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Hi Folks!
  Sorry it took me so long to post a response.  I knew this was a popular topic 
when I posted it, but I didn't realize how monumental this problem was for a lot of 
librarians.  I had over 200 responses (which was exactly the kind of feedback I 
needed), but that kind of magnitude takes a while to compile.  As expected, several 
dozen responders asked for help with this situation.  So here goes.
  Shelf Markers
  I had several good suggestions about using shelf markers (also called browsing 
sticks).  Even though I am in a middle school, a lot of my students are familiar 
with this method because of their elementary school "training."  Shelf markers are 
objects that can take the place of where a book goes on the shelf while the patron 
is considering whether or not they would like to take the book home.   Shelf 
markers should be housed in a prominent place where students will always retrieve 
one upon entering your media center.  It does take a great deal of training and 
watching to see that the markers are being used correctly, but they seem to be a 
good resource to consider.  They can be purchased, obtained inexpensively, or 
free-of-charge (as long as you can look desperate at a hardware store). 
  Some of the places where shelf markers can be purchased are: 
   The Library Store, or   

  Some suggestions as to getting shelf markers inexpensively would be to use rulers 
(obtained from dollar stores or Wal-Mart…).  You could also consider creating your 
own shelf markers by having someone you know make ones out of wood or create your 
own out of wood of by using oaktag, posterboard, index cards, cardboard, or 
construction paper (preferably laminated to ensure endurance).
  Several suggestions were to get free resources, which, as librarians, we always 
consider.  They recommended asking for paint sticks from hardware stores like: Home 
Depot, Lowe's, Sears (which are supposed to have rubber paint sticks), or any local 
hardware store.  These shelf markers can be decorated by students, teachers, 
yourself, or even your school's art classes to make them stand out to your patrons. 
 Other suggestion for free resources were to check places that offer free rulers, 
such as the ones from Smokey the Bear or the DARE program.
  Some suggested consequences for being caught using the shelf marker 
inappropriately were: the students loose the ability to check out a book at that 
time, the students have to re-organize a set of shelves before they leave or check 
out a book, the students would have to put the books on a book truck/cart in 
alphabetical order, or the students would have to check out the book they had in 
their hand.
  **Be careful when using rulers or paint stirrers.  You will have to remind and 
reprimand students OFTEN that they are not to be used as swords, light sabers, or 
any other weapon.  They need to understand that any type of violence, whether 
playful or vindictive, will be treated as a personal attack. 
  Let the students know that if, for some reason, their shelf marker "accidentally" 
falls out of its place, they are to put the book in a designated location rather 
than wherever they would like.
  Placement for Unwanted Books
  Numerous people suggested that there be an area where students can place unwanted 
books if they could not/would not re-shelve them on their own accord.   Different 
suggestions included placing the unwanted books: on the top of the bookshelves 
(either right where they found it or to place the book at the end of the stack), in 
an empty book cart/truck (that was strategically placed), in crates/boxes which are 
positioned on several shelves, or on empty shelves located in plain view.   
  If using this method, a good suggestion is to remind students to look in the 
places where unwanted books are housed from that day.  This way, not only could you 
help a students find a book that is off the shelf, but you increase your chances of 
having the unwanted books be checked out and remove some of the extra work of 
putting unwanted books back on the shelves.
  The concern of spending extra time shelving is one that now comes into view.  
Yes, it does take extra time to shelve the unwanted books, but you have to decide 
if you want your shelves to be a mess, or if you want to spend some of your time.  
Some wise librarians suggested including student volunteers (also called library 
angels or library pages) or begging parents, grandparents, or members of the 
community to help put the books away.
  Student Helpers
  Many people highly recommend using student helpers.  They are often asked to 
"Adopt a Shelf" like the "Adopt a Highway" program (they can work in pairs, if 
necessary or possible).  The helper's job is to: make sure the shelf is 
straightened (which teaches respect and care of materials), make sure the shelf 
order is correct (which teaches and reinforces library materials arrangement), and 
check the shelf for books needing TLC/repair (teaches book care and respect).  It 
is up to you to decide who your helpers will be (although teachers are good people 
to ask for advice about students who are reliable and responsible) and when they 
will come to the library to straighten the shelves.  Some media specialists have 
the students come during: homeroom, free time, recess, or after school (as long as 
a ride is pre-arranged).
  A good way to get publicity is to post a picture of the student above their 
designated shelf/shelves which includes their name.  This helps them demonstrate 
pride in the improved appearance of their assigned area.  
  One way to ensure that volunteers put the books back where they belong is to 
print a shelf list that tells exactly what books belong on what shelves.  This will 
assist the helper to ensure they are shelving the books correctly.  Surprise 
inspections of their shelves will also help our certainty that they are putting 
things where they belong (with small rewards for doing a good job being the prize).
  Some librarians assign a few students to monitor the shelves.  Their job is to be 
sure everyone is actively finding what they need (rather than messing around), and 
that no one is making a mess of the shelves in their designated area (small rewards 
are good incentives here as well). 
  Training is obviously important for any of the techniques mentioned above.  Each 
one requires constant reinforcement to have it work to the best of its potential.  
Showing and reminding the students exactly what you expect are good ways for you to 
demonstrate what your want from them.  Try making things as "playful and enjoyable" 
as possible because those types of activities are what children take-to-heart.  You 
might try creating a game or scavenger hunt to teach kinds where books belong in 
the library or how to find something in particular.  
  Whether if is for your library helpers or entire classes, incentives are 
something to which every student will respond.   Competition is a great motivator 
for students of any age.  Creating a competition among the different groups that 
come to your library may help in your desire for a more organized media center.  
Incentives can be small or great depending on your budget.  
  If the rewards can be offered at a regular basis, keep the rewards small…candy, a 
small toy, a bookmark, a pencil, an eraser… (Oriental Trading Co. is a good 
resource to find such incentives).  Some have even offered a free book at the book 
fair as a reward or time to come to the library in the morning before homeroom.
  If creating a larger incentive program, a good suggestion would be to keep track 
of neatness in the media center, including its shelves.  Some librarians use 
stickers to keep track of each group that helps to maintain organization in the 
media center or those who leave the library cleaner than they found it; these 
stickers accumulate through a certain period of time.  The big incentives for the 
end of the time frame could include an ice cream or pizza party or an inexpensive 
  Talk to the Students
  There are several suggestions to explain why it is important for students to put 
the books back in their proper place.  Obviously, we want the students to do this 
so people can find what they need.  They need the explanation that shows that each 
book has a specific address, and by putting the book back anywhere they want, that 
book is considered missing or not at home.  A good reference here would be to ask 
them how they would feel if their bus drivers dropped them off at any address they 
wanted.  Giving a good explanation that applies to the student is important.  Think 
of things to which they can relate, and how they would feel about not being able to 
find them when they wanted them the most.  Example include: favorite foods at a 
grocery store, their wallet when they really want to buy something…even as far as 
to talk about someone moving their car to some other place when they wanted to go 
somewhere.  Just get on their level so they can understand. 
  Possible Restrictions
  Sometimes adding a necessary restriction may be the answer.  Two suggestions were 
offered.  First, think about only letting one table up at a time; it may be time 
consuming, but it will allow you to better monitor the shelves and the students' 
activity.  Second, limiting the number of books checked out until the problem 
corrects itself may be a solution; if they can only get one at a time, they may get 
the hint.
  Some Other Help 
   Help may be found in reading The Shelf Elf by Jackie Mims Hopkins.    
   Creating a bookmark with the student's level, teacher, and barcode for check out 
may be helpful for a quick checkout. The teachers keep these in their room and send 
them with any student sent to the library.  It could be used as their shelf marker. 
  Creative Solution (for those using shelf markers…probably elementary)
  Sully Carter sent me the words to the "Shelf Marker Hokey-Pokey."  It is a 
creative way to get the students to understand the process.  Here are the lyrics:
  (First Verse)
  You put your shelf marker in
  You take the book out
  You take a look at the book
  and you see what it's about
  You do the Hokey Pokey 
  and you turn yourself about
  That's what it's all about
  (If they don't like that book then do this verse)
  You put the book back in
  You take the shelf marker out
  You put the shelf marker in
  see what another book's about
  You do the hokey pokey
  and you turn yourself about
  that's what it's all about
  (Once they have a book(s) they like do this verse)
  You take your book with you
  You take your marker too
  Wait your turn in line
  For the computer to check you out
  You do the hokey pokey
  and you turn yourself about
  That's what it's all about
  Thank you to each and every one who helped by offering your wisdom, not only for 
myself, but also for the numerous others who asked me to share the findings.  I 
know this is a common problem, and there is no easy fix for it.  Hopefully by 
implementing one (or more) of these helpful hints, all of our shelves will be a 
little neater in the process.
  Troy Hand
  Library Media Specialist
  King's Fork Middle School 
  350 King's Fork Rd.
  Suffolk, VA  23434
  (757) 925-5750

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