Developing School Library Circulation Policies & Procedures

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

If you are a school librarian, it is really important for you to have strong and consistent policies and procedures for circulation. This lesson discusses some of the key factors to consider when developing these policies.

Understanding Circulation

As a school library media specialist, Marlene takes circulation, or how books and other materials move in and out of the library, very seriously.

Marlene works hard to maintain a diverse and up-to-date collection, and she wants students to get maximal use out of everything she has to offer. She knows that the policies and procedures she develops with regard to circulation can make a big difference.

In general, Marlene thinks of circulation in three different categories.

  • Loans: First, Marlene checks out books and other materials on loan. She needs to decide how long a loan lasts, who can check out materials, and how many materials one patron can have at a time.
  • Renewals: Next, Marlene wants to think about renewal, or whether patrons can extend their access to a particular material.
  • Reserves: Finally, she needs to think about the capacity to put items from the library on reserve, or hold, for future check out or use in the library.

Policies to Promote Access

Marlene knows that circulation policies and procedures might initially seem like purely logistical matters, but they actually have broader ideological implications for a school library program.

After all, the circulation procedures ultimately have to do with determining who has access to the library and when. Marlene creates her circulation policy, but it requires approval from the school administration and the library committee.

Parents in the school are aware of the policy, but they do not have the right to approve or veto it.


Equity, or equal access, takes priority for Marlene in her policies. She wants to make sure that students from homes with few books have as much wherewithal in her library as those from families that use libraries and library materials all the time.

Therefore, she is careful to make her policy include the following statement: ''The library at our school is for everyone, and returning books on time is one way to ensure that your classmates can also access the books you love.''

Marlene knows that equity does not mean everyone gets exactly the same treatment; it means everyone gets what they need. Therefore, if a student and his family tell her they cannot access the public library for whatever reason, she gives them priority when it comes to putting school materials on reserve.

Putting materials on reserve can also be very meaningful when students cannot afford the same technologies that their classmates might have at home.


Marlene also wants her circulation policy to function in an efficient, or timely, way. Therefore, she does make it possible for students to renew materials, but she only allows them to do this once; she wants books to come back into the library so that she can circulate them more.

Borrower Eligibility

Thinking about borrower eligibility is also one of Marlene's tasks. She knows that some school libraries allow circulation to family members or anyone who is part of the school community. Other libraries only allow circulation to registered students in the school. Marlene can see pros and cons to either approach, and she knows different librarians will continue to make different decisions.

Some of Marlene's colleagues also make students ineligible when they've lost materials or have overdue items that they cannot pay for. This is another complicated decision Marlene must wrestle with.

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