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BELLTONES: Look Before You Leap

By Mary Ann Bell - Posted May 1, 2009
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This article is one of those "do as I say, not as I do" missives. The mistakes I am describing are certainly ones I have made myself or have observed in my years as an educator. There is a dirty little secret out there in school land, and it involves money and time wasted due to poor purchasing. Far too often, supplies, equipment, software, books, consumables, and other materials are bought (frequently in bulk), but they turn out to be huge disappointments that see little or no use.

As a school librarian, I always paid considerable attention to the quality of the books I purchased. I pored over reviews. I participated in listserv discussions, and I reviewed award lists and other lists of recommended books. I took a great deal of pride in my collection and personally read an impressive number of the books in the library where I worked. I truly believe that most librarians do this. Not only do we take it to heart as our responsibility, but we also personally enjoy the process and very much want to have and share the best books possible, often with sadly slim funding.

Hard Luck With Hardware

Equipment, though, can be a different story. Going all the way back to my first job, I did not see meticulous attention paid to purchases of supplies, equipment, kits, etc. Frankly, during the first year or two I taught, I had next to nothing to work with other than sadly outdated texts, causing me to scrounge for freebies such as phone books, highway maps, newspapers, and so on. What supplies were distributed in that district seemed to come to me via the whims of the Language Arts coordinator. She became generous with me, so I did not complain, but I do not think purchasing was done in a businesslike manner.

Further down the road I saw the same lack of attention regarding equipment purchasing. This was especially true when I began my days as a school librarian. I had the honor and pleasure of being hired to start up a new library in a new school. In that position I ordered all books, furniture, equipment, supplies, and other necessities. I did approach each purchase with a critical eye and began with what was then an excellent collection. In ordering equipment, my job was to request items with the specs that I deemed necessary and appropriate.

The large district where I worked bought items through the bid process, so I did not ask for things by brand or model. Most of the time this worked quite well, but there were exceptions. One day a large number of overhead projectors were delivered to my school. The boxes said they were made in Slovenia. I remember this in particular because I knew next to nothing about the country, which had just come into its own after the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. We went and looked it up and turned the delivery into a geography lesson. Alas for the projectors, though. They did not work. Every single machine either blew its bulb when turned on for the first time or within 2–3 minutes thereafter. The district had to take back and (I guess) return several hundred low-bid purchases.


This article is available in its entirety in a variety of formats — Preview (free), Full Text, Text+Graphics, and Page Image PDF — on a pay-per-view basis, courtesy of ITI's InfoCentral. CLICK HERE.

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