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All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

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EdTech Update





Budgeting for books

Must be budget time since lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions asking “how do I determine a budget for print resources in my library?”

First, nearly the entirety of my accumulated knowledge about budgeting practices, pathetic as it is, can be downloaded from the workshop handouts, “Budgeting for Mean, Lean Times.” Please use the information as you can.

For me, the quick and dirty of budgeting for print (and other things as well), has always been to establish a maintenance budget. Administrators tend to understand the wisdom of maintenance. They certainly have to do this when it comes to tuck pointing brick work, resurfacing parking lots, replacing carpeting, etc. Since a library print collection represents a major capital outlay, it too should be regarded as something that needs to be maintained.

My magic formula is simple. To determine the dollars needed to maintain a print collection you need three pieces of information:

  • Size of collection to be supported.
  • Life expectancy of the material.
  • Average cost of a book.

How do these things get determined?

The supported collection size in our district was established some years ago using old library standards (when they were more quantitative and less qualitative) and then approved by the district library advisory committee. For schools of under 500 students we maintain a collection of 10,000 volumes; for schools of 500-1000 students we maintain a collection of 12,000 volumes; and for schools over 1,000 students we maintain a collection of 14,000 volumes. Your numbers may vary, but you should have them officially recognized as viable via a district advisory committee or your building administrator. (Note that collections, if not weeded will grow to more than the “supported” size. This is not a good thing.)

For life expectancy of the material, we chose 20 years. Too long, yes. Some materials will be worn out or obsolete in 5 years. Some Newbery Award winners will last longer than any child now reading them. Again, make sure the life expectancy is validated by people who are in a position to make budget decisions.

Average cost of a book is easy. Instead of using the School Library Journal figures that come out each spring, we take a few book purchase orders, add them up and divide by the number of volumes purchased. This reflects discounts, cataloging, shipping, processing etc.

So the formula is easy. It’s just collection size X rate of replacement X average book cost. Replacement rate = 100%/number of years in the life span of material. For our books this is 5% (100% divided by 20.)

So our 10,000 volume print collections need about $7.500 each year to be maintained if the average cost of a book is $15. If this amount is not spent each and every year, the collection will either get older (if not weeded) or smaller (if weeded). I strongly recommend weeding. See the handouts and “Weed!

So how does the influx of commercial online resources impact this budget? Well, in only one way that I can see. We need to look closely at how large our supported print collections need to be. Currently at the elementary level, I don’t see a lot of print information being replaced by online resources – yet. But at the secondary level, we should look closely at how our reference and non-fiction collections are being used by our Net Genners. A small but vital print collection supplemented by good commercial online resources might better serve these kids' needs. (Or is is it, gulp, good commercial online resources that are supported by a small, vital print collection?)

I’d be delighted to hear from other librarians if they have found an effective means of determining ways to justify their library’s book budget.


A gift idea

cal1.jpgAn number of years ago, my family (mother, brother, sister, aunts, etc.) decided we all had about as many knicknacks, tea towels, and other junk as we needed to dust and made the vow that we would give our gift dollars to a charity in each others' names instead. It's been a good plan, although there has been some back sliding. (Thanks for the oranges, Sis.)

For the past three years I've been making "The Johnson Family Calendar" for each member of our relatively (pun intended) small group. Old scanned photos of long-gone relatives and baby pictures of my siblings and I are mixed with digital photos from family events from the past year. The calendar is not very artistic, but it is meaningful to those who receive it. Takes about a day, selecting, resizing and pasting photos into a calendar template from AppleWorks. I create PDFs of each month, take them to the local Kinkos for printing and binding - badda bing, badda boom.cal2.jpg

OK, it's not so original, but it takes me back to the days when Mom gushed over some nice handcrafted ashtray I'd made in school. 

Give it a try sometime and let me know there is a good calendar creation tool that runs on Mac OSX! 

A. Merry Christmas
B. Happy Hannukah
C. Joyous Kwanza
D. Happy Eid
E. Blessed Solstice
F. Happy Holiday
G. Season's Greetings
H. Other
Choose one (or two) of the above and know that I send it in a most heartfelt way to the readers of the Blue Skunk.  - Doug


Learning From Our Failures

If you get a moment, read Meredith’s blog entry, Technology Failures: My Brilliant Failures on her Information Wants to be Free blog.  (Meredith is the Distance Learning Librarian at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont). A couple of her “failures” center around employing Web 2.0 technologies, anticipating that her staff would be as excited about them as she was.

Believe it or not, I had started an article back in May 2004 along a similar vein – examining some projects that just didn’t work in our district and why. If one could identify common elements of failed technology implantations, perhaps one could use them to predict whether future implementations will be successful or plan strategies that will minimize the likelihood of failure. Leaving the door open, of course, for new and more inventive ways to muck things up.

From my earlier draft...


While the Mankato Schools’ tech department has a long string of technology “wins,” there are three notable “losses” that have occurred while I have been the director: the purchase and use of an early digital video editing system, the implementation of interactive television, and the attempt at creating a data-mining resource. While none of these projects was either financially or educationally catastrophic (I AM still employed), each cost the district and our department many hours of professional and technician time and decreased our credibility.

So what the hell went wrong?

Digital Video Editing (1996) At this time we had a young and ambitious video tech on staff who wanted in the worst way to replace our analog editing equipment with the latest in digital editing software. I think we laid out about $13K for a system that just never did work quite right. The tech became so frustrated (and probably tired of my questions) that she quit and the equipment sat unused. iMovie made an appearance not long after, and the rest is history. Lessons learned?

  • Don’t buy a technology that is so complicated only a single person can run it. Or cross train if you do.
  • Don’t try to fix it if it isn’t broken. Our analog system couldn’t make someone disappear in a shower of sparkles from a scene, but for about everything else it worked fine.
  • Wait for the technology to mature.

Interactive Television (1999) At the cost of about $20K (from a grant, not local dollars), we installed an interactive television hook-up in our district staff development room. Other than one university course, an after school advanced math class, and a few meetings, the equipment did not get used and we removed it after two years. We now use other ITV facilities in town for meetings when needed. Lessons learned?

  • Don’t build it and hope they will come. They won’t come. We might have had better success had we placed the set-up in a high school rather than in our annex to a high school.
  • Don’t assume that just because others use a technology, you need it too. Our smaller neighboring districts use ITV for offering classes that the single small district alone can’t provide. They use it to give high school students the chance to take college courses. Mankato doesn’t really have low incident classes because of the size of our high schools and we have several colleges within easy driving distance for kids wanting classes at that level.
  • Don’t forget to take entrenched interests into account. Offering Japanese sounds like a wonderful idea until your current world language teachers see it as competition to their own class offerings (and job security).
  • Wait for the technology to mature. Of course, I’ve been waiting for quality, easy-to-use, and reliable ITV connectivity for 15 years. It just hasn’t happened.

Data-mining (2001) We contracted with a regional tech center in Minneapolis to develop a data ware-housing, data-mining solution. About six months into the project, the tech center closed. We found another developer. He bailed after deciding his company would rather focus on online testing. Total lose of funds was about $20K and countless staff hours of planning. We have since joined with a group of schools who all use a commercial data-mining product, Sagebrush Analytics, that is supported by the (solvent, I hope) regional tech center that also supports our student information system. It’s still been a struggle, but it works to a degree. Lessons learned?

  • Don’t go it alone. Our project, while important to us, was small potatoes to the developers. We did not get priority service. If there are not many schools asking for changes or fixes, you won’t get much attention.
  • Don’t buy a product without thinking of the service and support component. Duh!
  • Figure out ways to grow a big system. We started trying to capture every test score, every intervention and every piece of student demographic data. Better to get a subset of things working well than everything badly.
  • The new project is really the assessment department's baby, not ours. We provide technical support and implementation, but not leadership.
  • Wait for the technology to mature. Even after 3 years of using the commercial Sagebrush product, we are still only part way to having a fully functioning solution.

Of course, one can’t guard against the arbitrary. Businesses fail, people quit and products are discontinued. But mabye better planning can help minimize these potential catastrophes.

In general, my rules are now:

  1. Don’t do it unless there is a genuine task that needs doing or a real problem that needs solving.
  2. Go with the tried and true and in a group.
  3. Make support as high a priority as functionality.

The older I get, the happier I am to let others be on the “bleeding” edge of technology implementation. Does this mean it’s time for me to step aside and let a braver soul lead? I think about this often.

Other things you may have learned from failed tech implementations?