7 Questions About Library Inventory Answered

If you have never done a library inventory before, it can be a daunting task. I was taught the importance of doing an inventory in school but nothing about the logistics and process of completing one. This blog post will hopefully answer some of the questions you have about library inventory. I also want to point out that I am only familiar with the Destiny catalog system. I believe that other systems are similar but I have not used them.

1. Why do I need to do library inventory?

There are numerous benefits of having an accurate and up to date inventory. They include:

  • Identifies books that are missing from your collection
  • Automatically checks in books that were somehow shelved before being checked in
  • Updates the book status from lost to available when a lost book has been located
  • Provides you with the chance to physically handle every book in your collection
  • Helps you to identify books that need to be repaired or weeded
  • Is the perfect opportunity to put your library shelves back in order 

2. When do I start inventory? Does it have to be at the end of the school year?

No, you can start your inventory any time throughout the school year. In fact rarely have I done my inventory at the end of the year. I typically start sometime in the fall and work on it a little bit at a time. This ties in to the third question below.

3. Can I do a partial library inventory?

Yes you can. I highly recommend doing your inventory in small chunks or sections. Below is a  screenshot of what you will see when you go to the start new inventory page in Destiny. 

Library inventory example

This is where you can select a call number range and limit your inventory to just one section. 

I do separate library inventories for my easy fiction and regular fiction. I do the same with nonfiction, but will break it into call number sections. For example I do the 000-299 as one inventory since I do not have many books in these sections. And then I will do the 300’s separately since it is a much larger section.

You can also select to limit by circulation type or subsections if your library is set up that way. In my library I have quite a few paperback books. They are shelved in a separate section. They all have a call number that begins PB. So I would enter a call number range of PB A to PB Z. If you have textbooks or technology in your collection they likely have a different circulation type. You can choose to inventory just those specific items.

4. Can I still check out books during library inventory?

Absolutely! When you begin an inventory, all of the books that are currently checked out will be accounted for. This means they will not show up as lost. If you check out a book in the middle of inventory that was not scanned yet, that book will automatically be accounted for in the inventory as well. As long a the book is scanned one way or another it will not be marked as lost. 

5. How can I do inventory when I still have classes coming to the library?

This is always a tough question. It may not be possible for you to do an inventory throughout the school year. I have always been incredibly lucky to have an assistant, but I know this is not the case for many librarians. This can be even more difficult when you are in charge of more than one library. 

If you do your library inventory at the end of the year you can try to convince your principal that you need to close in order to complete all of these end of the year tasks. In an ideal world he or she would say yes. Unfortunately, this doesn’t usually happen. All you can do in this case is what we always do: make the best of it. This is one of the times when you should not feel any guilt for popping in a movie for the kids to watch. Give them some coloring pages or word searches to help keep them occupied. Do whatever you need to do to get the job done.

6. Can anyone help me complete inventory?

Yes. Once you start the inventory in Destiny it really is a straightforward process. You can find some trustworthy students to help you scan the books. Just make sure they understand the importance of scanning every, single book. I have also had parent volunteers. If you don’t feel comfortable having a student scan the books, you can have them do other tasks for you. When you have younger grades in the library see if you can borrow some older students to come in and do activities with the younger students. They can read stories, do an arts and craft project or play games. This will free you up to scan books.

7. What materials do I need to start inventory?

Technically all you need is a computer and a scanner. But to make your inventory go smoother and faster you should have a specific inventory cart. Here is what mine looks like.

Library inventory cart idea
  1. Chromebook
  2. Wireless scanner
  3. Book boxes/bins. One for books that are damaged and need repaired and one for books you want to weed.
  4. Supplies to make quick repairs (tape, spine labels, genre stickers, scissors etc.)
  5. Post-it notes
  6. Notebook to jot down notes
  7. Pens, pencils, markers

I purchase an inexpensive wireless scanner from Amazon to do my inventory. I have found them to work just as well as the expensive ones from Follett. I use the NADAMOO Wireless Barcode Scanner. It typically sells for$35.

Even More Tips

  • Make sure you mark the spot you started and be ready to mark the spot where you stop. You can use a shelf marker, a ruler or put up a sign or posit-it. And make sure to write it down as well. I don’t know how many times my marker has gotten moved or disappeared. And you always think you will remember where you stopped (but you never do). At least I don’t!
  • Bring a dust cloth. This is a good time to give the books and shelves a good dusting. And a box of kleenex for when you start sneezing.
  • Use a rolling stool or chair. When I first started as a librarian I was 22 and had no problem scooting on the floor scanning the books on the bottom shelves. Now, not so much! You can use a garage or automotive creeper or a rolling garden stool. One year I put a pillow on my step stool and used that. Send out an email to staff and see if anyone has something you can borrow.

Hopefully I answered many of the questions you have about completing a library inventory. If I missed any, please ask it in the comments section. Or if you have any helpful tips to share please do so. Happy scanning!

3 Responses

  1. How can you delete an inventory before you complete it? I set some up to do in 2018 and then changed my mind…now they are in the system and I don't see how to delete.m 🙂

  2. This is a most excellent post. You laid out the information that all librarians need to think about. Some of us older librarians do this out of habit and forget why we do what we do.