Writing the Book on Efficiency
Thursday, October 16, 2008
To fill a new Loudoun County school library, don't spend months on the phone with book publishers. Just dial up a warehouse near Minneapolis, and it will freight over seven heavy pallets.
The county has it down to a cookie-cutter art: Collections are standardized, and books arrive stamped and sorted by Dewey Decimal number. The process saves precious time in a county that needs it. Loudoun's school system continues to grow much faster than any other district in the Washington region, and three Loudoun elementary schools opened last month.
The county record for setting up a school library: 20 volunteers, 10,000 books, 45 minutes flat.
"We Michael Phelps'd it," said Jocelyn Kanner, librarian at Liberty Elementary School in South Riding, who coordinated the unpacking in August during the Summer Olympics.
Liberty beat Creighton's Corner Elementary, which unpacked an identical set of books this summer, by a hair. That was because Creighton's Corner librarian Susan Ling misjudged the biography section, she said.
Library setup is another standardized part of a construction process that Loudoun has refined during more than a decade of incredible growth. New schools are built from a standardized design, and the main variant is the placement of the front door. That assembly-line process extends to bookshelves and furniture. Each elementary library gets a rocking chair, six beanbag chairs, two globes and its choice of wood for identically milled bookcases.
The school system has a standard list of library books and sends it to Mackin Library Media, which does the ordering.
It's one less thing for harried principals to deal with, said W. David Jones, supervisor of library media services for Loudoun schools. The pre-organized book collections have been shipped for five years, he said, long enough for the arrangement to have acquired a reputation as being hassle-free.
"When they're planning their schools now, they don't worry about their libraries," Jones said.
The libraries don't stay standardized for long. Each librarian is given an annual budget to add to the collection based on teacher and student requests and what seems to be popular. Librarians have autonomy in their purchases, Jones said, although occasionally the school system steps in, as was the case last school year when it briefly yanked from general circulation "And Tango Makes Three," a children's book about two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who try to hatch an egg-shaped rock together.
Kanner, the Liberty Elementary librarian, said she has ordered additional copies of the popular Harry Potter books. And she purchased some books from the "Goosebumps" series, which she said students enjoy although they were not included in the standard collection.
Kanner, who also set up a library in a Fairfax County school, said that Loudoun was easier by far.
"It was a completely different experience [in Fairfax] than it was here," she said.
And her speed record might stand.
"I don't think we're going to see the record broken unless they start throwing the books across the room," Jones said.