The Dreaded ‘Required’ Books

Most schools require their students to read a book or books over the summer. Sometimes, there is one book per grade. Sometimes, two books. Sometimes it’s just off a suggested list. Sometimes there’s even more choice than that. And then sometimes they are full of new books that are going to spark imagination or teach something in a new and interesting fashion. And…some will have been out of print for decades.

And, not surprisingly, many of the kids and parents will turn to the library to get the book because they don’t want to buy it, or can’t afford to buy it.  Of course, this will be different for every library. Some libraries are more regional and are dealing with multiple schools, but there might not be as much of a demand. Some are next door to the schools and basically seen as extension.

Last summer, the entire 5th through 8th grades of my school had to read the same book (there was a try for a One Community Read feel) and we bought 200 copies of the book and could barely keep up with demand. After the summer was over, we kept a grand total of five copies. That’s a whole 2.5%. Most of the rest we did manage to pass off to other libraries to use in their own summer reading or book clubs, but still. That’s a lot of money we spent for only 3 months of circs. And since there were so many, none of them individually had a particular high circ rate. This year, they get to read one of four books. We bought 240 books total. And again, we’ll keep maybe five of those (total, not each) when the summer ends in a week or so. This doesn’t even count what we buy for the elementary schools or high school. The number is probably around 750 a summer. A lot of these are hardcovers. Plus, we usually monopolize all other copies of these books in our entire library system due to how holds work.

We do meet with the schools and help pick the books, which is an improvement over the past and eliminates books out of print or with only a few copies available for purchase. But it is still a huge budget expense, on top of the suggested summer reading lists we create and support too.

Here’s the thing I struggle with, though: Where do we draw the line on using our budgets to supply summer reading books for kids? Do we draw a line at all? How much is too much? Where does our responsibility lay on this sort of issue?

What do you think? Is this a good use of our budgets? Let us know in comments or on facebook.

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