Problem: It sounds like a Nancy Drew novel: The Case of the Missing Books. Except, for the Lee County School District in Fort Myers, Fla., the problem was all too real. During a standard review of costs by the governor's task force, a process that analyzes possible cost savings and procedure improvements in Florida's schools, a startling discovery was made about textbook losses. The task force estimated that from 1997 to 2002, the school system had lost 62,272 books, representing approximately $2 million. Even more disheartening, it was predicted that without a better textbook management system, losses would top $250,000 per year after 2004.
Solution: In a district with many transient students, administrators couldn't just ask everyone to look under their beds for missing books. The district was already using a technology-based system called TextLink from Follett Software to keep library books from straying, so when the decision was made to extend its inventory procedures to textbooks, Follett got the call.
Extending TextLink into a textbook management system helped align the existing library program and new textbook program, so administrators could glimpse all book-related activity in one report. The initial cost was $91,000 to implement the system in the district's 62 schools, which included scanners and bar codes as well as software.
The system provides district-wide reporting; it also assigns responsibility to specific individuals, says Sandra Agle, Lee County's director of instructional technology and media. "Before the textbook management, one aide might jot down notes about missing textbooks and put it in a file," she says. "And the next week another aide would write something too. But no one was really following up."
Because the district had TextLink in its libraries, the transition wasn't as daunting as it might have been. All schools in the district had the textbook management software and procedures in place within three months. Tanya Asfour, the district's main technician, implemented the software and training.
One of the benefits was a fresh sense of accountability, Asfour says. "Having a system in place helped us to raise consciousness among students and staff that textbooks are important." Principals, too, were made accountable for textbook losses in their budgets.
The result? Lee County estimates savings of $418,000 over the next five years. The system has decreased losses in the first year by about $20,000, essentially getting its initial expenditure back. At one of the district's high schools, the number of textbooks lost went from 2,400 per year before tracking to 100.
Because of the program's success, Lee County is now in the process of implementing another Follett system, Destiny Textbook Manager, which allows information like library fines, textbook purchasing data and textbook locations to be accessed via the Web.
Lee County is hardly the only district to deal with textbook loss and the financial headache accompanying it.
"A lot of districts don't have a handle on how many books they're losing every year, because they usually don't have a system that tells them what's gone," says Tom Schenck, president of Follett. The company has seen a surge of interest in textbook tracking at districts, and it's done in about 3,000 school systems. There are plans to integrate tracking of licenses for electronic textbooks, another emerging issue for schools, with the TextLink and Destiny systems.
"Districts are interested in reporting and accountability," says Kathy Sharo, Follett's director of marketing. "And, of course, the cost savings associated with managing textbooks can be sizable, and that's always compelling."
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer based in Saint Louis Park, Minn.