Lost Books in the Library


Picture courtesy of The 3 Am Teacher

                 Ahh…it’s the end of the year,
        and the struggle to find lost books begins
  (or continues if your school is anything like mine!)

     I work at a Title 1, bilingual campus and the majority of our families come from low socio-economic backgrounds.  I have worked hard to get my students (and parents) to understand the concept of ACCOUNTABILITY,and that when they check out a library book, they are actually RESPONSIBLE for it.  If something happens to the book (if it gets lost or damaged), they have to find a way to take care of it.  Basically, here’s the system that we have developed over the last four years:

1.  Each class has a weekly scheduled library time.  As long as they don’t have any overdue books, they are able to check out up to 2 books (with an extra book or two if they are working on a research project).
  •  PreK, Kinder, and 1st grade are only allowed 1 book per checkout so that they can learn to be responsible. Once they hit second grade, they “graduate” up to being able to check out 2 books!


2.  If a student has an overdue book, and they know where it is, I just ask them to bring it tomorrow and in the meantime they can take one of my paperback books. This way, they still get a new book to read. (These paperbacks are leftovers from when I taught, along with freebies or real cheap ones that I find at half priced books or garage sales.  My students also donate some every year for our library that they have out-grown.)  I organized them into the same 4 groups as my actual library books (see previous post here about this):
  • Orange stickers – Fiction (longer, chapter books for 4/5th graders)
  • Purple stickers – Fiction (shorter, chapter books for 2/3rd graders)
  • Green stickers – Non Fiction books
  • Blue stickers – Everybody books

3.  If they DON’T know where their library book is, I print out 2 copies of the Destiny screen that shows their name, the name of the book, barcode, and price of the book.  
   I stamp their copy with the message “Please return lost library book or pay the replacement cost listed on the notice.” (I got smart last year and actually ordered a stamp with this information so I didn’t have to keep writing it!)
   I use a second stamp on my copy with the message “Notice Sent Home On:” and I write in the date. (I’ve learned from my “repeat offenders” to keep track of the number of times I’ve sent the notice home.  This way, after 2-3 times, I have them call home from my phone so that I know their parents are aware of the lost book.  I keep all these copies in order by grade level on a clipboard by the circulation desk.
4.  My end goal is always to try and get the book back or at least the money to be able to repurchase the book for our library.  Unfortunately, that is not always the case with my students. So after the third week of not returning their library book, I will give them the option to “work off” the book.  
  •  In order to “work off” a library book, they have to have the notice signed by their parents (again to make sure that they are actually aware of the lost library book).
  • Then they come to the library during their recess time for one week to do odd jobs such as:  cleaning books, cleaning book-buddies/shelf markers, labeling paperbacks, cutting scrap paper for computer areas, sharpening pencils, finding books to weed, etc. (really, anything I can think of that doesn’t require much supervision from me as they often come when I still have classes).
  • The students and I devised a system of 1 week of work = 1 book.  If they come 4 days in a row, I give them the 5th day free.

         The first year I started this system was very difficult.  The students (and parents) were not used to being held accountable, but I plowed through.  I am happy to report that this year I was able to get a little more than half of our lost books paid for, which is a HUGE improvement from where we started.  I do still have those students that wait until the very end of the year to try and work things off, but those numbers are dwindling down to just a handful, which again, is a HUGE improvement from our first year!

    New Ideas:
          This is definitely a “work in progress”!  Next year, I plan to have a data area in the library near the exit doors where I can post the classes with NO lost books!  I’ll also have a message each 9 weeks on the morning announcements to celebrate those classes, and hang a “book trophy” on their door.


     I will also post the number of books and amount of money that have been lost each month, as well as the running total.  We can use it to celebrate and/or set goals for the next 9 weeks.  I think this will help make them more aware, especially since our budget is already rumored to be reduced by $2000 for next year! YIKES!  Every little bit will help! 


           If you think you could use these signs as well, you can find them at my TpT store or my Teacher’s Notebook.  
     How do you handle lost books in your library?  I would love to hear about your ideas as I’m always trying to improve!  

UPDATED on 10/26/2013
Well, as I said, I’m always trying to find ways to improve. 🙂 In an attempt to save on paper and ink, I am now only printing 1 copy of the notice to send home to students.  Instead of printing a second copy to keep for myself, I created a binder labeled “Overdue Library Notices” with dividers for each grade level.  Behind each grade level, I placed several double-sided copies of the record sheets.  This way, when I send home a notice I can write in the dates to keep track of how often they have been sent home.  I can use this same area to notate if the books were found, paid for, or worked off. I can also use this at the end of a 9 weeks period to see which classes were struggling in returning their books on time, and use that information to follow up with those classes and work on ways to keep their books safe. It also allows me a quick way to see which classes in each grade haven’t had issues and therefore have earned their trophies.  If you’d like copies of these forms, you can find them at my TpT store or at Teacher’s Notebook

15 Responses to “Lost Books in the Library”

  1. Holly Patton

    Thanks for this post! I really had a problem this past year with lost books. This system will help me stay on top of it this coming year.

  2. Sandy Karas Liptak

    You're welcome. I'm still struggling, but I'm hoping the data wall and Book Trophy idea will help motivate the kiddos to keep up with their books! Let me know how it goes, and if you have any other good ideas! 🙂

  3. Sharron

    I am always struggling at the end of the year to get books back or paid for (especially from 5th graders) I am looking forward to implementing a lot of your ideas, thank you!

  4. Heather

    I work at this type of school as well! This has been a huge problem for me. my book hospital, well book graveyard, overfloweth. I was thinking about doing a "can your fine" promo just to clear out some of these fines that are just going on month after month. I hate having students not check out for this long. My idea is to run this as a canned food drive for the local food closet. Students with a clear account will be able to bring in a can to check out an extra book just this once and students with a fine can clear their account with a can of food. I will have to note this is not for books that go damaged or missing during the promo, only those with outstanding fines before it begins. This HURTS with playaways and other expensive books BUT I don't think we will ever see the money for these damaged books anyway. We may not even get canned food for them but it may be worth trying.

  5. Sandy Karas Liptak

    That's a really neat idea Heather! Can I borrow it?! That might be a good way each 9 weeks to clear accounts as well as involve the kids in community service! I love it! 🙂

  6. Anonymous

    Thank you for this! I just finished my first full year as librarian.
    I run my overdue list every week and I give the classroom with zero overdue books/fines a certificate to hang in their classroom. This makes some teachers really motivated and some really bummed cause there's always some kids whose parents will never pay the fine and it's been on their record for years. I also did a big thing at the end of the year and the 1st class in the whole school who returned all their books with zero fines got a candy basket (Dollar Store!!) and the 1st class in each grade level got a smaller basket. I had 1 overall winner and then 1 grade level winner for grades 1-3. I'm also going to try the canned food for fines – 1 can equals $1 – this year.

  7. Anonymous

    I must ask if you've done the math to see what percent of your books you are losing? This seems like a LOT of work to get lost books back and you could use this time to help students select and enjoy books, something they probably don't have at home. I, too, work in a Title I school district. We have 75 campuses and lose about 10,000 books per year — that sounds terrible, doesn't it? BUT…. IT IS ONLY 1% of the books we CHECK OUT, so the loss is VERY reasonable. All libraries lose books, it is part of the process. You have young minds in your hands and how they see the library, as a welcoming place, or a place where they are scared to say they can't find a book, could make all the difference in building readers.

  8. Sandy Karas Liptak

    I appreciate your viewpoint, but I do have to disagree on a few areas. First of all, I DO spend quite a lot of time creating an atmosphere in the library that is warm and welcoming. I take time to build relationships with every student, and make sure to talk to them each week when they check out books to see what interests them, and use that information to help them select and enjoy new books. When they forget a book, we talk about where it is, and what they can do to remember to bring it back. The majority of students do end up finding their books after a week or two, and we celebrate with a happy dance or a round of cheers.

    I am, however, also a teacher…and part of being a teacher is the responsibility to help students grow and help them learn to become accountable for their choices. That includes, in my opinion, teaching students to be honest and owning up when something happens to a library book.

    Yes, I agree that losing books is part of the process, but that doesn’t mean I can’t help try to bring that number down, whatever that percentage might be. (Especially when that amount started out at ¼ of our total budget for books for our school for the year.)

    As teachers, we use data all the time to help students make changes to improve their own learning. Sharing the data about lost books each year makes students aware of the problem, and allows them to feel a part of the solution. It also helps build a sense of community, where we are all responsible for taking care of the library books for our school.

    In the end, we both want to create life-long readers who feel welcomed in the library. I just feel it’s important to also empower students and encourage them to be responsible so that they can be successful in the real world.

  9. Donna Glanville

    Love these ideas. I use the paperback book shelf for students who have not returned their books for several weeks. Teachers can usually tell me when retrieving a book is a lost cause or not. I have the kids who do not return their books regularly use the paperback shelf to re-practice the book return process. There are no fines associated with these books if they do not come back. I also let the students who will be traveling on holidays borrow from this shelf, as books lost on airplanes or hotels do not come back. This shows them that it is important to keep reading on those vacations, but not to take their library books out of town.

  10. lizzie

    I am obsessed with this! Just put the binder in my TPT cart, it will help me be more organized definitely. Question for you! Do you have a copy of the notice you send home about working off the book?

    • Sandy

      Hi Lizzie,

      I don’t have a copy of the notice that I send home because it’s not really an extra notice. I just print the screen from our Destiny catalog that shows the student’s name and the book they still have checked out. I hope this helps!

  11. Leslie

    Thank you for your ideas on how to handle overdue and lost books. I’ve been a librarian for 12+ years and I am in complete agreement with how you hold the students accountable for their book losses. I am in a district where some of my colleagues have the philosophy of one of your responders that said it’s more important to make sure they have books and libraries will just have lost books because that’s just part of it. We already have a society where accountability is minimized and I feel it’s part of the learning process to help students become more responsible. Thank you for sharing and keep up the good work!

    • Sandy

      Thanks Leslie. I do feel pretty strongly about teaching kids how to be more responsible and accountable, while at the same time providing books for them to read and encouraging them to enjoy reading. Thanks for your kind words! 🙂


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