On the Merits of Being Cheap or, DIY-BRARIANSHIP

With the turning of the seasons comes many things. Flowers. An easing of our seasonal depression. The smell of B.O. permeating the high school library. Nature is beautiful in its cycles.

For me, it also brings April 7th, and the need to have written a second article, full of pith and wit and anecdotal wisdom.

And for this, we turn to Dominic.

Actual picture of me and Dominic.

Dominic: “You know I’m gonna graduate next year, right? Eventually you’re going to have to come up with your own ideas.”

Me: “That’s future-me’s problem. Whatcha got for me.”

Dominic: “Well. You could talk about how much you like spending money.”

And this, I will admit, is where the flaw in asking a student to write your professional article for you come to light. Because dear librarians, I hate spending money.


I am cheap. I am cheap and I log every professional penny I spend religiously, and then I get aggravated when it differs from the account statements that our accounting guy sends me by 6 dollars because I DIDN’T SPEND THOSE SIX DOLLARS, MARK!*

(*I probably did spend those six dollars. Sorry, Mark.)

To be fair, Dominic is half right. I spend my book budget freely and happily. I pop things on the NEW BOOKS shelf like it’s my job. (Which, arguably, it is.) In contrast, my programming budget is a small, carefully guarded horde that I wince every time I have to pull from. My supplies budget is shared with my professional memberships fund, and I carefully weigh every dime each year. How small can I cut this tape to still be effective? Do I need more pens for the cup or will the floor pencils be enough? How many times can I reuse this bulletin board paper before someone asks what metallic gold has to do with Women’s History Month?

But cheapness is the mother of diy-invention. So here are some things I didn’t spend (a lot of) money on this year. And if any of them sound good to you, take them, just as I took most of them from other librarians.

Owl on the Prowl

Our school mascot is an owl and years ago, someone donated several dozen owl statues to the school. (It’s about as weird as it sounds.) They’ve been living in a display cabinet ever since. So I stole one. FOR (LIBRARY) SCIENCE!

Marty falls into the “so ugly it’s cute” category and I am in love with him.

We had the kids name the owl (Marty, in honor of a teacher they really like) and then we proceeded to hide Marty around the library in a different spot each day. Bring a selfie of you with Marty to the desk and get a piece of candy.

And if in finding Marty you discover we have a DVD section? Or that the school publications are on that shelf? Or the alumni collection? What are you saying, imaginary student, that I somehow tricked you into navigating the library? Nonsense. Like librarians think about stuff like that. Please.

Alumni Advice

The pole says “You Got This” but it’s hard to see because it’s a pole.

Take: a bunch of old postcards that Development had in a closet. Add: an alumni event that is already on the calendar, and ask those alumni to write advice for current students. Then: post them up with some words of affirmation and ask seniors to add their own.

Development loves it, the alums love it, and the kids get to think about a time when they’ll be out of high school and the physics test coming up is in their rear view mirror. We’ve collected over 50 and are going to put them up again for freshmen orientation.

Birthday Candy

Buy one giant bag of Dum-Dums. Hey, it’s your birthday? Come to the library and get a lollipop. Because the library is a place of positive associations (and sugar.)

Candy Jar

Yes, a lot of my stuff involves candy. Don’t judge; candy wins hearts and minds. Fill a jar with an unknown amount of candy. Charge a dollar for two guesses as to the number; closest or spot on wins the whole thing. All proceeds went to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library because I am nothing if not on brand and the woman is a living saint, fight me.

Magnetic Poetry

Did you know that boxes of those little strips of magnetized words cost around $20 a pop? For basically the same price, get some magnetic, printable paper, add some words, throw in some custom ones about your school, and put them on the side of a bookcase. Instant magnetic poetry wall and look at you creating a display for National Poetry Month without having to be a poet.

“Anakin, you’re breaking my cart!”

Bonus: You’ll have enough of those magnetic sheets leftover to create nerdy book carts that amuse you and only you.

Mobile Bulletin Board Command Station

I have a cart I inherited that is giant, yellow, and has no walls so it’s only use to me had been to take up space. Add four dollars in rope and a bunch of YouTube knot tying tutorials, and we now have a place to store all my bulletin board paper that allows me to move, measure, cut, and hang without having to sit on the floor and look like a professional gift wrapper who’s having a really bad day.

Positive Affirmation Board

Wrap a door that doesn’t move much in bulletin board paper. Add some post-its with nice things on the door and cut out some letters for signage. Instant Affirmations (and a good collaboration with Guidance.)

Things It Is Worth It to Spend Money On

Cricut: I love this thing so much I bought it with my own money and I would buy it again in a heartbeat. Quick displays are much easier when you have one and if this whole librarian thing falls through, I’ll be able to sell custom stickers on Etsy.

Cardstock: The sound of scissors making the first cut in a fresh piece of cardstock is my ASMR.

Fairylights: Kids are like moths. They are drawn to lights.

Glue stick pens: I have only recently learned these are a thing and I’m mad it took me this many years to find out.

Therapy Dogs: I can’t DIY a dog. The results would be monstrous.

At the end of the day, I’m incredibly lucky and privileged to even have a Programming and Supplies budget in the first place, let alone one that I get to bogart until I absolutely need to spend it. I never want to take that privilege for granted or forget that it exists. For me, that looks like doing as much as I can for as little as possible and doing my best to produce as little waste or glut as possible. If that money can be put towards a good pencil sharpener when ours finally dies, or a dog visit during finals week, or a few more chess sets, then that’s a good way to spend those dollars.

Not those six dollars, though. Those I take no ownership over.

3 thoughts on “On the Merits of Being Cheap or, DIY-BRARIANSHIP

  1. “Do I need more pens for the cup or will the floor pencils be enough?” I feel so seen! Your article had me laughing out loud, as well as writing down some great new ideas (especially because our mascot is also an owl). Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *