February 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Sprucing Up My School Library for Less than $600

One built a whiteboard tabletop out of shower board. Another painted a wall to create an easy green screen. Librarians dream up ingenious ways to save money and get creative in their libraries, and they’re more than willing to share ideas. You, too, can be part of this thrifty crowdsourced design movement, inspired in part by Jennifer LaGarde and Mark Samberg, who hosted the presentation “MacGyver Librarianship: The Art of Doing More with Less” (#macgyverlibrarianship) at the NCTIES ed tech conference in March in Raleigh, NC. After attending, I was inspired to transform my school library with a little help from our school’s Interior Design II class.

the power of paint


Katy_pic_2Our library had institution white walls, so we decided to paint our drop ceilings to pull in more color. The design class contacted our county’s paint department and discovered that it had lots of white that it would tint and donate to our remodel for free. The class then worked with us to create a color palette and vision for the library that would fit with our youthful clients. Using donorschoose.org, we started a drive to add more fun elements to the library. Within weeks, the project was fully funded, with $1,189 dollars. We used that to buy pillows, bean bag chairs, and rugs. Employing leftover donated paint, we jazzed up our old card catalog stand and used it to store maker space supplies. TOTAL SPENT: $0

A Circ desk that rules


katy_pic_3For a fun focal point, we tiled our circulation desk with rulers we had transformed with our donated paint. We ordered the rulers through our Ingles Tools for Schools program and were able to get more than 500 of them for free. For this project, we bought paint brushes and construction adhesive to glue the rulers to the old desk. TOTAL SPENT: $25


library carts

The quickest update was spray-painting four of our dull gray library carts. We chose Valspar’s Golden Maize and Nautical to add a splash of color. Each cart needed between two and three cans of paint at four to five dollars per can.TOTAL SPENT: $56

fun with fabric

darty_pic_5katy_chairsOur biggest expense was purchasing fabric to reupholster our dated furniture. The wood frames were sanded, primed, and painted gray by our carpentry and interior design class. Our library assistant is also a master tailor, and he reupholstered all five fabric chairs and four couches with updated fabrics in our katy_end tablesnew color palette.

Our design class enlivened our five end tables by painting them gray and using extra copies of past school yearbooks to collage the tops. We covered them with a thick layer of Mod Podge, an all-in-one glue sealer and finish used for decoupage, to protect the photos. We purchased sandpaper sponges ($10.97), primer ($19.98), Mod Podge ($19.98), and fabric ($374.19). The local fabric and craft stores also gave us a school discount! TOTAL SPENT: $425.12

name that masterpiece


art chairs_monet, munchLastly, the interior design class freshened up our wooden tables with the same gray paint as the chairs, and we painted the tabletops with a tinted oil-based paint that was donated by the paint department. To make our space more flexible, our janitor gave us casters from broken
computer chairs that we attached to the bottoms of the table legs. We bought additional casters from the hardware store for $100 and added the wheels to all the tables in the library. Now it’s a breeze to change the space for art chairs_michelangel, kahlodifferent events happening in the library. We also painted our plain wooden bookshelves with blue chalkboard paint ($25.96). Our Art II students painted wooden computer chairs with their renditions of famous works of art as a final project for free.The recreated imagery from the “Water Lilies” series by Claude Monet and The Scream by Edvard Munch (above) as well as The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo and Still Life with Parrot and Fruit by Frida Kahlo (right).

TOTAL SPENT: $125.96



darty_head_shotKatie Darty is a librarian at North Buncombe High School in Weaverville, NC. She transformed her library with the help of fellow librarian Cindy Mackiernan, assistant Tony Sykes, and interior design teacher Stephanie Griffin. She lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband, Josh, and their daughter, Charlie. Contact her at anna.darty@bcsemail.org, or follow her library on Twitter.

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  1. Barbara Ledford says:

    How exciting to see the hard work of our best and brightest on display! I love going into our updated media center. It is inviting and it breaks all of the old school rules for a library. Keep the fresh ideas coming!

  2. I don’t mean to be a nitpicker, but money from a donor drive seems like spent money. While you did not have to allocate the entire amount spent on the project from your budget, you used the raised donation drive money to buy things for the transformation. It makes the article misleading because it was not just $600 spent, but closer to $1800, plus paint donation which is usually a large expense.

  3. John Parker says:

    Congratulations, Katie!
    What a lot of people don’t know is that this article only depicts a portion of the shift that has occurred in the media center. The program at NBHS has undergone a radical change and is still shifting. Your team was willing to do what was necessary to connect your staff and students, and you involved them in it from the beginning.

    Wishing you continued success,


  4. Tammy Parker says:

    Congratulations!!! It looks so awesome. As a librarian, it is so hard to break traditional, you know, like the Dewey system created well before my great-great grandmother was ever born. As a fellow librarian, and someone who loves home improvement shows, I think what you have done is incredible. Also, I like the fact that you included the students. I know they feel more a part of the library already. Again, outstanding job!!!

  5. Frances Wildsmith says:

    The media center is so inviiting! I especially loved the chairs painted by the art students!

  6. Love what you did, but agree with M that the donor money should be included in the cost of the project. The painted chairs by the art class are fantastic. I must note that my school has had issues from time to time with bean bag chairs becoming a medium for lice to spread – be careful!

  7. Julia Nations says:

    I’m wondering if you encountered opposition to the projects. In our district, changes to facilities and furniture require a lengthy and discouraging approval process.

  8. Caitlin Ramirez says:

    I love that students were included in this process! It must give them a sense of pride and ownership as well as an opportunity to use their developing skill sets for an authentic purpose.

  9. Love this!! Thank you for your passion! I do have a question…I have ideas as well, but I always run into the “Not allowed” issues. I am not allowed to paint walls, not allowed to paint a mural on the original door to help showcase it, not allowed, not allowed, not allowed. We have a grievance filing craziness here if we do anything that custodians or maintenance are “supposed” to do. Any suggestions on how to get permission? To bypass that, I have used vinyl lettering on my walls which has added a lot to the whiteness.

  10. Great ideas! I will share this with The BookCase Project. https://www.facebook.com/The-BookCase-Project-201733486549165

  11. Katie Darty says:

    Julia & Nadine,

    Our district is similar as far as painting and getting permission. Because it became a “student led project” using our Interior Design class, I was able to get around a lot of red tape as far as what I could and couldn’t paint and getting permission (of course I did get permission from my Principal for the project). Hopefully that might work for both of you.

  12. Diane Castellucci says:

    A lesson for all of us. Kudos to NBHS Librarian Katie Darty for her BlackHawk pride.

  13. Robert Frisby says:

    Congratulations, Katie!
    The “New” Library environment contains welcoming conditions and needs to be an attractive place that people want to enter and use. It should also encourage interactions that enable people to brainstorm and work together. Well done.

  14. Colette Eason says:

    One pint of Valspar, or Rustoleum will cover 10 times that of a spray can, and much better coverage as well. I also use the throw away sponge brushes from the dollar store, much cheaper, and goes much farther. Great job! love the student painted chairs.

  15. Cindy Dinneen says:

    Amazing transformation! I appreciate your creativity.

    I’m wondering if your tables where solid wood or did they have a formica top? I’m interested in painting my Formica topped tables and was concerned about what type of paint to use.

    • Shelia Bickle says:

      Hello! I wanted to share with you that you can paint Formica. I’m the weird one in my circle that has painted her formica countertops (in my own kitchen at home) in two different houses.

      I used a paint that was designed to be on concrete floors. When I was talking to the guy in the paint store, we both decided that if the paint was designed for something that busy and hardworking, it would likely be good for my counters. I would not be able to cut on them, and had to be careful to not put hot cookware straight on it.

      AND I did a faux granite finish. Sounds fancy, but in reality it was so very easy. You need a base color and 2 other accent colors. (I did a high gloss black, medium gray and light gray.) You roll on your base color, and let it dry until tacky. Apply color #2 with a sponge randomly, and let dry until tacky. Apply color #3 with a sponge randomly, and let dry until tacky. ASSESS. If you like it, let it dry. IF you want to mute the color, Apply color #1 with a sponge randomly. Let dry and cure before use. You can then seal with a spray polyurethane sealant, if you want.

      I had friends over to a painting party to do one counter top. So this is definitely something that students can help with! (And it would go fairly fast with lots of helpers!

      Good luck!

  16. Sydney Schatz says:

    Love this!!! What a great idea and the kids did an awesome job!

  17. Hello! I’m curious where you got the blue and cream-colored rug pictured in the Fun With Fabric section of your post. I am in search of a good area rug to place in our teen space after renovations.

    • Katie Darty says:


      At that time, it was available through Amazon.com and we purchased it using Donorschoose.org. Not sure what the price is now or if it is still available. I LOVE that rug but it does shed like crazy.