Making Lemonade

Buffy Hamilton recently emialed a bunch of us to ask if any of us

“… have been in a situation in which they had little or no funding and rather than feeling sorry for themselves and simply complaining about how unfair it all is, instead found ways to obtain funding and make lemonade out of a very sour situation.”

I thought you guys might be interested in my response to her for how I’m dealing with my own funding shortfalls. …

Unfortunately, I haven’t found funding, I just make do with what I have the same as everybody else.

Our district funds are about $10 per student; however, were were told we could only spend half of the funds before December.  We’ll find out (soon I hope) if we are allowed to spend the rest.  For me, that means only around $3000 for the year (we have just over 300 students this year) and all of my funds were spent with the magazine subscription renewals and buying ink for the printer & copier to last the year.  Thankfully, paper comes out of classroom supplies (and the art teacher donated 6 cases she found stashed in her closet from the previous art teacher’s hoarding) so I don’t have to worry about budgeting for paper.

I also charge fines and have about $500 in my local account.  This is my emergency fund and what I use to purchase a copy of each of the SC Young Adult Book Award Nominees in February.

Ways I have been coping (and I’m sure its nothing others aren’t also doing):

Reduce existing costs:

  • I didn’t renew a subscription database and cut “expensive” magazines (for example, cut People Magazine which was over $100 and got 6 other subscriptions instead for LESS than what People cost!)
  • I also do not purchase many non-fiction titles unless they are student requests or “hot” titles.
  • I hate to say it, but I no longer purchase solely from Follet or buy full price books.  I buy all of my titles from Books-a-Million’s bargain table.  Yes, it means my kids have to wait for new titles, but sorry, I don’t have the funds.  Will have to find alternatives since BAM hasn’t been putting new teen books out for a while now.  My only Follet order will be the SCYABA books.
  • I only replace toner cartridges for the library’s networked printer once a quarter.  If it runs out before then, tough.  Means students and teachers have to think about what they print. BTW, at least half of my 35 teachers have their computer’s networked to my printer and print out interims.  I should mention that we don’t charge for copies or printing as a previous principal did away with charging since we are a Title 1 school.  Only school related materials may be printed.
  • I only replace the library copier cartridge once a semester.  The copier policy is “only research materials may be copied.”

Find free alternatives:

  • Thankfully, our state has DISCUS ( that provides free research databases for SC residents.
  • The state also picked up the cost of SCOIS (our career/college database) for high schools.
  • Use online Web 2.0 tools where I can (and when they aren’t blocked!)  LOVE Google everything!
  • We’re using an Edublog account for a high school book club blog – and instead of buying class sets of books we have genre/theme meetings where students choose their own books from what we (or they) have available.
  • I volunteered for the SC Young Adult Book Award Committee and a perk is we get to keep some of the free titles used for review.
  • Tip: Register for Teen Read Week as soon as registration opens (early spring).  I’ve gotten a handful of free books this way!

Request donations/Begging:

  • I donate a LOT of titles to the library (a couple hundred or more a year).  Almost always they are the new YA books that the kids are vying for (as well as myself.)  Yes, expensive for me, but I write off on my (and my parents) taxes and it makes me feel good to be able to purchase the books the kids are begging me to get.
  • I ask teacher, students, and parents to donate books – especially new books (recent copyright dates).  I don’t get as many as I’d like, but I get a few.
  • I beg my principal to let me have first crack at any leftover technology or supply money at the end of the year.

Borrow from the public library and other schools:

  • The librarian at the public library has a student here and she volunteers for me once a week.  If they have a book a student wants, she’ll bring it in for them (if they have a library card) or to me and I’ll create a temporary record and check it out to the student.  Students return the book to me and she takes them back when she comes to me that week.  Our district doesn’t have a true ILL program so we make do with what we can.
  • I also ILL professional materials from the public library all the time.  No way can I afford the prices!
  • We borrow from other school libraries in the district.  Not as easy to do as books aren’t allowed to be transported via our district courier.  We have to make arrangements to get items from and back to schools.

Traditional  methods to raise funds don’t work here.  The only fundraisers that work are ones involving candy/food.  I want to try a book fundraiser from Book Warehouse, but am hesitant as we have so few students and even fewer parents/community members come to the school.  I’m willing to write grants and things like Donors Choice, but finding the time to do so in my already hectic schedule is tough.  Yes, an excuse I know!

Hope this helps.  By now you know I can’t be concise!  I tend to write/say too much.


UPDATE:  Since sending this to her, I received approval to spend $1200 more of my district funds (YAY!) and we were told that the the courier would now accept our library books so we can now ILL between schools!  However, on the sad side, once again Arts funding (ie: ETV, StreamlineSC, OnePlaceSC) and DISCUS are up on the chopping block by our legislature.  Sigh.  When will they understand how vital these services are for public education?

Flickrcc: “Lemon on Grass” by Cillian Storm

Internet: Part 2 – evaluating sources

If you read Internet: Part 1 – Please Define, the topic under discussion was what do teachers mean when they refer to the Internet in regards to student research. I posited that the problem we have is with semantics – that subscription databases/DISCUS are NOT “Internet” resources. On the SCASL Ning, after giving my opinion of how teachers and students should perceive subscription databases, I then posed the question concerning how will we be evaluating the evolving nature of web resources as applied to student research:

“… now that many periodical resources are moving to limited print runs and/or to solely online subscriptions, how will we define them? Internet, free web, subscription databases…? Do (or can) blog entries be considered valid sources – do we simply apply the web evaluation methods for other websites to blogs, too?”

Are blogs credible/reliable reference sources?

Last year I had students performing research for their English IV papers who were citing blogs as credible sources. My initial reaction was – not acceptable! I’d like to point out that I hadn’t yet jumped on the Web 2.0/blogging bandwagon and didn’t REALLY know anything about blogs. The only blogs I had heard of were celebrity or rant blogs. So, being the smart librarian I am, I challenged the students to apply the same web evaluation guidelines (credibility, accuracy, reliability, relevance, date, sources, scope/purpose) to the blogs, that we do for all web pages – fully expecting blogs to fail the test. To my surprise, we found some of them to actually be acceptable – along with many that weren’t acceptable.

Subscription/Newspaper Databases

Recently a teacher assignment required students to find a current (last two weeks) newspaper article that related to their subject and write a summary. They had to provide a copy of the article with their summary. The teacher wanted them to use print newspapers. The problem was the library no longer subscribes to print newspapers. For one thing, no one ever read the daily paper. For another, I could count on one hand the number of times a student asked for the newspapers last year. So the newspaper subscriptions were a casualty of the library budget cuts I had to absorb this year.

Since we didn’t have newspapers for the students to use, and knowing DISCUS had the electronic database Newsbank, which, at the time, included The State Newspaper and a couple of other South Carolina newspapers, I showed students how they could access articles from there to use for the assignment. Some other bright students simply went to The State Newspaper website and found articles to use. You’d think the students would be praised for being resourceful in order to complete the assignment. NOPE. The teacher didn’t accept them because they weren’t what she asked for…WHAT!!! The explanation given by the teacher was that the articles were from the Internet and not from a print source. Students weren’t to use the Internet for the assignment.

(Picture me banging head on desk)

How could they not be what was asked for? – the articles used were all the same, whether they came from the print newspaper, the database, or the newspaper’s OWN website. They had all the same words, written by the same author, published the same day … *sigh*

If newspapers are no longer printed on paper, are they still newspapers?

Which brings me to print newspapers that have ceased print circulation and moved solely to online publications. I’ve read that many small town/city newspapers have already or are considering moving to online only publications. For educational purposes, are these online publications no longer acceptable sources because they are “Internet” sources? Are teachers going to limit the number of online newspapers students can use in research simply because they are online? You can also pose this question as it applies to print magazines and journals that publish their content on their websites as well as in print. And don’t forget about ‘zines – magazines that are only published online. Are all of these sources usable for student research?

Bottom line, evaluate!

In a perfect world, teachers wouldn’t need to specify number and type of reference sources for their research assignments. Students would naturally choose a wide variety of acceptable and evaluated sources (print, subscription databases, websites.) Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world; therefore, students (and many teachers) need to be taught how to evaluate materials, regardless of format. As the teacher librarian, that’s where I come in – it’s my job to teach these skills to my students and teachers!