Not Just Classroom Teachers, School Librarians Spend Their Own Money on Supplies

Librarians are spending hundreds, if not thousands, of their own dollars to better serve their students.

It’s the season of news stories and social media posts about classroom teachers spending their own money on school supplies, but they aren’t the only educators using their paychecks to better serve the students. SLJ asked two Facebook groups of school librarians if they were spending their own money and, if so, how much and on what?

The responses keep coming, and while it’s certainly not a scientific poll, we can tell you this: Across the country, librarians, teacher librarians, and library media specialists are spending thousands of personal dollars, and it’s not just on “decorative” items, cleaning supplies, or makerspace extras. They are buying books. A lot of books. And more.

“People need to remember we serve an entire school versus a classroom of students,” wrote Andrea Trudeau, library information specialist at Shepard Middle School in Deerfield, IL.

Meridith Sandlin's cart full of
school supplies for 2017

Last year, Meridith Sandlin, teacher librarian in Janesvile, IA, posted a picture of her shopping cart on Facebook, "partially for amusement since teacher friends could totally relate, and partially for a bit of advocacy to remind friends that teacher-librarians do spend out of pocket too."

The average amount spent appears to be about $500, though a few said they spend $1,500 to $3,000 in a year. Most stretch every dollar as far as they can using discounts and scouring thrift stores, Goodwill, and used book sales. The money goes toward books, pens, paper, markers, bins, bulletin board display supplies, and STEM items.

“I have a library budget, though it’s only for books,” wrote Bonnie McBride from Fenway High School in Boston. “I make sure my library is stocked with school supplies and anything a student needs to complete assignments—construction paper, glue sticks, markers, colored pencils, notebooks, lined paper, graph paper, calculators, foam boards...oh, and sooo many pencils. Do I have to do this? No, but I want my students to know that the library is where they can always find what they need—even if it’s a protractor!”

A librarian at a K-8 private school in Washinton state buys things on her own for convenience at times and, sometimes, to make sure the right book gets to a specific child.

“It is easiest for me to have supplies like paper, pencils, pens, markers, etc. in the library rather than the hassle of having students bring them. Plus there are so many books I buy that I don't get reimbursed for because of a smaller budget, but I want the students to have the next book in the series that just came out or a book that speaks for a particular student.”

Bureaucratic Frustrations

It’s also not just librarians with a small budget, or no budget, from their districts pulling from their own paychecks. Even those who admit to generous budgets, grants, or money from a parent teacher association say that red tape, purchasing delays, and limitations send them out to get the newest release in a series or extra copies of a popular title. One K-12 librarian serving what she described as a “rural population” in Ohio just bought a set of iPads.

Sometimes librarians purchase incentive prizes and, in some cases, many items that have nothing to do with a library at all. One library is the go-to place for anything from hair ties, feminine hygiene products, and Band-Aids to wrapping paper to decorate a locker for a friend’s birthday. Then there are the decorative and comfort items that some may say are unnecessary, including pillows or chairs to make the library more welcoming and comfortable for the kids—and themselves.

“The way I see it, I spend most of my waking hours in this space, so if I can bring something to the space that makes me happy or helps me do my job better, it's worth it to me,” said Trudeau.

While some library staff reported being urged by administrators to use DonorsChoose, others are not allowed. One librarian noted that she was sure members of the community would donate items but she is not allowed to solicit donations there. Another commenter refuses to spend a dime after seeing so much waste in her district. But she is the outlier in this sampling.

Most cannot help themselves when see an opportunity to aid their students in some way.

“I just can't let my kids go without the books they want,” wrote Kristena Rudloff, library media specialist at Stillwater (OK) Junior High School, who estimates she has spent thousands over the years. “They are already missing out on the makerspace craze and many other enriching activities I see other librarians doing.

“In April, Oklahoma teachers had a statewide walkout in hopes that our legislature would fund education again as required by law," she added. "We shut down our school district for two whole weeks. When I walked out, I didn't do it for a teacher raise. All I want is some book money.”

Author Image
Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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