Self-checkout: So Easy a 1st Grader Could Do It

By Jennifer Eckert, Librarian, Leon springs Elementary, Northside ISD, San Antonio TX

Hi, I’m Jennifer, and I let first graders check out books by themselves.

It’s true. Every grade level except kindergarten in my school knows how to check their own books in and out. And that knowledge has freed me.

A few years ago, elementary and middle school librarians in my district lost their assistants. It was a budgetary concern that was echoed across the state. We were lucky that every school got to keep their librarian. However, it’s a decision whose ramifications are still being felt. Without that constant extra support in the library, elementary and middle school librarians are not able to do all the things we used to do. We can’t step out of the library any time of day to attend a team planning meeting with a grade level. We can’t go teach a collaborative research lesson in the computer lab. We can’t visit classrooms giving booktalks or being a “secret reader.” Well, we can’t unless we close the library, and many of us are just not willing to deny that free access so randomly throughout the day; the scheduling would drive us and the teachers crazy.

Being the sole professional in a school library all day isn’t easy. But there are things one can do to make it easier. And self-checkout is one of them.

It’s not hard to start, but it is a process.  First, you have to have a set-up that makes the circulation computer accessible to students. I solved that problem by purchasing a second display for my circulation computer that sits facing out. I also purchased a number pad so that students can type in their ID to pull up their account.  I rummaged around the computer lab for a stray mouse to sit next to the number pad, stuck my scanner on top of the counter, and I was pretty much set. In my district, the students’ ID number is used for myriad things: lunch, various computer programs, and checking out books in the library. So, most kids know their number, especially those who purchase lunch on a regular basis. If they don’t know their number, they soon learn it since it’s required for almost every computer login they have.
Student in action, being self sufficient!

I start teaching self-checkout in kindergarten, although it can’t really be called “self-checkout” at that point. By the end of the year, my kindergarteners know how to type in their number, check and make sure it’s their own name on the account and not someone else’s, scan their book, and click “Reset” so the computer is ready for the next person. It’s still very much a guided check out for kindergarteners, but the groundwork is there for first grade.
In first grade, we start the year just checking OUT independently. They need some review from the year before, many have forgotten their number, and many are new students. So we spend the first couple of months of school just checking OUT. Around October, I teach them how to check IN their own books (until then, I have them hand their check-ins to me and I do it). A week or so practicing that, and they’re usually good to go.
 The scanner and student facing screen/mouse.

The student screen and reminder instruction sign.

By second grade and beyond, they have totally got it. I give a quick review at orientation the first week of school and they start checking out independently that very same day. When new students come throughout the year, teachers send them to the library with a buddy to teach them the ropes.  They usually catch on quick.

Of course, there are snags. Students forget their number, accounts are blocked because of overdues, the scanner doesn’t always scan correctly, sometimes books walk out of the library without being checked out correctly (they almost always wander back). But, oh, the freedom of not having to be chained to that circulation computer all day long. I can teach lessons without having to worry about the kids who have come with a pass from their teacher not knowing how to checkout. I can help students find good books when their class checks out instead of sitting by the computer scanning everyone’s books. Not to mention, the sense of ownership and independence self-checkout gives to students. They know how the library works and they are not dependent on me to get them the books they need. And, in the end, isn’t this what we all want: independent members of society that can take care of their own business?

Self-checkout is a process in elementary school, but the payoffs are more than worth the effort.


  1. I've had self-checkout with K-4 for 5 years now. You are correct and this is a great article that I'll be sharing! You do have to lay the groundwork, but then it's full-steam ahead! I had not thought about looking for a number pad for those new students who don't have a library card. Anyone that's on the fence about this... yes, go for it!

  2. When I was at elementary this was a lifesaver! And I have introduced it at my middle school since I don't always have a student aide every period. If the public libraries can do it, we should be able to reap the benefits too!