Students reading triple the number of books—thanks to this one, new trick

2/10/2018 | TACOMA, Washington

Technology helped unsnarl a book check-out traffic jam at the Lyon Elementary library. 

Before the automated self-checkout system started operating last year, library time meant kids standing in line and a get-your-books-and-go vibe. 

Then the school library installed a computer-based self-service system that lets kids scan bar codes to both check out and return their own books. Now, the lines have disappeared and browsing for books has become more relaxing.

It’s also freed teacher-librarian Roman Maunupau to engage more with students.

“I’m no longer stuck behind a desk scanning books,” he said. “Now I’m out on the library floor, asking students ‘What kind of book do you want?’ It’s freed up my time to connect more with kids.”

Lyon student uses library self-checkout device
​Mayci Foster checks out a book
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Lyon isn’t the only school library using self-checkout. 

Other schools equipped with the system for a second year include Manitou Park Elementary, Stewart Middle School, Sheridan Elementary, Jason Lee Middle School, Whittier Elementary and Wainwright Intermediate School. 

Baker Middle School, Edison Elementary, Stafford Elementary and Foss High School added self-checkout this year.

School libraries that started using self-checkout last year saw big jumps in circulation, said Suzanna Panter, disrict library program manager.

“It’s working wonderfully,” she said

The average number of books checked out by students at the participating libraries more than tripled, from 11 books per student to 39.  At Lyon alone last year, circulation increased by more than 11,000 books over the previous year.

So far this year, Lyon students average 22.5 books per student.

“It’s good checking out my own books because I love reading books,” said Lyon fourth-grader Kennedi Nixon. 

She even loves reading some books more than once. Her latest repeat read: “The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg,” which follows the fictional adventures of a boy trying to find his brother who’s fighting with the Union Army during the Civil War.”

Mayci Foster, also a Lyon fourth-grader, is a library regular.

With so many books to choose from, deciding which to take home is a hard decision, she said. On her recent visit, she chose a book on vampire bats, another on snakes and a third that teaches finger string games like “Jacob’s Ladder.”

Every Lyon student gets a library card—a laminated paper pass with a bar code. To check out a book, a student uses a scanner that looks like the type of hand-held devices used at many retail stores. The scanner attaches to one of three laptop computers, which link to a library database.

The student scans the library card, then scans a bar code on the book to check it out. 

To return the book, the student scans it in and leaves the book in a return bin.

When students return a book and scan it in, they also see on a laptop screen which books they still have checked out.

Librarian Roman Maunupau assists student Kennedi Nixon
Librarian Roman Maunupau helps Kennedi Nixon browse for books
​ ​​​​“I try to teach them accountability,” Maunupau said. 

If students have a problem returning books, then Maunupau said he will sit down with them and talk about how to resolve the problem. For the most part, though, he said students “manage themselves.”

Students learn book etiquette—don’t deface the books, and don’t spill snacks on them. They learn how much books cost and why it’s important to respect the volumes in their school’s collection.

Maunupau likes to quote Lyon Principal Anita Roth, who calls the library “the heart of the school.”

 “We’re not just doing circulation,” he said. “We’re also teaching information literacy. We’re teaching about being independent—the intangible parts of learning.”

He wants every Lyon kid to feel at home in the library.

 “My hope is that this becomes their space, and that they know how to use it,” Maunupau said. “I try to make this space a kid-centered space.”