28 November 2011

Never Underestimate the Power of Zero

I have a lot of librarian friends on Facebook. I also get various updates from the American Library Association. Plus, I'm a librarian so I like finding information on what fellow librarians are up to. Thanks to the availability of information and news on the internet I can keep updated on what's going on in the library world outside of Uganda. As far as I can tell, libraries in the US are continuing to struggle with budget cuts and how to do more with less.

I'm no expert on budgets, but I was the Acquisitions Coordinator at the North Park University Library before I attended graduate school. I was responsible for ordering all the books for the library and I learned a lot about budgets, at the least the collection development part. Currently, I work in a very small college without a budget for the library. Trust me, you learn a lot about budgets when you don't have one. And, admittedly, sometimes when I see status updates about library budget cuts on Facebook I want to say: At least you still have a budget!

I can ask for some office supplies from the college but that's about it. No budget for new books. No budget for other supplies. Just a few things here or there. (And obviously there is a budget to pay staff.)

But, anyway, today I'm using this space to share my thoughts on how to run a library without a budget. Because, let's face it, a blog post gives a lot more space for ranting than a Facebook status. :)

Here are some tips and things I've learned:
  • Never say no. Friends from the US have mailed me things like pens, pencils, post-it notes, and even a white board. Little things help so much!
  • Be willing to do anything. With few staff members, I have to do whatever has to be done (processing books, cleaning, moving tables, shelving books, shelf reading, etc.). I'm a firm believer that I can't take myself so seriously that I think: "I'm a librarian so I can't do that".
  • Use everything. For example, we are in the processing of transitioning from manual check-out to computerized checkout. We use left-over pages in the manual check-out book for pages where students can sign up for a computer time. A small piece of paper used for making a to-do list is filled completely before it's thrown away.
  • Be creative. Admittedly, this is a hard area for me. But I'm learning to try new things. For example, I don't have a printer so I create simple signs and then print them in the main office. We don't have a laminator so to protect the signs from the loads of dust here I put them in plastic sleeves designed for three-ring binders. (Yes, I bought the sleeves with my own money.) Then I tape them up! Not as flashy as what I would do in the US but it works.
  • Take advantage of free software. I spend time researching good theological study tools that are free. I've found some great websites, organizations, and software!
  • Network. I'm trying to reach out more to other librarians in Uganda. I want to learn from them...where they get their supplies, how they do their jobs, etc. 
  • Ask the main question: What do we really need?
  • Remember the goal. Along with the previous point, this seems the most important. The goal (for me) is always to educate students and help connect them to information. So I ask: Do I need a budget/money/etc to do ____? Often the answer is no. And the follow up question becomes: Ok, so how do I do ____?
So, there you have it. For those of you facing budget cuts, I know that none of this is rocket science. You can read plenty of similar tips online, I'm sure. This is just my two shillings (ahem, cents). But know that, really, you can do more with less than you think you can.

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