Library Debt

While the BVNW librarians want to provide students with as much help as they can, missing and damaged books impact what the library has to offer.

Reagan King, Writer

The school library is no stranger to the wear and tear of everyday student use. According to Librarian Mary McCabe, books go missing or get damaged every year. McCabe said students will bring books back that have clearly been dropped in liquid, had pages ripped out and even been bitten by dogs. 

“Accidents happen and there’s a lot of factors,” McCabe said. “Not having a locker so [the book] rides along in the bottom of your backpack for however long is hard on [it], especially a popular book [that] will be in and out of the hands of a lot of people, so [books] wear out.”

Not only do incidents like this harm the books involved, McCabe said it also can hurt anything that happens to be around the books. 

“[If] the book is dropped in water or a water-like substance, a student [may] attempt to dry it out and return it, but sometimes the smell is a dead giveaway,” McCabe said. “Damage like that can be bad because it gets moldy and then it’s sitting on a shelf next to other books.”

While the library suffers from the loss of books, librarian Craig Odle said it is rare that anything is purposefully damaged.

“We’ve seen things that any typical library would see,” Odle said. “We’ve had kids leave books out in the rain [and] pages get torn up, but mostly inadvertent stuff.”

However, when books are damaged or missing, McCabe said the supply of what the library can offer to students is impacted.

“We can’t buy new books that are being published today if I’m replacing books that we bought last year,” McCabe said. “It’s always a balancing act with our budget, replacing or buying new books.”

Staying on top of providing materials for students is a priority for the librarians. McCabe said they always want to have current, interesting and relevant books in their collection.

“We want every student to be able to find a book that reflects the life that they’re living or the life that they want to live, or give them an opportunity to learn about something that they might not have any way to learn about other than reading,” McCabe said.

Adding to her point, McCabe said having a library is critical to the positive experience for students in the school.

“The absence of a library has been shown to have a great impact on testing scores, literacy and success rate of the students, so us being here is very important,” McCabe said.

Even with the vast amount of resources and assistance the library offers students, McCabe said appreciation for those opportunities is not something that can be forced.

“Our role here, our job here, what we’re hired to do, is to teach students how to find good sources of information, how to write good papers and essays, and do good research,” McCabe said. “That’s a level of skill that a lot of students don’t have the patience for until all of a sudden they need it, and they’re like ‘wow why didn’t you tell us this before?’ and we have.”

Students’ disregard for library property leaves the librarians with little option for preventing damage to the library, according to McCabe.

“It’s kind of an honor system,” McCabe said. “We would expect that one of the many skills you learn as a high school student is how to behave in society, and one of those things is [learning] to follow the norms and expectations of society. When you take something from the library, you check it out.”

Library copies of “The Great Gatsby” and “Things Fall Apart,” both of which are apart of the English Curriculum. (Anna Shaughnessy)

Beyond hoping students will do the right thing, McCabe said they will send students emails when books are overdue. While many students respond to the notices, many do not ever read them. If students check out books and fail to ever return them, McCabe said the only time the library has influence over receiving books back is graduation, senior year when students have to sign off with the library before they get their diploma.

“When it comes down to [the fact that] you’re not going to get that piece of paper when you walk across the stage until you pay us for these books, we get a lot of books back,” McCabe said.

With the library staff reduced by half this year, lacking the two paras that have previously assisted McCabe and Odle in managing the library, McCabe said there is no way to account for each book.

“We can’t possibly keep track, we have over 20,000 books,” McCabe said. “It’s quite possible that kids walk out with books all the time, and the only way that we will know is if we do an inventory of the whole collection.”

In the past, McCabe said the library had security gates that would set off an alarm if anyone walked out with a book that was not desensitised, but the environment this caused was not one that the librarians wanted to create.

“Everything that’s here is for the students anyway,” McCabe said. “We didn’t like the feeling of the place with these security gates. It wasn’t the open, welcoming environment that we were interested in.”

Even without a security system to prevent books from leaving the library without being checked out, Odle said a surprising amount of those that get taken, are later returned.

“It’s really kind of wild, but sometimes students will find a book and start reading it and then forget to check it out, or [are] scared to check it out because they have an overdue [book] and they’re afraid we’ll be mean about it, so they take the book, [but] usually bring it back,” Odle said. “There’s a certain amount of books that walk out and just don’t come back, but it’s remarkably small, which says a lot about Northwest and our community, because not all high schools have that luxury.”

Although she finds it disappointing when students do not return or treat books well, McCabe said the goal of the library’s collection is to reach students, and give them the opportunity to read books they enjoy.

“You have to be a little bit philosophical about it,” McCabe said. “It’s not like I want them all perfect and sitting on the shelf. I want them out. I want them being used. And if you can’t bring yourself to check it out, but you really want to take the book home, I hope you read it.”

In the balancing act between maintaining a strong collection and getting books out to students, Odle said helping kids get the books they need always takes precedence.

“We want books in kids’ hands,” Odle said. “And if that means we’re going to take some loss, but the right book gets in the right kids hands, we’ll take that every time.”

McCabe said there is a book out there for everyone. She said anyone who thinks they cannot read, or do not like to read, has not found the right book yet.

“Being proud to say that you never read a book makes me really sad,” McCabe said. “I don’t want anyone to ever feel like there isn’t a book out there for them.”

Ultimately, Odle said he wants students to know that he and McCabe care deeply about them. Whether they need a good book to read, help with research projects, or just need a place to be, Odle said students are welcome in the library, and the librarians want them to come.

“This library [is] a safe place to be,” Odle said. “[It’s] a place where kids know that they’re cared for, where they’re comfortable, and can get [anything] they need.”