Reading Reflection: Library Innovation

I volunteer in the school library at the middle school. We collect only very simple metrics on circulation and on textbook records (the librarian checks textbooks and class-assigned novels in and out also), basically ones that come from the (unimpressive) circulation system. Most of the school libraries in our district have pretty static library services (and budgets–with the occasional panic over whether they will cut the librarian’s job or hours). Since increased funding is a pipe dream, no one really thinks too much about innovation, which is too bad, since for many of the students, the library is a lifeline, and I think it could be that for more kids with some innovative thought. Some innovations don’t need to be expensive.

The dull statistics we do collect could probably be used to tell more about user experience than they do. From the circulation statistics, the popularity of books could tell us a lot (and the library is small enough that even a manual review could be useful). The books that there are a lot of hold requests for, or renewal requests for, or overdue slips for–that could be very useful information, especially if it could be linked to some sort of genre information (which is often not included in basic cataloging information). Adding some sort of genre tagging could allow for some automated information about what genres as popular, or what’s waxing hot or not over time. Knowing class assignments and then seeing what books turn to for those assignments could tell us about students’ level of information literacy and what they find interesting.

Even the textbook statistics could tell us something: students who lose or damage textbooks or library books may be students with a more chaotic home life. Keeping track of these students and reaching out to them or reporting to the counseling department could raise kids to the radar who need extra support.

Lankes writes, “A good librarian challenges what could be, not simply reifies what is” (Lankes, 2013). There is a tremendous library knowledge gap among school students–the students who regularly use the library often learned library skills from families, having been taken often to public libraries. Other kids who don’t use it just think of it as a place you have to be quiet and are unaware of the library’s potential for self-chosen learning. Both school and public libraries have a mission to challenge that. The kids who aren’t even aware of what the library offers are probably the ones who need it most. As Morville points out, “The story of the library was rags to riches, not the rich get richer” (Morville, January 16, 2013).Our mission is to address information inequality and to offer library skills to underserved groups.

In trying to close the library skills gap, school libraries have one advantage over public libraries: they know exactly who all their potential users are, down to a complete list of names. Tracking who uses the library and who doesn’t could help you reach out to potential users and make them active users. The Library innovation and the community video (BCLibraries, 2012) about the Alley Health Fair made me think how a school library could get “out of their comfort zone” and reach out to students where they are. Already, the librarian will visit a class that is studying Egypt with a cart of books. But what about visiting the basketball courts (and the kids who use their every free minute to play) with books about sports? The school garden with books about the natural world? School clubs could be visited with a topically appropriate book cart. Our school also has “mandatorial” periods where students who need it get extra help. Perhaps the librarian could visit mandatorial sessions with books that support common issues that students are struggling with. What about a roving librarian with a laptop on the school wireless network to help students in mandatorials (or some other school situation) with research? Collecting information about what students want to know is more important than knowing how many books they check out.

Another strength that school libraries have that classrooms don’t is that library learning can be serendipitous, rather than mandated by the Common Core (or whatever the state secretary of education bought into this year). Learning can be “self-paced and student centered (Morville, August 25, 2013). In a blog post last April I explored the subject of serendipitous learning, a great strength of the library: “Libraries have always been places for self-chosen learning; it’s a history that can be built on in helping with a transformation of learning for the future” (McKinney, April 20, 2014). Learning can be driven mainly by the interest of the student. Instead of just accepting what we have always done, we can listen and learn and then teach.


BCLibraries (December 17, 2012). Beth Davies – Library innovation and the community [YouTube video]. Retrieved from

 Lankes, R.D. (January 3, 2013). Beyond the bullet points: Missing the point and 3D printing [Web log]. Retrieved from

 McKinney, M. (April 20, 2014). Why do songs rhyme? [Web log]. Retrieved from

 Morville, P. (January 16, 2013).  Inspiration architecture: The future of libraries [Web log]. Retrieved from

Morville, P. (August 25, 2013). Architects of learning [Slideshare presentation]. Retrieved from:


About mollificence

library student, writer, mom, Kindle addict View all posts by mollificence

6 responses to “Reading Reflection: Library Innovation

  • hjkartzinel

    I volunteer in a school library as well (pre-K thru 6th) and I think you hit on a good point: the circulation statistics show what items the students are not interested in, but how do we find out what they do want? I keep a spreadsheet (a VERY long wish list, actually) of genres, themes, authors, titles – whatever the kids and teachers ask me about that we don’t have. As money becomes available, I pick and choose the most popular asks and work to bring those materials to the shelves. As the only library “employee” for a school of just over 100 kids, this isn’t so hard. The challenge is how to collect this information on a much larger scale, present it, and act on it in order to enhance user experience.

    • mollificence

      Yes, the advantage of a small school is the ability to just grok what the needs are, more so than when you have a larger group to serve. Of course no matter what the size, it is much easier to figure out what the active users want than to figure out what the non-users might want or what might tempt them to use the library.

      Thanks for your input! 🙂

  • dearanne

    my interest is in academic libraries. I love that you start you know who your users are and what they needs of their classrooms are. I wish i knew every one of my users to be able to provide them the best tailored service.

    One key theme that I found in your discussions is that your role is more than just a librarian. You do more than just provide resources. You take a more active more in getting to know the students, teachers and classrooms. The interpersonal skills help to develop personal relationships that help with highlighting your role. Although I am not currently working full time in library, I used my interpersonal skills to provide more than service. There is a sense of humanism with my relationships with my stakeholders.

    • mollificence

      Thanks! I didn’t really mean to imply I know all my users–just that school libraries do have more or less a captive audience, and can go out and find non-users more easily than other types of librarians can. It’s a lot easier to get out and circulate (heh) at study halls, lunches and before/after school than it would be for a public librarian to try and find and engage non-users.

      Still I think the idea of getting out the library like the BC librarians did is a good one. Joining in existing farmers markets or street fairs, creating your own, going to student cafes at a college–there are a lot of ways to reach out that could be beneficial.

      Thanks for your input! 🙂

  • jessica

    Interesting blog – it is nice to be able to get a good handle on your clientele. School libraries have a captive audience type of user so, in many ways, it seems obvious what is needed for these kids (and teachers), but it certainly pays to do some checking in with what assumptions are being made – some surprises will show up, I bet.

    • mollificence

      Thanks! It’s true of school libraries and all libraries–assumptions can often be based on the most vocal users, the most enthusiastic users–but that may not be representative of all potential users. Depending on the mission of the library, this can be a big problem.

      Public and school libraries have a pretty definite mission to help decrease information inequality (far more so than say, a law library for a private law firm). Paying attention only to the people who are very present and visible could be a big failing of that mission. Reaching out to the people who are not enthusiastic library users is definitely getting out of the comfort zone, and as you say, you will probably find some surprises if you do it! But that’s exactly where innovation can happen. 🙂

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