Lerner was thrilled to sponsor this SLJ Webcast on October 13, 2022, featuring eight library leaders talking about how librarians can get kids more interested and excited about the nonfiction books in their collection. The speakers had such great ideas for generating excitement and enthusiasm for books—ranging from March madness brackets and virtual field trips to creating clever displays, using picture books with older readers, and posting reader reviews. However, we ran out of time to have the speakers answer all the questions in the chat from viewers. The speakers kindly responded to the questions in writing, and we’re happy to post them here.
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If you didn’t get a chance to see the webinar, please visit this page to register and receive a link to the full recording!
Table of contents
QUESTION: 29% of our HS collection is NF and the average age is 1998. I would love to update our NF but there is no budget for our library!
Xenia Hadjioannou: Unfortunately, you are not alone. As Kletter (2021) reported, the latest School Library Budget and Spending Survey of the School Library Journal found that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a detrimental impact on school library budgets. About 38% of responding librarians indicated that their library budget had decreased in 2020–21 compared to the previous year, and 15% of schools reported having no library media center budget for the year.
Kletter, M. (2021). SLJ 2021 Spending Survey. School Library Journal.
Laura Wylie de Fiallos: That is such a hard position to be in. Unfortunately, when students walk in and see outdated books, they believe the whole library is outdated (picture a book about U.S. presidents that features George Bush on the cover, or a Taylor Swift biography that still has her as a country music star!). Could you weed the books that are obviously outdated, and use the shelves to showcase printed covers of digital books and QR codes you might have access to through a digital subscription? If your school doesn’t have eBooks, could you showcase titles and QR codes of digital resources that students can access through the local public library?
Sharon Amolo: Finding money to purchase books can be challenging. If your school does not provide the money you need, could you find other funding sources? You could write a grant; local ones are usually easier to obtain. Maybe your district has a foundation that supports schools. A few organizations specially target media centers for increasing their collection, such as Snapdragon, We Need Diverse Books, and the Dollar General Literacy Grant. Also, Donors Choose may be an option.
Kerry O’Malley Cerra: I often ask our PTA/PTSO to help. They have never turned me down. Sometimes they outright donate money, but other times, they’ll put a “wish list” up on Amazon. I’ve even posted my own “wish list” to Amazon before and generous friends and family have either donated or at least shared the list. Every time, I’ve received all the books I asked for.
Paula Januzzi-Godfrey: I have had great luck asking churches to donate money for books. I am also fortunate enough to have a supportive principal who does not take any of my library budget money from me. I also post my own Amazon wish lists and they get funded quickly from friends and family, in addition to them sharing the list with their friends.
QUESTION: Are you allowed to use Donors Choose to get funding for books?
Paula Januzzi-Godfrey: We use that all the time, and last year we had $3,100 worth of books donated to us! It is a great way to supplement your budget.
QUESTION: How are school libraries and public libraries funded to purchase books?
Pam Harland: For School Library Budgets, school boards and administrators decide on building level and district-wide budgets. Community members vote on school budgets. School librarians advocate for their students’ (and teachers’) reading needs by providing a rationale for their budget requests. For Public Library Budgets, Public Library Directors and trustees (or boards) decide on building level budgets. Community members vote on library budgets. Many school and public libraries also rely on grants, fundraising, and other alternative revenue streams.
Sharon Amolo: My school is funded through our district. We receive a sum based on our enrollment. My principal also provides money I can use for book purchases or programs. Finally, I use my book fair funds to add to the collection.
Kerry O’Malley Cerra: Mine is also done through a budget based on enrollment numbers. I know oftentimes principals will take money designated for media and use it elsewhere. I suggest you keep your administration up to date with all you do in your media center. The more involved they know you are, the more likely they are to keep that money allocated for you and your needs. Sometimes, principals don’t see all the work we do, so it’s easier to take from our budget. Be diligent in showcasing your work.
QUESTION: What are book budgets like? I like to be able to add books from requests but my book budget is tiny.
Pam Harland: You can read more about average spending in school libraries from the annual SLJ spending survey. The updated survey results are usually published in the spring.
Kletter, M. (2021). SLJ 2021 Spending Survey. School Library Journal.
Laura Wylie de Fiallos: It is so hard to work with a tiny budget. One possible way to get more “bang for your bucks” is to purchase paperback copies. You can cover them with contact paper to make them last a little longer.
Sharon Amolo: I am fortunate and receive a generous book budget from my district based on enrollment. I also have funds from my principal and book fair. However, this year due to Covid my budget from my principal was reduced so I am supplementing my budget by writing grants.
Meredith Inkeles: I also have a small budget being a smaller school with about 360 students. My school library is funded by the district based on enrollment, and I receive state aid based on enrollment. I supplement the budget with money from my PTA from book fair profits or educator grants. I also used Donors Choose once and did receive some books, but it is often hit or miss. Double-check the curriculum to ensure you purchase books your students will need for assignments. Also, complete some form of student interest survey to know the books your students want. It is crucial to stretch what little money you have and make sure everything you add to your collection will be used.
QUESTION: With a spending budget, and so many students wanting the newest fiction titles, picture books and graphic novels, how much should be devoted to nonfiction updating when we already have a large collection?
Pam Harland: The answer to this, like so many areas of school librarianship, is “it depends.” Do your students have access to plenty of current high-quality nonfiction, aligned to both your school’s curriculum and student interest? If not, you may want to increase the percentage of your budget spent on nonfiction. According to Kletter (2021) school libraries on average spent 53/47 on fic/nonfiction in 2014, but that shifted to 64/36 in 2021. Read more about spending patterns in SLJ’s annual spending survey. The updated survey results are usually published in the spring.
Kletter, M. (2021). SLJ 2021 Spending Survey. School Library Journal.
Sharon Amolo: I think that may be a school-by-school decision. I run a collection analysis to see what is in my collection and to see what is circulating. I also have students submit book requests to help focus on what needs to be purchased.
Laura Wylie de Fiallos: I have recently realized that even in hearing student requests for books, I am biased toward their fiction suggestions/inquiries. For example, I will often go straight to my “to purchase” list of books and add fiction titles, whereas when students ask for specific business or self-help/self-improvement books, I usually answer that we don’t have that title. Now that I am aware of my behavior, I am trying to fix it by adding those titles to my “to purchase” list as well!
Kerry O’Malley Cerra: I weed annually, and as I go, I make note of the NF books I remove and try to always purchase newer books with the same themes to replace them. I also look at my shelves—which are organized by Dewey using dividers—and see where my biggest holes are. Those sections are always my priority.
Questions about Reader Preferences
QUESTION: What are your most circulated series/titles?
Sharon Amolo: My students love the Guinness Book of World Records, almanacs, Sports Greatest of All Time, and Who Was. Topics that are most circulated are supernatural and monsters, cars, soccer, basketball, football, sharks, pets, space, and dinosaurs.
QUESTION: In picture books, do you find children enjoy science and nature more vs biographies/history?
Sharon Amolo: My students definitely enjoy science and nature, but they enjoy the Who Was biographies. To increase circulation of the other biographies I moved them into their subject section. Now if a biography is about a basketball player it is in the sports section.
Kerry O’Malley Cerra: At the high school level, so far we’ve had more success circulating historical picture books and biographies, mostly because the students are assigned projects using these. However, this year, I’m pushing into science and art department meetings to show teachers how and why they can/should use some of the fantastic picture books I’ve purchased for them. Most high school students don’t walk over to the picture book section on their own, so I display ones that I think might be timely or are tied to a current theme I’m promoting.
Paula Januzzi-Godfrey: In our elementary school library my students choose animal books and biographies of athletes and musicians.
Questions about Collection Organization
QUESTION: How do you arrange your collection, DEWEY/BISAC?
Laura Wylie de Fiallos: We have now moved from Dewey and are grouping the books more by overall topic. We might determine which topic that is by simply looking at the book, or we sometimes take a closer look at suggested tags/topics in BISAC, or our catalog, or a SLJ review, etc. It’s not perfect, but it’s working!
Kerry O’Malley Cerra: Again, I’m at the high school level, and while I’ve genrefied my fiction collection (with huge increases in circulation #s), my NF is still arranged by traditional Dewey. But I do have dividers that make it a little easier for students to find sections they like.
Meredith Inkeles: I am in an intermediate elementary school with grades 3-6. My nonfiction collection started with traditional Dewey. Slowly I have been moving to whole numbers or only 1-2 digits after the decimal. I have also added series or topic baskets. For example, all of my Nat Geo Kids books are together. I selected topic baskets based on frequent curricular units such as the Civil Rights Movement or weather. The most important thing is for my students to successfully and independently locate the books they want.
QUESTION: Laura—For your nonfiction books, are they separated by nonfiction or by subjects and then sorted by nonfiction on the shelf?
Laura Wylie de Fiallos: Charlene, our nonfiction and fiction are shelved completely separate from each other, but are in the same general area. We have now grouped our nonfiction by topics—Our World, DIY, Animals, Around the World, etc. I bought signs and spine labels from Titlewave/Follett and over the summer we used those to make it more visual and easier for users.
QUESTION: Sharon–How did you find enough space to reorganize so much of your nonfiction?
Sharon Amolo: I weeded heavily. Each year I run a “books not circulated in 1,000 days” report to help me with my discards. I also discarded books that were outdated (with the intention to replace). This helped to free up a lot of space. I have seen other libraries with limited shelf space use bookends for their signage. TheBookWrangler.com
Questions about Weeding Practices
QUESTION: Are you weeding as well? If so, would you be so kind to share if you’re being aggressive?
Laura Wylie de Fiallos: I am definitely weeding! I find that the more aggressively I weed, the better the results. It is easier for kids and teachers to browse the shelves, and it is easier for me to see where I need to put more of my budget (either because we don’t have enough of that subject to start with, or because they are all checked out and the shelf is empty or almost empty). My commitment to “aggressive” waxes and wanes because it can feel almost like you’re doing something bad, but each time I see the results, I go back to that aggressive mode.
Sharon Amolo: I weed heavily. Each year I run a “books not circulated in 1,000 days” report to help me with my discards. I view this as a vital part of my collection development. In the past the teachers would express concern about the discards, but I remind them that I only have so much shelf space and I need to have it occupied with items students and teachers want.
Kerry O’Malley Cerra: When I first arrived at this school four years ago, I did an aggressive weeding that took me about five months. I had students help for service hours after school. I taught them how to look for the copyright date. All books older than 15 years were placed on carts, and then I doubled-checked each one. At first, I was checking to make sure they were truly selecting based on copyright, and after a few days once I trusted them, I checked mostly to see if each title was something that circulated well or not. I made final decisions that way. Of course, most classics stayed. But even in those cases, if the copy was in bad shape, I’d often purchase a newer one and weed the old. I loved giving kids agency in making the media center better, and I think they did too.
QUESTION: When rearranging how to display nonfiction books, was weeding done at the same time?
Paula Januzzi: Yes, I have been weeding as I reorganize because it seems like the best use of my time. It also helps me to make my lists of new books that need to be purchased, based on what is being weeded.
Laura Wylie de Fiallos: I also weeded as I rearranged. I started by pulling the best of the best (high interest topics, newer publishing dates) throughout the school year and placing them in their new spot. Then, for two weeks during summer vacation I went book by book in the original shelves and either reshelved it or weeded it.
Sharon Amolo: For the most part I weeded first and then started the reorganization. As items were relabeled, weeding continued.
QUESTION: Kids love new books, and often pass over older looking titles. In your experience, how old is too old to be appealing to the children? Of course, some sections are more time sensitive, but there are a great number of books that could continue to be useful.
Laura Wylie de Fiallos: Oftentimes I look at undercirculated books to determine if they “could continue to be useful”
Sharon Amolo: I would consider whether the book is circulating. Books that were popular in the past may no longer need to be part of your collection. I would run a circulation report to help guide your decision.
Kerry O’Malley Cerra: You are exactly right, so I look at two things. 1. The copyright date. If it’s between 10-15 years old, I look to see if there are more current books on the same topic. If so, I try to purchase them as my budget allows. This is especially true if the information is outdated–regardless of the book’s age. I have a lot of books about career options, technology, etc. That information changes quickly, so those need to be updated more frequently. 2. I sometimes consider this a challenge to see if I can get a book/books to circulate. I do this by creating a specific display and also promoting on our Instagram account so students can see what’s available. If it doesn’t, I consider weeding that title.
Questions about Contact with Students
QUESTION: How much time do students spend in your libraries per week, including check out and lesson?
Paula Januzzi: I am in an elementary school, and I see every class, K-5, once every 6 days. We have close to 600 students. Classes come to the library for 30-40 min. Check out is generally no longer than 15 min, lessons are between 20-25 min. long.
Sharon Amolo: I am on flexible schedule, but I do have 3rd and 5th grade as a special for a third of the year, (I share the special with the counselor and computer teacher). On average I see kindergarten and 1st grade every other week and 2nd and 4th grade once a month. However, this is only for lessons, not book check out. Students come every week for 20 minutes to check out with their teacher. I normally am teaching while a class is checking out. I have a clerk or volunteers to cover the desk.
Meredith Inkeles: I have a hybrid schedule. For grades 4-6, I am a prep for the teacher. I see the classes for 40 minutes once in a six-day cycle. Typically, I start with a lesson, and students have 10-15 minutes to check out books. My 3rd-grade classes are not a prep, and the teacher stays with the class. I try to stick closer to 15-20 minutes for book selection with this younger grade. Third grade is also on the master schedule for 40 minutes once in a six-day cycle, but the class can easily be rescheduled if something comes up. I also see a PreK class that is housed in my building, as well as a self-contained special education class. These two classes come to the library for 20 minutes in a six-day cycle. Any time I do not have a class, the library is open, and students can come down for book exchange or research. In the past, teachers would use the available times to bring classes in for projects and research, but lately, their schedules are so full they have not had the time.
QUESTION: Regarding rewards for HS, it’s the same here in my HS library! Stickers must hold a magical power. Are there any different ideas for rewards that were a surprise to find out kids enjoy? I need new reward ideas.
Kerry O’Malley Cerra: Yes, yes, yes! I was so surprised how much kids still love prizes/rewards/trinkets at the high school level. In fact, many kids see my jar of goodies on the circulation desk and ask how to get one. They will actually read a book for these, and I don’t mind if it’s only a picture book, either. It gives me a chance to walk them around and find something that might interest them. I do this for both fiction and NF equally. Some of the best prizes have been silicone wrist bracelets (LGBTQ rainbow ones, Black History month ones with inspirational sayings, Women’s History Month ones with fun sayings, etc.) and also key chains (dream catcher keychains and sparkly heart keychains were the most popular). They really love anything that they can wear on their lanyards or attach to their backpacks.
Questions about Resources
QUESTION: Meredith, where did you find the Book Match Survey?
Xenia Hadjioannou: The Book Match Survey, along with other helpful resources can be found on the Nonfiction Reading Resources page on Melissa Stewart’s website. The direct link to the survey is here.
Meredith Inkeles: The Book Match Survey created by Marlene Correia on Melissa Stewart’s website is geared explicitly towards nonfiction. There are also many free resources on TeachersPayTeachers, such as the Reading Interest Inventory Survey by Emily Hutchinson, or paid resources, such as the Reading Interest Survey by Mrs. ReaderPants Library Lessons. This year I combined my favorite questions from several surveys to create a combination of fiction and nonfiction. Here is a link for the survey.
QUESTION: Is it possible to get the “real reviewers” template?
Meredith Inkeles: Here is one book review template I used with my 5th and 6th graders. I pieced together information from several examples I looked at online, including the Book Review Writing page on Mensa for Kids.
Here is a link to a book review template example.
And here is the template I am using with my First Reads Book Club.
QUESTION: Sharon, where do you receive information on the virtual field trips?
Sharon Amolo: I make virtual field trips. I usually start off with clues to where we are going. We then do an interactive activity related to the place. This normally involves them watching a video and doing a scavenger hunt or talking about the videos. Finally, we use the VR headsets to explore the area closer. I have VR View masters and use 360 VR videos from YouTube. I put them in a playlist so they play one after another. Here is a link to one of the virtual field trips to Zoo Atlanta.
And here is a link to their Zoo Atlanta Choice Board
QUESTION: Has anyone of you developed or used a diversity survey with your nonfiction section? We have done so with our fiction sections, but I have been unable to find any resources or methodology to do something similar with the nonfiction area.
Kerry O’Malley Cerra: I have not, but this sounds awesome!
Paula Januzzi-Godfrey: I have dabbled with this in classroom libraries as an activity for students to use to take inventory of their books in their classrooms. We just used an old-fashioned tally mark system to collect data for different categories and then graphed the results.
I also did a small sampling with teachers in our school library as an example, but I used biographies because they seemed to be the most obvious and indisputable. I hope to have my fifth graders help me to survey our government and history books this year. I will weed as we go, so they see that we need to pay attention to diversity in books in our libraries.
QUESTION: Hi Paula. Fabulous display! Thanks for sharing. What did you use to tape your display on the hallway walls? I have a terrible time keeping pictures/papers up on our painted masonry.
Paula Januzzi: I used a couple of different products that worked for me, and left no residue when I took the display down. For the black lines (construction paper), I used spray adhesive. There are several brands, but I used Gorilla brand. I bought mine at a local hardware store, or you can find it on Amazon. You need to spray the construction paper strip and the wall where you will glue it, then they fuse together and stick really well. I also use Teachers Tape or Gorilla mounting putty.
QUESTION: Paula, where did you find the clear bins?
Paula Januzzi: I use clear refrigerator bins. I try to use the Bino brand, but there are many others available as well. I get them from Amazon, but also find them frequently in stores like Home Goods and Marshalls that cost much less. The large size bins are approx. 13 x 9, and the smaller ones are approx. 9 x 6.
QUESTION: Kerry, love your displays. Do you know where you bought that white furniture where you have your displays and related books? I’d love to get it for our space.
Kerry O’Malley Cerra: Hi, thanks! We love them too. Those cabinets are from Mien Company. Here is a link.
QUESTION: Laura, do you have a sense of how much your nonfiction circulation increased?
Laura Wylie de Fiallos: Our NF circulation increased by over 300%!!!
QUESTION: Thank-you SLJ and all the presenters. What a fabulous and informative webcast. I have ideas and the best part is that I feel empowered to modify and use what I already have to make it happen. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Right, Laura? 😉
Laura Wylie de Fiallos: Exactly, Heather!! We are not going for Pinterest perfect! Also, we need to know that, just like our students, we might have some failures, but those are just opportunities for us to figure out what didn’t work about the change/activity and move forward.
Thank you from Lerner
A big thank you to all the speakers and panelists! Find past webinar information here.