20 Essential Supplies To Have in the School Library

20 Essential Supplies To Have in the School Library - There are some things you just can't live without...and that's especially true in a school library. Here are the 20 essential supplies and tools I always have on hand for students, for teachers, and for myself. #NoSweatLibraryThere are some things you just can’t live without…and that’s especially true in a school library. When we talk about supplies and tools for librarians, we usually mean for processing or repairing or circulating books.

After 25 years in education, half of them in the library, I always keep these 20 essential supplies and tools on hand. Some are for me, for library management, but I make available certain materials specifically for students and teachers. If you haven’t discovered how useful these supplies and tools are, I know once you invest in them you’ll never regret it.


We expect students to have their own school supplies, but often students don’t bring those to the library. In order to make sure students have writing implements to complete a library activity, I always have available:

  • golf pencils & small sharpenersGolf pencils – These are the 4½” ones with no eraser. A box of 144 costs about $10 at any office supply store. I usually get a couple boxes at the start of school to last the whole year. Since kids don’t really like them (no eraser & hard to sharpen) they rarely carry them out of the library.
  • Small pencil sharpeners – These are perfect to sharpen golf pencils. I got a couple dozen for well under $1 apiece at the start of school one year in order to have one for each table plus a few extra. (I do need a few replacements each year because they break or “walk away”.) Students use them for their own pencils, too, and it’s a lot quieter than electric or hand crank sharpeners.
  • small plastic basket from TargetSmall plastic baskets – These 4”x5” baskets are so useful. I place one on each table, one between each pair of OPAC computers, and one at the circulation desk, so I have about 2 dozen. Each one holds a few golf pencils and a sharpener, along with several copies of my IT IS FOR ME checklist. They stack inside each other, so I can easily gather them up and store them on a shelf when they aren’t needed. I got mine at Target in the dollar aisle, but I’ve also seen 5″x5″ ones in cool colors at the dollar stores.
  • Tiny sticky notes – The 1½”x2” ones are the perfect size to write down a call number, so I always have a pad in each of the baskets by the OPAC computers.

We also do more elaborate activities for Library Lessons, so I keep these student supplies stored in a closet, and set them out when needed:

  • Color pencils – When we have a graphic organizer for a library activity, being able to use colors makes these simple worksheets into a fun experience for students. I get these very cheaply through my school district warehouse, and have one set of assorted colors per table. I’ve also seen golf-pencil-size ones in a dozen assorted colors for a buck and a half at the office supply store.
  • Color markers – A great dollar store item, around a dollar for a set of 6-8, depending on the tip type. My middle schoolers prefer the skinny ones with pointed tips, but I also keep a supply of chisel-tip ones for poster projects. I discovered some of the cheap ones don’t bleed through paper as much as more expensive permanent markers, so a double benefit.
  • Small scissors – I set out 4 per table so each student has a pair. I get the cheap utility ones through our warehouse, and because they’re ugly, the kids never take them out of the library. You can also find them for around 60¢ apiece at office supply stores, and they’re even cheaper in bulk.
  • small metal buckets for holding scissors and color pencils & markersSmall metal buckets – I use the 4” tall decorative ones on each table for scissors, color pencils, and markers. By having 2 per table—one for color pencils and one for markers—I can put scissors, if needed, into whichever one we’re using that day. I find these for about $1 at various places, especially at the start of school or just before the holidays.
  • Glue sticks – For our cut-and-paste activities, tape just doesn’t work well, so I invest in 3 or 4 dozen glue sticks at the start of each school year. I put a couple in each table basket when we need them, and they’re so much cleaner than glue in a bottle. They last all year if kept in gallon sized zip-lock baggies when not being used.
  • library clipboardClipboards – Another really cheap warehouse item, I have a storage bin full of these in the back room. I use them for my 7g orientation scavenger hunt, as well as other walk-around activities, to make it easier for students to write on worksheets. With a barcode on the bin cover, I can also loan them out to teachers.

Taking care of, and setting out, these student supplies is an excellent task for student aides or to have a student work off the cost of a lost book. One day the baskets & buckets of supplies were out on tables when we had a faculty meeting, and my principal liked having them available for teachers, so she asked me to put them out for future meetings, too…and she’d cover the replenishment cost!


In addition to those clipboards, there are a few other items teachers don’t need in their classrooms, but when they want them, I’m their one-stop-shop:

  • Sidewalk chalk – I find big buckets of assorted colors for a couple bucks at different stores, so I always keep 2 or 3 of them on hand. Invariably in late spring a teacher wants to take students outdoors for an unplanned drawing activity, so they come to the library knowing that their handy-dandy librarian will have the chalk they need!
  • Mirror – You know those hand-held mirrors with normal view on one side and close-up view on the other? Well, I’ve got one and it’s borrowed…all…the…time.
  • Long-reach & heavy-duty bulk staplersSpecialty Staplers – I have 2 different ones: a long-reach stapler for stapling in the center of a sheet of letter or legal paper, the other a heavy-duty stapler for stapling up to 50 sheets of paper. I use the long-reach one quite a bit for the various library information booklets I create for teachers, aides, and volunteers. The biggest user of the heavy-duty one is the counselors!
  • small-size glue gunElectric glue gun & glue – I can’t tell you how often during my first couple years I was asked if I had one, so finally I purchased 2 small ones. I discovered they’re also a great way to make quick binding repairs for books with loose covers!
  • Extension cords – A school librarian can never have enough extension cords. I keep various lengths, from 2-pronged 6′ lightweight ones to 100′ 3-pronged heavy duty ones. Image of Power CordsI also found it advantageous to keep a few surge protectors handy, especially ones with very long cords. And I barcoded every one of these for teacher checkout, because when I didn’t, I never got them back! Velcro ties in different lengths are very handy to keep each cord neatly wrapped.
    And here’s a video on the proper over-under way to wind up those long cords and cables we have in the library:


The items listed here are not typically included during a library set-up, but once I acquired them, I realized how valuable they are:

  • Desk bell – This sits on my computer presentation cart for use during lessons. I do a lot of discussion activities, desk belland this is the best way to regain students’ attention—high-pitched enough to be heard over voices, but not too loud. I give it 3 quick taps then wait, and within a few seconds students stop talking and turn back to me. It’s even distinctive enough to gain their attention when in the aisles browsing for books!
  • Paper cutter – This stays on a shelf behind my circulation desk because I use it so often for cutting apart sheets of overdues, my IT IS FOR ME checklist, cardstock bookmarks, and for trimming signage or paring down protective book covers.
  • reacher assistive toolReacher assistive tool – I’m average height, but I have trouble reaching DVDs and kits on shelves above a bank of computers along one wall, as well as things on top shelves in my back room. Once I got this gadget, I was amazed at how often I used it!
  • Engraving tool – When the school decided to purchase class sets of calculators for math classrooms and enough individual ones image of electric engraving toolto check out to algebra students, they wanted me to keep track of them. I knew paper barcodes wouldn’t last long, so I invested in this tool and etched a barcode on the back side of every one. It works on headphone headpieces, too…in fact, I kinda went nuts etching so many things!
  • Tool box – I love tools. I’d rather visit a hardware store than a dress shop. I even keep a tiny (1¾”) bubble level on my key ring! I bought no-name-brand tools on sale, so I didn’t shell out much for these valuable items. Over the years I’ve fixed everything from audiocassette tapes to audio/video carts to tables and desks, but you know who uses my tool box the most? The custodians!
    Essential School Librarians Must Have Essential Tools - These aren't educational tools; these are actual carpentry tools. It's amazing how often we need to use the items in a normal every-day tool box. From my experiences, here's what we need to have to be the essential go-to person in our school! #NoSweatLibraryMy library tool box holds:

    • set of screwdrivers- very small for digital equipment to huge for adjusting metal shelves
    • small pairs of regular and needle-nosed pliers
    • fold-up set of hex wrenches
    • tiny hammer and larger lightweight one
    • cutest little hacksaw for PVC pipe or lightweight metal
    • cloth tape measure and metal locking one
    • box cutter and razor-blade knife.

This completes my list of the 20 essentials that made my life so much easier as a School Librarian. It made students and teachers very happy, too…and isn’t that what “wise professional decisions” are for?

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Best Advice Ever for a School Librarian

Best Advice Ever for a School Librarian - School Librarians get wonderful ideas from staff meetings, professional trainings, seminars, conferences, and planning sessions, but the best advice I've gotten for my job has been from the most unlikely people and incidents! #NoSweatLibraryThroughout my more than 25 years as a classroom Science Teacher and then as a School Librarian I’ve attended dozens of staff meetings, professional trainings, seminars, conferences, and planning sessions. I get wonderful ideas from all of these experiences, many of which I used in classroom and library with students.

But it seems the best advice I’ve gotten about my job has been, not from fellow professionals, but from the most unlikely of people and incidents: a sub, a student, a saleslady, an inclusion specialist, and my son.


This nugget of wisdom came from a library substitute who covered several days for me. As we were conversing on the phone afterward, she complimented me on how organized everything was in the library. I said I seemed to have a real knack for organizing things, but organizing my time was my downfall. I never seemed to get all the things done I needed to, and hadn’t found a way to make planning my day very effective or enjoyable. That’s when she shared the above. She explained that if we tackle our least pleasurable task when we’re fresh, we can get it done more quickly than if we postpone it to later in the day, and once it’s done, we feel a sense of accomplishment and confidence about tackling the rest of our daily tasks.

Later that day I made a sign and hung it above my desk. From that time on, it reminded me daily to determine the least likable task I had to do that day, and then get right to it. Best ever advice!


Out of the mouths of babes…
Both of these ingenious pieces of advice came from students when I was working on getting back overdue books. The first incident was with a young lady to whom I’d given an overdue notice. She asked to use the phone, and when I asked why, she said she was sure the book was at home, so she wanted to leave a reminder message on the answering machine so she’d look for it and bring it back. I was so enthused about that idea I began having all the students do it, though nowadays it’s leaving a message on their voicemail. In fact, I began using this method to remind myself of important things to do when I arrive home from work!

The second incident was with a young man. When I gave him the overdue notice, he proceeded to fold it up into a small square, remove a shoe, and place the folded note inside. I was stunned! He explained that he could feel the note, so when he got home and took off his shoe, the notice would remind him to find the book. He said he’d put the note back in his shoe overnight, so he’d see it before he put it on the next morning and it would remind him to bring the book with him to school. This was another idea I immediately adopted for students, especially those who didn’t have the phone option.

Pockets! image

This little gem came from a saleslady at The Container Store; she emphasized that she couldn’t function without having the pockets in her store-provided smock, and I realized pockets would simplify my job as well. From that day on I began purchasing only clothing that had pockets, and eventually donated items that didn’t have them because I’d quit wearing them to work. Now, all my dresses, skirts, and slacks have pockets!

5 Useful School Librarian Tips from Unusual Sources - A substitute, a student, a saleslady, a psychologist, and my son. Who'd have thought the best advice I ever got as a School Librarian would be from these unlikely sources. I think they'll help you, too! #NoSweatLibraryWith pockets I never misplace my keys. With pockets I always have a pen handy. With pockets I can always carry something I’ll need when going to copier, office, cafeteria (or snack machine), or a classroom. I even downsized my wallet so it fits in a pocket for a quick trip to the store! Yes, keys, phone, pen, sticky notes, USB drive, laser pointer, extra cable, paper clips, staple remover; you name it, we probably need it at some point during the day, so I encourage you to have pockets on your clothing (or an apron or smock with pockets) to carry stuff around. Just putting this out there again…POCKETS!


Any mother can tell you that if you don’t give kids something enjoyable to do, they’ll do something on their own that may not be as productive! When I came across this wonderful quote, from Kathie F. Nunley at Help4Teachers.com, I realized it, too, encapsulates my attitude about Library Lessons:

Children would rather do something than nothing. If they don’t enjoy the ‘something’ you give, they will entertain themselves with ‘something’ of their own device. That’s where the problems begin. By offering a wide range of activities and giving them in the form of choice, students perceive control over their situation, and engage themselves actively in the learning process.

I’ve said often that everything in the library is just an accessory for a Library Lesson. Lessons are why states require a teaching certificate to be a School Librarian. I learned quickly (and in middle school, quite emphatically) how important it is for students to have an enjoyable library visit, but I don’t do meaningless gimmick or frou-frou lessons just to fill time and avoid behavior problems. I want students to understand that the school library is a place for learning, not a funhouse. That’s why I keep these lesson tips in mind, and hope that you will also find them helpful:

  • Customize activities to the grade level and focus on a single objective with a purposeful activity that allows students to practice what they learn.Library Lesson Pointers - The school library is a place for learning. That's why I keep these lesson tips in mind, and hope that you will also find them helpful.
  • Teach only what students need for the short time they are in the library and avoid anything that does not achieve the purpose of the visit.
  • Focus on the library process, rather than content—how rather than what; let the subject or classroom topic be the what.
  • Have some kind of student document to keep kids on task and to turn in to teachers for a daily grade.


What we see depends mainly on what we look for. (John Lubbock, British statesman, 1834-1913)

The actual quote, from John Lubbock, British statesman (1834-1913) is “What we see depends mainly on what we look for,” and comes from my son, who helps me see beneath the surface to the true essence of things. Shortened by me, this profound insight became another sign on my wall that has most influenced planning my lessons, so what I’m giving students is meaningful, engaging, authentic, transferable learning of content and skills.

It also prompted me to quit thinking in terms of marketing “the library” or “the resources” or even “me the school librarian” and to market a specific lesson to a specific teacher so s/he will value a library visit and want more. It’s true that one-on-one takes time, but when a Library Lesson becomes part of a teacher’s Lesson Plan, they don’t want to sacrifice it, or you, when budget cuts threaten!

Finally, the quote helps me analyze various educational issues that crop up from time to time, whether locally or globally. I force myself to look beyond the quick-fix to the overall effect on all students and teachers. It is so rewarding when I share my perceptions and someone understands what I’m saying and pushes others to reconsider. It’s like getting a pat on the back from my son!

line of books laying down


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