The teacher librarian must maintain an accurate inventory of all items associated with the library media program including hardware, software, and furnishings. In some cases this includes holdings in other areas of the school building such as televisions and computers.

woman with booksI've heard about school libraries that have been destroyed by tornado, fire, or flood. How would we rebuild after a disaster?

Last night someone broke the window in the library and stole eight of our computers including our circulation system. What do we do?

It seems like other high school libraries have many more resources than we do. How do I justify additional materials, computers, and other resources?

The situations above are troubling, but realistic. A contingency plan, along with a comprehensive inventory are essential when facing a wide range of potential concerns from natural disasters to external audits. School library media center collections are a sizable investment of public funds; therefore it's important that the value of the investment be accurately tracked.

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What is inventory?

Computers, books, tables, chairs, globes, overhead projectors, and stuffed toys are just a few of the items in your school library media center. Each of these items is listed in your inventory. An inventory is an accounting of each of these items. In many cases, the media specialist is in charge of the inventory of equipment in the entire building including everything from copies to computer printers.

The word inventory is also used to describe a process by which items and information in the holdings record are verified and the physical condition of each item is assessed.

It's possible to generate an "inventory" report from most automated circulation systems, however this is not a complete view of what is actually in the building. An inventory for the purposes of accounting requires that someone physically account for each item.

Theoretically, this means examining every book, computer, and videotape in your collection. Practically, this is unrealistic. A compromise would provide the required data for decision making, yet still maintain the sanity of the library professional.

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What is the purpose of inventory?

An inventory has many purposes. For example, let's say you're writing a grant and want to recommend additional computers in the library. Use your inventory to provide data about the numbers, types, and ages of computers to justify purchases.

Inventory is used for the following purposes:

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What should be inventoried?

The items on an inventory vary from school to school. In general, the library media specialist maintains an inventory of the library's collection including items such as books, videos, audios, kits, maps, etc.

The media specialist may also be in charge of the equipment in the center as well as the building. For example, you may be in charge of checking the location of all computer equipment, television monitors, VCRs, and overhead projectors in the building.

Some schools require an accounting of all furnishing such as desks, tables, and chairs.

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What is involved with conducting inventory?

You may have heard that inventory is a hassle; you may not be sure of just how to go about it. Before the time of automated library systems, library media specialists did the inventory by hand. This meant matching each item to a master shelf list card. Missing books were indicated on the card. Times have changed. Today, technology is used to facilitate the inventory process. Many teacher librarians now use digital camera or video cameras to record a quick view of the different areas of the library. They also use an automated library system to speed up inventory.

Inventories assess which items (books, media, equipment, etc.) exist in the school library media center, identify those that are damaged, or lost, and help identify weaknesses in the collections.

Inventory involves the following ten elements:

Inventory is conducted by first returning all items to their proper place; books on the shelves and equipment and other resources back to various assigned locations in the school (school library media center, classrooms, storage areas). Having as many items returned in place, where they are supposed to be makes for a more efficient and seamless inventory process; however having everything back is not always possible. While the inventory is being completed, the collection is 'frozen' (checkout or re-shelving is temporarily stopped) until a section is completed.

Have plenty of help for the process; if you have library assistants / library staff, involve them. Also consider using students and select parent and community volunteers. The auxiliary personnel need to be recruited and trained in inventory procedures so that you, the teacher-librarian can continue to concentrate time and energy on the educational program while the inventory is in process.

Inventory involves 'reading' the shelves, but that can usually be done with a handheld bar code reader or a laptop with attached scanner (on a cart). Scan items in order; alphabetical for fiction, numerically for non-fiction. Scanning items in their progressive order simplifies reporting at inventory's end. Scanned information will be uploaded into the electronic circulation system. The system can generate various reports such as missing items, mis-shelved / mis-located items. Note lost items and use proper discard procedures for items identified for removal or removed on the spot (Don't forget to withdraw them from the system records). Also remember that missing items may show up over the summer or during the coming school year. Determine what needs to be replaced.


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When should inventory be conducted?

Most schools require an inventory once per year. Although many school library personnel view inventory as something done at the end of the school year, there are other options. In some cases, the school administration has particular needs or does not want the library closed at the end of the school year. Carefully consider closing of the library while school is in session; does that send a message that the center is 'optional,' that it is not a vital part of the instructional program?

In districts with multiple buildings, inventory is sometimes rotated among buildings. Some schools have never had a detailed inventory conducted. And some schools have developed procedures for doing inventory of a continued basis throughout the year, closing off only one section of the library to circulation for a limited time while the library remains open for service that is near usual. It is desirable to inventory the collection every year; but more importantly, an inventory schedule should be established and followed - - even if it means doing a partial inventory of the collection one year, and the remainder the next.

It is recommended that you conduct inventory once per year to identify lost materials, update records and clear items that are found, and get materials and equipment into their proper place.

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Check Your Understanding

In order for you to provide good access to materials and equipment, you need to know their location. Conducting an inventory can be overwhelming. Where would you start? Would you do it alone or get help? Develop a plan for conducting an inventory.

eye means readRead Purcell, M. and Bradley, A. (Nov 2011). Inventory for the School Library: Do You Know Your Stuff? (Access requires Login). School Library Monthly; 29(2).

Also read Moreillon, J. (May/June 2013). Policy Challenge: Closed for Conducting Inventory (Access requires Login). School Library Monthly; 29(8), 26-27.

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Make It Real

scanned bookInterview a teacher librarian about their experiences with conducting inventory. Be sure to ask about what items are inventoried, what records are maintained, and how the library automation system works.

Are they responsible for items throughout the building or just in the library media center?

Ask them to share their concerns, frustrations, and experiences.

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Read More About It

Basic Library Procedures: Inventory Control Systems and Procedures (Jan 2009) at Living in the Library World Blog.

Conducting a Library or District Media Center Inventory from Follett's Destiny Online Help and Support.
Developed for use with a specific library automation system.
Related Resource:
Destiny Inventory Guide from Cobb County School District, GA.

Inventory at the Alaska School Library Handbook

Stephens, W. (May 2010). Taking Stock: Do Inventories Matter to School Libraries? AASL Blog.

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