Sunday, November 7, 2010

Making lemonade and filling shelves....

At the start of the 2009-2010 school year, the district opened a new high school with a beautiful new library and many empty shelves--ok, almost all of them were empty-- and no budget (thanks, California budget-meisters). However, with determination, hard work, and luck, almost anything can happen. I set a goal of 5,000 books. Not five-thousand dollars, but five-thousand books. $5,000 will not purchase even 1,000 new high school books, even if they are all paperbacks.

My boss was dubious-- this was my only goal for the year, and he saw it as a bit suicidal to my career. It did look suicidal, and honestly, there were a few moments when I wondered about my sanity. However, I felt it could be done and outlined for him how it could be achieved...5,000 high school books, no budget. Memo to self-- don't put this kind of brash over-confidence in an email. He forwarded it to the superintendent, who forwarded it to the Board of Education.

There was no going back now. So, for starters, I contacted a reporter I've known for years, who wrote a positive story when we opened our first high school-- yikes-- twenty years ago. He remembered clearly that empty library, with room for 30,000 volumes and 4,000 books sitting forlornly on the shelves. And yes, that library now has around 33,000 books for student use, in addition to databases and periodicals.

That reporter wrote a story about this new high school library that was published in the local newspaper, and the phone started ringing.

Long story short, we did it. Not me-- there was no "I" in this achievement, it was the "we" of several communities of caring parents, administrators, teachers, library staff, district office employees, library book sales reps, the public library Friends group, the Parent/Teacher associations, and students. Even the bad economy helped, oddly enough. By the end of the school year, there were over 6,000 books on the new, shiny library shelves.

Now, the kicker-- we opened TWO new school libraries that year, this high school library and a middle school library. I set the same 5,000 book goal for this middle school library. This is now a total of 10,000 books, no budget, if you're following the math on this story. However, the middle school library had approximately 2,400 books already purchased, because this school had been in place on another campus for a year. Same goal, though-- 5,000 books on the shelves. Only 2,600 to go. Still no budget.

And we did it.

Is this the solution in a world with slashed budgets and high needs? Absolutely not. I cannot emphasize that enough. These library collections are short on current print reference materials, non-fiction and contemporary fiction. This is not an on-going solution to providing library resources, either-- it does not allow the selection and purchase of materials to meet specific curricular needs.

Further, this zero book budget does not reflect the budget for digital research databases for student use, resources that are essential for students in the twenty-first century. The district recognizes this need and allocated scarce dollars for this purpose. People will donate good books, but they won't donate databases.

By the start of the 2010-11 school year, the new high school library had over 10,000 books, and the middle school has almost 5,700.

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