School in Lincoln, Nebraska. She is adjunct faculty for the University of Nebraska-Omaha School Library program and has served on the Nebraska School Librarians Association board as board member at large, president, and chapter delegate to AASL. She is the 2023-2024 AASL President. Follow her adventures on Twitter @livluvlibrary

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

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3 replies

  1. It has been nice to use some of this “virtual time” to update the library. I usually do freshmen library orientation lessons during the first weeks of school, but with so many of our students on-line only, as well as restrictions placed on the library, I was not able to open the library first quarter. Instead, I used the time to complete a much-needed inventory and work to get books back from the spring semester. With over 600 missing, I eventually created a purchase order for the most-asked for titles. Now, with a more complete idea of what is in the library, I’m ready to start hosting library orientations.
    Your signs look great!

  2. Can you tell us more about your library orientation lessons?
    1. Is it virtual or only for those attending in person?
    2. Do you use videos to virtually show students various locations/areas?
    3. Are you checking out materials to virtual students?
    4. What methods are you using to get back books checked out last spring?

  3. Hi Joanne–sorry for the delay in replying!

    1. I’ve done the orientations both ways. Sometimes I work with just the in person students, sometimes just the virtual, and sometimes both at the same time.
    2. I have still photos of the space at the moment. A video is a great idea!
    3. We can check out physical copies of materials to remote only students. They have to come and pick them up from the main office.
    4. We send out overdue notices. That’s the best way right now to remind our high school students that they have things that need returned.

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