Stretching Your School Library Budget

School Librarians wear many, many hats throughout the course of their day. When we go through our MSLIS programs and our trainings, we learn about some of those hats. Teacher, collaborator, administrator, tech support, crisis manager, collection developer, etc. We prepare for it. We train for it. We’re ready (ish :). In addition to all of that, we’re also purchasers, accountable for responsibly spending our library budgets. Whether our budget comes from the district itself, PTO groups, donations, fundraising, our own pockets (IT REALLY SHOULD NOT BE COMING FROM YOUR OWN POCKET!), or some combination thereof, it can be very difficult to decide where to allocate our increasingly limited funds, while still providing excellent library services to our students.

Here are some suggestions for how to stretch your budget. What kinds of budget saving hacks do you use?

Stretching the Budget:

  1. Use book tape instead of clear label protectors
    1. This year I’ve discovered the joy of using book tape, instead of clear label protectors. I like that you can buy the tape in a variety of widths, and that you can use one wide piece right down the spine to cover all the labels in one go.
    2. Extra tip for fans of using label protectors: Follett sends extra label protectors with your order, so if you purchase from titlewave, you usually end up with rolls of extra labels!
  2. Avoid paying for book processing (Not always a viable option, when you dont have an assistant)
    1. I personally prefer to process books in-house, whenever possible. Our library assistant does most of it, but I also have student assistants who are capable of putting labels and book covers on. We save money by purchasing books as cheaply as possible & then processing ourselves.
    2. If processing/cataloging in-house isn’t an option, buy from vendors that don’t charge extra for book processing.
  3. Buy paperbacks of trending books
    1. When buying duplicates of currently trending books, I recommend purchasing the duplicates in paperback. Not all books need to be durable enough to last forever. If its trendy now, but isn’t likely to be popular enough to need multiple copies in a few years, I buy 1 or 2 in hardcover and the rest in paperback. For example, I knew that with the movie release, Crazy Rich Asians would be in demand this year, but probably won’t maintain this level of popularity. So I purchased several in paperback.
    2. I know a few years down the line I’ll need to weed no longer trending books out of the collection (I’m looking at you, 7 hardcover copies of Twilight), and it won’t be as painful, knowing I only paid the paperback price.
  4. Buy books gently used
    1. Ok this is something I just started this year, and I have NO regrets! I met with some vendors and put together lists of hardcover nonfiction books I wanted to add to the collection. The costs were SO expensive, with each nonfiction book costing about $40 (<200 pages). Even if I could spend $1000, it would only be about 25 books!
    2. I went on amazon and price checked some of the same titles. I realized I could find gently used copies for extremely lower costs. For example, one of the books that was $40 from the vendor, was available on a third party seller on amazon for under $10.
    3. I stuck to the “very good” or “like new” ratings, and chose copies from sellers with great reviews and ratings. I was able to get 100 books instead of just 25. And, as you can see in the picture below, they really do look just like new.
    4. Screen Shot 2018-11-12 at 5.09.36 PM
  5. Work with a sales person instead of ordering online
    1. I purchased some furniture from Demco last year, and instead of just putting items in the shopping cart on the website, and ordering that way, I called demco and worked with a sales person. She ended up working with me to create a quote, and she included discounts and price drops that were not available on the website.
  6. Solicit donations
    1. Want to add games, puzzles, or cards? Send out requests for donations to teachers and the community. These kinds of things do not need to be brand new. Hand me downs are FINE! You’ll be surprised at what kinds of things people will dig out of their garage storage to give you. Puzzles, knitting supplies, various crafts, Lego their kids no longer play with, board games, decks of cards, etc
  7. Make your own giant coloring sheets
    1. Community coloring sheets are fantastic to have in your library. They can encourage mind-fullness, social collaboration, and more, among students. They encourage students to unplug from devices and work with each other on a common goal. But at about $15 per sheet, they can get costly. You can make them yourself, fairly easily. ESPECIALLY if you have student assistants or helpers you can put to work on them.
    2. They look like incredible, colorful, graffiti and they did not cost me anything but time. I’m posting a blog entry next week with full description of how I create my own giant coloring posters without a poster printer!
    3. Screen Shot 2018-11-12 at 6.11.00 PM
  8. Print adult coloring sheets for free online
    1. Want to offer your students a coloring station? Don’t purchase them! Just search google for open source coloring sheets and print them for free at school. (Filter for Usage rights: Free to use, share, or modify)
  9. Don’t pay for poster printing
    1. Use or another similar service (despite it’s ridiculous name, rasterbator is the best one I’ve yet found, in terms of quality end product) to blow images up – rather than paying for poster printing. Yes it is more work, but it looks great and is free! You just upload an image and the website blows the image up and spread it across multiple standard printer pages. It provides you with the blown up image in a printable pdf. You then have to tape the pages together, but once you do, you cannot tell they weren’t printed on a poster printer. The cool thing is you can set the exact size you want.
    2. Just be sure that the image you upload is as high resolution as possible, so the blown up image is clear and not pixelated.
    3. In the pictures below you can see how I used to print my genre signs as 11inx23inch. You can’t even tell that the poster is stitched together from three separate pages. They just look like they were printed on a poster printer!
    4. Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 4.26.12 PM.png
    5. Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 4.27.05 PM.png
  10. Design your own signage
    1. Signage is very costly, and often just not what you are looking for. Use free platforms like or to create your own custom signage.
    2. Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 4.32.05 PM.png
  11. Design your own bookmarks
    1. I find it very difficult to spend budget money on things like bookmarks. Last year I purchased two reams of card stock and started designing and printing my own.
    2. Good opportunity to include your branding or customized info!
    3. And they don’t have to take that long to make. has a bookmark template that has hundreds of free, ready made styles and layouts.
  12. Haggle with database providers
    1. Just because a vendor SAYS that a database costs “x” dollars does not mean it really costs that much. Make sure you are haggling with them on cost, because I’ve found that they generally DO have some ability to work with you on price.
  13. Work with consortiums and your IUs (intermediate units)
    1. Being part of a consortium, and working with your local IU, is a great way to get discounts and better pricing from vendors.
  14. Laminate art paper to create cheap “whiteboards.”
    1. When paper is laminated you can write and erase on it using dry erase markers. Voila cheap whiteboard-like material!
  15. Say yes to vendors who want to set up meetings…
    1. A lot of them will give you like 5 free books when they come for the visit. You’re under no obligation to order from the vendor just because you had a meeting and accepted complimentary books 🙂
  16. Save on genre stickers
    1. Buy colored circles or rectangles and cut them in half – makes the box of labels go twice as far.
    2. Also, save on series stickers by making them yourself. If you have sheets of spine labels, you can make a template in Word that will let you use those same labels to for self made series labels!
    3. Screen Shot 2018-11-08 at 5.29.18 PM
  17. Ask other departments if they would split costs of things with you.
    1. Example, if your English dept. loves a database that you’re having trouble fitting in the budget, offer to split the cost with them. Part of making your budget stretch means being ruthless about asking for money from people. It can feel awkward the first couple of times but you’d be surprised at how often you can get people to contribute.
  18. Bonus Tip: Have a binder full of “wish list” items.
    1. You may not believe this, but it is not at all uncommon for librarians to come into unexpected money, sometimes very suddenly, and which often needs to be spent with very little notice. It is VERY helpful if you have a binder of wish list items ready, just in case! You never want to be unprepared if someone asks you what the library needs!
    2. Example: Last year I was told that the class of 2017 had over-fundraised and had funds they were looking to donate to the school. I was asked “does the library need anything?” “Absolutely!” I responded, while reaching behind my desk to grab my “just in case” binder, chock full of wish list items. Moral of the story? Our library was gifted with furniture to create a brand new lounge area, and I’ve since updated my wish list binder with the next bunch of dream items. You know, just in case! 🙂
      1. Screen Shot 2018-11-12 at 7.24.46 PM.png

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