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

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In photos posted to social media early Sunday evening, stacks on stacks 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 put out a call 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 extracted so they could be donated and enjoyed once again.


Photos of books taken from the bin 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 discard its resources that way.

Michele Johnson, owner of the North Lawrence business Reclaimed by Michele, saw photos of the bin on Facebook, grabbed some empty totes and drove across town.

“It was just wasteful,” Johnson said.

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

“And then what happened is all those people that were there, once they were done getting their own, they stayed there to help me fill totes.”

Johnson said she would not sell the books. They’ll go to a high school teacher whose students share books with younger siblings, a moms group, and book shares like the Little Free Libraries. Johnson also snagged 10 for her own grandkids.

She and her fellow reclaimers rescued picture books for young children as well as “informational” reads geared toward kids in grades 3-5. “Great photos and awesome reading. I’m enjoying 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 last week left her position as library media specialist at Prairie Park for a job in the Kansas City, Kansas school district, said although a few children’s classics were mined from the pile, the vast majority of finds were old and used for teaching literacy skills rather than storybook reading. Schramm said that although she herself had not placed the books in the recycling bin, she was familiar with the process and emphasized the books were not part of the library’s collection.

Schramm said the books belonged to an outdated English Language Arts curriculum the district stopped using before she began working at Prairie Park in 2015. At one time, the set would have been used in small groups for teaching phonics and reading concepts and strategies.

Standard length for a children’s storybook runs 32 pages. Most of the books in the bin, Schramm said, numbered between 8 and 16 pages – some with only one or two words per page.

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

Schramm said most of the books would not engage young readers. “There were a couple of those in there. But the vast majority of what was recycled are really old. Books that were published decades ago that nobody has used for many, many years. And they’re just sitting there taking up space. ”


A check of four randomly chosen titles from the pile – two fiction and two nonfiction – showed publishing dates ranging from 15 years ago to almost 40 years ago.

Schramm said the books had been transferred 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 received an opportunity to take whatever they could use.

Normally, Schramm said, the collection would have then been boxed up and transferred to the district’s Instructional Resource Center for recycling; however, with end-of-the-year packing taking place and a large number of teachers leaving their posts, there weren’t any boxes left to put them in for transfer. Schramm said the books would have ended up in recycling elsewhere, regardless.

Why not donate?

Schramm said, in general, donating books can be “wildly cumbersome for school personnel.” Although a free book fair sounds great, the reality involves a lot of work, time, space and volunteer support.

The Lawrence Public Library accepts delivered book donations with some limitations, and donors typically must schedule and deliver on their own, said Angela Hyde, program coordinator for LPL Friends and Foundation.

“In general, we can accept and rehome books in good condition (no excessive highlighting, excessive notes in pen, missing pages, torn covers, broken spines). Classroom sets of textbooks are a bit more difficult thanks to some resale rules / threats that publishing companies have put in place, ”Hyde said via email.

Those mass-produced book fair-type paperbacks – cheaply made to “get in the hands of kids for less” – usually live short lives, according to Hyde.

“If we receive books that have been a bit too ‘well-loved’ by excited young readers, we call that book’s ultimate purpose served and will recycle them as well.”

Schramm also said those who can’t afford to buy books still deserve to receive high-quality donations.

Rescued books (Contributed)

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

Schramm emphasized that district library media specialists follow a system known as “weeding” in the field of library science. They evaluate each library’s collection and strive to provide culturally responsive and accurate media that meet current standards.

“We are constantly updating what we have and our resources and our books and everything so that the kids have the best, the newest information, the most updated information. And books from over 10 years ago certainly do not qualify for the most updated information. ”

Johnson said, as a former educator, she understood books must meet the standards of 2022, but to “throw them away” was unnecessary.

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

“There were some emergent readers that were just pictures only. I have a 2-year-old granddaughter, and pictures only works too. You create your own story, you put your own story with it. There’s all kinds of things that these could have been used for. And I understand that schools go through and get new curriculum, new things. That just makes sense, but there can be both sides. ”

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

“The books were not part of the district’s curriculum or library collection. We understand that they were offered to staff for classroom use and distribution to students. ”

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

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

At the board’s March 28 meeting, the board approved via consent agenda the disposal of a long list of “current and outdated text resources and novels” that were “reviewed and found not to have wholesale value.” Consent agenda actions are typically considered along with a list of other items in one vote, unless a board member or the superintendent requests an item be removed and voted on separately.

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Tricia Masenthin (she / her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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