Lost Books and No Checkouts: A Conundrum

So here’s a story about an issue that plagues Elementary Librarians, and I want to know how you would handle it. Unlike middle and high schools, elementary students are often not charged overdue fees when returning a book late. But what happens if they lose it?

Well, it depends. Most schools will charge a student for a book that is lost outright, though not until after repeated attempts to get the book back via overdue notices sent home in the weekly folder. After the pre-determined amount of time set by the school, or if the student advises the librarian that the book has been lost, then the student will be charged for the lost book, and depending on the school, they may also suspend the students’ borrowing privileges until the bill has been paid. This is all standard, and I’m not questioning any of these practices. Replacing a lost book costs the school money, so if a student loses a book they should be charged to replace it.

But what happens if they can’t afford to pay to replace the book? This year when I was substituting for a library one of the students had not been allowed to borrow due to a lost book for over a year. I should note, that I substitute in an area that has a high number of Title I schools, meaning we have a lot of students that come from poor families. They may not be able to afford the replacement cost of a book, even an expensive one. That’s why many of the local school libraries have a policy in place to allow a student to work off the cost of the replacement, usually  by spending one or two recesses in the library doing little chores like dusting. All they need is the parent to sign a permission form.

The library assistant told me later that this student’s parent was notorious for not signing anything. They had tried numerous times to get her permission for her child to work off his replacement fee, all to no avail. So he had not been allowed to check a book out for over a year.

I have a problem with this. Not because I think that it’s mean, but because in areas with high populations of poverty, the school library may be one of the only places for students living in poverty to check out books. So I’m asking you librarians and non-librarians alike, if you were in this situation, what would you do? Would you set a policy that book replacement fees quietly go away at the end of a school year? Would you take pity on the student and pay the fee out of your own pocket so that they could resume borrowing? Or would you do something else?

Leave me a comment in the blog letting me know what you would do!

1 thought on “Lost Books and No Checkouts: A Conundrum”

  1. I think I would probably try to speak to the principal about dismissing these kinds of charges at the end of the school year. If they wouldn’t permit that, then I might look at paying it myself. But it would really depend on how many of these there were at the end of the year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *