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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Replacing moldy books

This year has been challenging as I seek ways to overcome obstacles. Since this is my first year at this school, I’m still learning the collection and preparing a collection development plan of action.When you need EVERYTHING, particularly in the fiction and picture book section, it can be overwhelming.

The Obstacle: While constructing my orderly plan, we had an event that forced our biographies to the top of the list. Our roof leaked. Now, I’m not referring to the torrential one-time downpour we faced yesterday because I was able to move the 700’s and save those books. And, yes, the stuffed animals have dried out beautifully. I noticed the custodian had the fan blowing on them, too, not just the carpet.

I’m referring to the slow insidious leaks that trickled over the entire biography collection all summer long. Those books escaped notice because circulation of biographies was very low. Sadly after we’d moved them to a new location in a more prominent position and on lower shelves, students began picking them up to read and discovered that many of those books had mold inside. AWK! I am horribly allergic to mold and have to use my inhaler whenever a student thrusts one of those titles in my face. I won’t risk mold with my students, so those books have to go.

The opportunity: my library clerk Laurie and I are using this opportunity to totally re-evaluate every title in the biography collection. Moldy books, out! Sports stars that even the parents of my students haven’t heard of, you’re out of here. Books written at the 7th-9th grade level and about people that appeal to mainly middle schoolers, out. We’ll send titles that aren’t a health risk to new homes. I wonder if some of the senior centers around here would like some of the ancient sports biographies?

Titles that never circulated are being evaluated to see why.  Are they too old, too difficult, ugly covered, dated illustrations, or just mismatched? If I were starting the biography collection today, would I include each individual title.

If it’s a good title, but never circulated, was it “marketed”? Has it been displayed? Has anyone placed it in a student’s hands? Has it been booktalked? Has it been suggested to a teacher or integrated into a lesson? I try to imagine why it was initially purchased. Will it earn its stay on our shelves?

And, then, I do a very old-fashioned librarian-y task. I have a printout of the biography collection and I have written on it every title that I am watching, every title I’m marketing, and every title that I’m weeding.

I’ll use this printout as I sort through teacher lesson plans for matches and needs. I’ve begun a list of people  I want to locate biographies about and I’ll look at publisher catalogs, especially online catalogs to begin a “wish list”.

The Obstacle: the budget.  One of the biggest obstacles revolves around the usual suspect – the budget. Like you, I have had a stagnant budget or, worse, a shrinking book budget since databases consume a larger portion. By the time my portion of district databases and the databases I purchase for school are removed, I have about $4 per student to buy books. You and I both know this doesn’t buy a large quantity of books.

The Opportunity: focused fundraising. I’ve found if I just ask for money to buy books, interest is tepid. If I have very focused plans complete with sample covers of books I want, interest gets warmer.

So now I need your help. I’m attempting to locate the best list of biographies for elementary ages PreK-grade 4 that should be in a collection. I also need to be sure to include many titles with African-American, Hispanic, Somalian, and Asian faces. Any suggestions? Which publisher do you consider the best for elementary biographies?


  1. Barb Gogan says:

    The Big Head books (also known as the Who Was biographies). They are always out at our K-5 school and the students will read them all, no matter who the subject is! We just keep ordering more and more. They also sell well at our Book Fairs.

  2. Lisa Von Drasek Practically Paradise says:

    Thanks, Barb. Susan B. Anthony by Alexandra Wallner is one I’m waiting to get my hands on and expect to add, also.

  3. Are you sure you can’t get any insurance money for replacing damaged books? I once received around $20,000 for that purpose after a major roof leak. Just a thought.

  4. Lisa Von Drasek Practically Paradise says:

    Many school districts are self-insured, like mine is. Unless there was massive destruction of the entire collection, small claims like this just wouldn’t take priority. Years ago my laptop was stolen right off my desk while I was doing bus dismissal, but since the loss was under $10,000, nothing happened but a police report. Now our laptops are all traceable, but I learned to keep my backups in a separate location. The day I lost my laptop, the backups were in the bag with it. I’m happy we were able to move the 700’s collection we had and save it. We are focusing on improving the biographies in the meantime. I still don’t have enough suggestions of new titles for elementary.

  5. Diane, your blog about mold helped open my eyes and in return, let me ask http://www.theknightagency if they will share an A+ list biography’s for you. They may be able to give something that will assist you. Just tell me if you are interested, then let me see what I can do. thx. M. Tyler