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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Being Human and Being Broke

We’re discussing school library budgets today, not my personal state of red. What do you do when you’ve spent every penny and maybe even a few of your own to buy books for the library and the requests keep coming in? Take a look at these three SLJ articles: School Library Journal’s Spending Survey, SLJ’s Average Book Prices 2009 ($21.36 for a hardcover children/YA title), Joyce Valenza blogged about

Yesterday two girls came up and asked if they could host a bakesale to buy more books. I assured them that was the absolute sweetest thing anyone could offer to do, but then I reminded them of how little money bake sales actually take in and the problems we’d face with administration if we started. Then I started asking questions to get them to think deeper. 

These are ideas they discussed with their friends: 

  • If every student paid $1 for a donut and you had expenses of 50 cents, you’d only get 50 cents plus someone would have to do all the work, get the stuff, get approval from the principals, and someone would get in trouble for too much sugar. (They might be talking about me)
  • If every student simply donated $1, some might not participate because they weren’t getting something right away. 
  • If someone organized petitions, maybe they could get the district to increase funding for next year. This would be good for those students coming back, but not the 8th graders.
  • If students started donating books, it might help. But then the books would take more work because they’d fall apart faster. And if the district thought kids could raise their own funds, they’d stop giving libraries money.
  • Maybe if parents were involved, they’d donate. But lots of parents are losing their jobs, and right now they are deciding which schools to send their students to next year (open enrollment) so if they thought the library didn’t have enough books, they might choose another school.
  • If the students raised the funds, they’d want to participate more in choosing the books. Then the district funds could go to the stuff the teachers need.

I thought these were interesting discussion points and show that the students are aware of bigger issues. On LM_NET in the past we have discussed whether the librarians should hold fundraisers like coffee shops, creating cookbooks (I did it), hosting events, wrapping gifts during the holidays for tips, etc. 

Many librarians respond that they refuse to raise funds because then the district decreases the budget in the future. I have only received $15 per student twice in my time in this district. The rest of the time the funding has been at $6 or $7.50. This year a portion came out of our funds before we could touch them to contribute to electronic databases. I’m thankful we had any money. I hear from librarians all over the country with absolutely nothing provided to them. They raise all their funds.

When you examine the annual SLJ average costs of books, it can be very disheartening. I have added far more books to the library through my own funds. Even last week I visited a Scholastic warehouse to buy $50 in paperbacks the students HAD TO HAVE. I review a huge number of books so my students benefit from "helping" me with this. Still, they need more.

Maybe we can form Friends groups to address issues like these and many more.  I spoke to the Friends of Libraries (FOLUSA) group during ALA Midwinter exhibits last year and they told me something very sad. When they exhibited and presented at AASL in Reno, they had record numbers of school librarians excitedly picking up the materials and planning to form groups. How many actually did? NONE! Not one! Not a single school librarian followed through with their good intentions when they returned home.

FOLUSA has become part of the ALTAFF group of ALA now but they still have excellent fact sheets for you to download. Maybe these will be the tipping point to your beginning a friends group. 

Tell me what you think. Should the librarian go out and bring in more funds or should we just settle for less? In many ways I am grateful that my students want more books than we have. Complacency is an evil when it comes to collection development.


  1. Wow! What a catch-22. So I have to know: what did the kids decide in the end?

  2. Teresa Hartman says:

    An alternative to the school librarians doing the fundraising – partner up with another library in your town. We do that here in Omaha. I work at the McGoogan Library of Medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and a team of our staff do fundraisers all year to raise money for the Fontenelle Elementary School. Wrapping gifts for tips – we have done that; donated books offered for monetary donations (can’t call it a book ‘sale’, but similar) – yes, we still do that. Our most successful effort is the McGoogan Mugs at winter holiday time. We buy seasonal themed coffee mugs the year before on sale, gather wrapping materials and ribbon along with biscotti and hot cocoa packets, and offer them for donations. We love doing this – it is our community support effort of choice. Mary Helms, Associate Director, leads the team each year, and assists the school librarian by processing the purchased books. Keep seeking opportunities – you never know where partnerships turn up.

  3. Great ideas, Teresa! I love my coffee mugs. I provide real mugs at school for teachers to use instead of styrofoam or paper. I can see us having fun next year with these. Thanks. I’m off to contact another library near here.