100 Scope Notes
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I’m Not Sure We’re in the Responsibility Business: Deep Thoughts by 100 Scope Notes


The school year is about to begin again around here, and now is the time when I lounge on futons while wearing windbreakers and think deep thoughts.

The thing on my mind right now is responsibility. Specifically, this: Is it part of our job as school librarians to try teach it?

This is the sort of big question that comes up during the school year, but I don’t stop to think deeply about it because:

A) We have already addressed the big question in the form of a library policy that is in place (and changing policy mid-year can be very difficult to do)

B) I don’t have easy access to a futon and windbreaker, and I know that deep thinking anywhere else is futile.

The role of the school librarian in encouraging responsibility comes up when I think about students with overdue books. I’ve thought about it a lot over the years, I’ve polled you about it, and I’m still not completely set in my answer. But I know that how we feel about this question can have a huge effect on our libraries.

Since I began my current job lo those 11 years ago, we’ve steadily loosened our checkout/overdue policies. Why? Because in my K-4 school, it was always the same students who didn’t bring back their books – and it very often had to do with their home lives being unstable.

In an elementary setting, library book return has a lot to do with parents. Some parents remind their kids to bring their books back, others don’t. Many kids move around a lot because of their family situation and books get left behind. With strict return policies, it felt like we were punishing kids for something that was not totally under their control.

So, what’s your opinion – are we in the responsibility business? Are we not? And how should our checkout policies reflect that?

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Wasn’t there a library that was letting students work off their library debt by reading? I can’t recall the specifics, but I thought it was a great idea.

  2. Yes, I get looser the longer I am a school librarian. I don’t have the funds to replace every book and when it is a brand-new book that is lost, I cry, but I’ve worked individually with the kids and we usually find a way to keep it from happening again. At least too much. But they NEED books.

  3. Whitney Page says:

    I’m also in an elementary school and I’m fairly lenient about overdues. I chat with students about the late books to see if they are still reading them or if they seem lost. (They’re pretty honest…) I also stay in touch with the teachers when I discover a student has books that are late enough they’re probably lost. If there’s a family situation that is making it tough, I forgive the books and they can start fresh. In cases where the student has been the one not responsible, and the family wouldn’t be able to pay, that student can “work” in the library to pay off the fine. I make it pretty easy though; they come in for a recess time or two and help straighten books or sharpen pencils and things like that. Most of them end up loving it and wanting to come back and help more! :)