Public collects piles of children’s books from Prairie Park Elementary’s recycling bin – The Lawrence Times


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In photos posted to social media early Sunday evening, piles of colorful children’s books lay strewn near the top of a recycling bin outside Prairie Park Elementary. With the threat of rain looming, community members called out to come save the books.

Some classics such as “Over in the Meadow” and “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” were ripped out so they could be given away and enjoyed again.


Photos of books taken out of the trash were posted on local Facebook groups. Comments filled with frustration and anger questioned why a school district that recently cut 90 staffing positions and $6.41 million from its budget would dump resources this way.

Michele Johnson, Owner of North Lawrence Company Recovered by Michelesaw photos of the trash can on Facebook, picked up empty bins, and drove through town.

“It was just wasteful,” Johnson said.

Johnson has a passion for repatriation items and formerly managed Lawrence Habitat ReStore. She dug through the trash alongside 10 other community members. Working together, Johnson estimated, they saved several hundred books — maybe even a thousand little readers.

“And then what happened was all these people that were there, once they finished taking theirs, they stayed there to help me fill the bins.”

Johnson said she would not sell the books. They will go to a high school teacher whose students share books with younger siblings, a group of moms and book shares like the Small free libraries. Johnson also caught 10 for his own grandchildren.

She and her fellow salvagers have rescued picture books for young children as well as “informative” readings for children in grades 3-5. “Great photos and great reading. I enjoy them myself!

Michele Johnson displays some of the children’s books she and others salvaged from a recycling bin at Prairie Park Elementary. (Contributed)

From classroom to recycling bin

Erin Schramm, who left her job as library media specialist in Prairie Park last week for a job with the school district of Kansas City, Kansas, said that while a few children’s classics were pulled from the pile, the vast majority of finds were ancient and used for teaching literacy skills rather than storytelling. Schramm said that although she herself did not place the books in the recycling bin, she was aware of the process and stressed that the books were not part of the library. collection.

Schramm said the books were from an outdated English program the district stopped using before it began working at Prairie Park in 2015. At one point, the set was reportedly used in small groups to teach English. phonetics and reading concepts and strategies.

The standard length of a children’s storybook is 32 pages. Most of the books in the trash, Schramm said, were between 8 and 16 pages — some with only one or two words per page.

“These are not the kind of books you would see in the children’s section of a bookstore or even in one of our school libraries, because they are not created for children. They are created for teachers to use with children.

Schramm said most of the books would not appeal to young readers. “There were a few in there. But the vast majority of what has been recycled is really old. Books that were published decades ago and no one has used for many, many years. And they’re just sitting there taking up space.


A check of four randomly selected titles from the pile – two fiction and two documentaries – showed publication dates ranging from 15 years ago to almost 40 years ago.

Schramm said the books were moved to Prairie Park from Kennedy Elementary when the district closed its K-5 classrooms at the end of the 2020-21 school year. Before the books were removed from Prairie Park, teachers had the opportunity to take whatever they could use.

Normally, Schramm said, the collection would then have been boxed and transferred to the district’s educational resource center for recycling; however, with the end of the year packing and a large number of teachers leaving their posts, there were no more boxes to put them in for transfer. Schramm said the books would have ended up being recycled elsewhere regardless.

Why not make a donation?

Schramm said that in general, donating books can be “extremely burdensome for school staff.” While a free book fair sounds great, the reality involves a lot of work, time, space, and volunteer support.

The Lawrence Public Library accepts donations of books delivered with certain limitations, and donors generally must program and deliver on their own, said Angela Hyde, program coordinator for LPL Friends and Foundation.

“In general, we can accept and repatriate books in good condition (no excessive highlighting, excessive pen notes, missing pages, torn covers, broken spines). Textbook sets are a bit more difficult due to some resale rules/threats that publishers have in place,” Hyde said via email.

According to Hyde, these mass-produced book fair-style paperbacks — cheaply made to “get into kids’ hands for less” — typically live short lives.

“If we receive books that have been a little too ‘beloved’ by eager young readers, we consider the ultimate purpose of that book to have been achieved and we will recycle them as well.”

Schramm also said those who cannot afford books still deserve to receive high-quality donations.

Books saved (Contribution)

“We want to make sure we’re getting them the new kinds of books and the kinds of resources that our kids are using as well. We don’t want to give people tired old publications that we wouldn’t use for our children, just because they don’t have enough resources to buy the new stuff we have.

Schramm pointed out that district library media specialists follow a system known as “weeding” in the field of librarianship. They assess each library’s collection and strive to provide culturally appropriate and accurate media that meets current standards.

“We’re constantly updating what we have and our resources and our books and everything to make sure kids have the best, newest, most up-to-date information. And books from more than 10 years ago are certainly not eligible for the latest information.

Johnson said as a former educator, she understood the books had to meet 2022 standards, but there was no need to “throw them away”.

She taught preschool for seven years and worked at Sunset Hill Elementary for two years. Johnson said books published by National Geographic, for example, have photos that small children would enjoy.

“There were emerging readers who were just pictures. I have a 2-year-old granddaughter and the pictures just work too. You create your own story, you put your own story with it. There’s all kinds of things that they could have been used for. And I understand that schools come through and get new programs, new things. That makes sense, but there can be both sides.

In an email Monday, district spokeswoman Julie Boyle said the district investigated concerns from members of the public about paperbacks in a recycling bin at Prairie Park Elementary.

“The books were not part of the district curriculum or the library collection. We understand that they have been given to staff for use in the classroom and distributed to students. »

Boyle said Lawrence Board of Education policy states that “surplus or unusable district-owned equipment and materials shall be disposed of at the discretion of the school board.”

Boyle said the district would continue to work to inform all staff of the policy, but did not respond directly as to whether the council had approved the disposal of the discarded collection at Prairie Park.

At the board meeting of March 28, the board approved, on the agenda, the sale of a long list of “current and obsolete textual resources and novels” that have been “reviewed and found to be of no wholesale value”. Consent agenda actions are usually considered with a list of other items in a single vote, unless a board member or the superintendent requests that an item be removed and voted on separately. .

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Tricia Masenthin (her), Equity Reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more about his work for The Times here. Check out his staff biography here.

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