The Media Center
Smart Spending:
What Would You Do with $1,000, $10,000, or $100,000?
by Mary Alice  AndersonLead Media Specialist, Winona Middle School, Winona, Minnesota
MultiMedia Schools • October 2002 

Assess your needs. What do you already have? Is it well used? What new purchases will have the greatest impact on student learning or on a teacher's ability to provide hassle-free and meaningful learning experiences?

Visit any two media centers in a region, county, or school district, and you will find a wide range of technology available. One may have a hundred or more computers; multiple classes can simultaneously access computers to find and produce information. In another, only a handful of students can use a media center computer at the same time. And, down the road, there is absolutely no technology in the media center. Equitable access and opportunity are not realities.

How would you spend money if you had a windfall? Perhaps your district's budget situation improved or you received a grant. What can you do with $1,000, $10,000, or $100,000? While $1,000 would be a wonderful gift for some media centers, for others it would be a drop in the proverbial bucket. Similarly, $100,000 would fully equip some media centers or even some schools. Others could use the money to enhance a technology-rich program.

Spending Smart
Assess your needs. What do you already have? Is it well used? What new purchases will have the greatest impact on student learning or on a teacher's ability to provide hassle-free and meaningful learning experiences? What purchases are most appropriate for the ability and developmental level of your students? Will your budget; staffing, time, and expertise make it possible to continue supporting the purchase. Think through the ramifications of any purchase before spending.

The No/Low-Tech Media Center 
There may be limited technology in the entire school, or technology implementation may have bypassed the media center, leaving the media specialist feeling like the Maytag repairman. Maybe the previous media specialist showed no interest in technology and you've been hired to move the program into the 21st century. 

Getting Started: $1,000!
You have no computer or one that is only suitable for basic word processing? A computer and online access will make life easier for the media center staff and also send a signal that things are about to change. I was hired to make change when I began my current job in 1985. There was not a bit of technology in sight. The first change was to bring in a computer, which allowed us to start changing the way we did business. The media center's image also changed. Today $1,000 will buy a good machine and ink jet printer. Let the kids and teachers use it, too, so they can begin to see the media center in a different way and you can teach them how to search for information. If you have some money to spare, make sure you have online access. Is there still more money to spare, or will you get more money next year? Purchase a subscription to a good online encyclopedia or database. 

Do you already have a good computer? If so $1,000 could also purchase a digital camera, a scanner, and ink jet printer. Why purchase today's hot items? A digital camera and scanner can be the hooks that capture reluctant teachers' attentions, furthering their technology skills and bringing them to the media center. A digital camera provides instant feedback and instant success. People are amazed at how easy scanning is. These purchases come with a price tag. Plan to also spend money on color ink, photo-quality paper, and possibly more storage. And, plan to spend a lot of time helping teachers with photo editing, multimedia presentations, and printing. 

A Real Chance to Do Something—$10,0000!
I visited a small elementary media center that, with the exception of three low-end computers connected to the online catalog and a database, looked like something out of the early '60s. The old card catalog even stood nearby, just in case. Putting $10,000 towards six to seven computers, a good printer, and quality software would move the media center forward by leaps and bounds. Make sure the computers are all networked to the printer and to the outside world.

Many secondary media specialists, including some managing media centers with good collections, report they only have eight to 10 computers for students to access the online catalog and databases or use for productivity. One media center serving a high school of 1,700 has only 14 networked computers. Another with 800 students has only 10. These students, like secondary students everywhere, need access to quality databases and the Internet. In both high schools, students end up doing their research in a lab, possibly without the guidance of a knowledgeable teacher and a hallway away from other resources and the media specialist. Sometimes teachers and the media specialist juggle schedules so students can begin their work in one setting and then move to another. 

That $10,000 would purchase another eight to 10 computers for each media center. A majority of one class could use the computers simultaneously while other students are using print resources. Productivity software is as essential as online information access so the computers can be serve multiple purposes. I'd also be sure to include some laptops to allow flexibility in where the students work and to have something for the teachers (or maybe kids?) to check out for overnight or weekend use. 

Don't need to purchase quite so many computers? If you don't have an online encyclopedia or other quality information databases, these should be top-priority purchases. The online encyclopedia for our entire district of over 4,000 students costs less than $2,000. Be sure the encyclopedia isn't already available through your state or a regional agency. A video projector is also a wise choice for part of the money. A respectable model can be purchased for $2,500. 

All of the options will attract more students to the media center and be a catalyst for increased teacher/media-specialist interaction. Set aside some of that $10,000 for staff development and planning with teachers, because students and staff will be using the media center and its resources in new ways. If you can afford it, pay the teachers a stipend to attend training. If you're down to just a few dollars left, buy treats to entice them to an after-school training session.

You're not automated and the collection is small? That $10,000 will purchase an automation system for a collection of less than 10,000 items. The automation system also sends a signal that things are about to change. Automation usually requires extensive weeding, another nice way to change the media center's image. Be prepared to spend the time it will take to get the system fully in place; you have to invest in your time before it gives you time by freeing you from labor-intensive tasks such as filing card catalog cards.

A Real-Life Scenario—$100,000
A 400-student elementary school has been left behind in the technology curve, the victim of some shortsighted past decisions, no vision, and budget constraints. The media center's online catalog runs on first generation PCs; the 15-station media center computer lab is old and seldom used. Classroom computers are not state of the art and there is no new software. Only a few staff members are skilled or very excited about technology. The $100,000 would do wonders. How to spend it? 

I'd sink $60,000 into a full lab and state-of-the-art computers for each classroom. A wireless lab would provide flexibility. Teachers may want to opt for a laptop they can take home. Why share the media center's windfall with the classroom? Teachers are the key to providing technology-rich experiences for students. Without their enthusiasm and improved skill, any new technologies will be underutilized.

A few thousand dollars would have to be used to improve the infrastructure and purchase a server. Two laser printers, one for the lab and one in a central location, would solve printing problems. Earmark $5,000 for curriculum-specific software. A projection system to be shared by everyone would be another wise investment. Old computers could be recycled as online catalogs, since this application doesn't require great speed. Others could become extra classroom word-processing stations or kept aside as spares. The remaining dollars, approximately $25,000, should be dedicated to intensive staff development for all staff, including administrators and support staff. 


High-tech media centers have needs, too. I know because I work in one. Among our continual needs are more mice, floppy drives, and zip drives, all quite low on the high-tech scale. Mice get damaged or quit working. As much as we encourage people to only save to their server space or to e-mail files to themselves at home, many staff prefer to save to disk. Accommodation does more to keep staff happy with technology than a firm policy about where to save their files. I'd also stock up on those extra-long Ethernet cables and video cables we always seem to need. 

So you have computers, but limited multimedia productivity tools? I'd use that $10,000 to purchase more higher-end digital still and video cameras, video and photo editing software, extra memory, more scanners, good printers, quality wireless microphones, a portable lighting system, and external storage, such as an external Firewire hard drive. I'd use a portion for staff development to develop a core group of teachers with expertise in digital media. Roger Hannon, recently hired as a media specialist at a state-of-the-art high school in Colorado, bought wireless laptops for himself and his staff so they could take their computers with them when they went to assist students or staff. The purchase also freed up more desktop computers for student use.

$100, 000
Debra Waugh, a library media specialist and technology facilitator from Graham High School in Bluefield, Virginia, is fortunate to work in a technology-rich environment with computer labs, a production zone, a multimedia production lab, satellite receivers, Channel One access, and equipment to make information accessible available throughout the campus. Waugh has "already spent $95,000 and could buy technology endlessly." With some extra cash she'd purchase "more digital cameras, more digital video cams, more computers with Adobe Premiere video editing software and the video capture board to support it, one or more copies of Macromedia Director, more copies Macromedia Flash, a county network server that could/would handle posting of video, audio, Flash, and Director movies, more copies of Macromedia Dreamweaver/Fireworks, copies of Adobe PhotoShop and Illustrator, copies of CoolEdit audio editing software, CD-ROM or on-line subscription tutorials ... more LCD projectors for computers in classrooms, and more high end computers" [LM_NET, June , 14, 2002; Used by permission from Debra Waugh].

Another media specialist said she would use newfound money for VCR/DVDROM/MP3 players for teachers who use a lot of streaming video and mixed media in the classroom. I would reward the champions by making sure teachers who want to keep moving forward have a state-of-the-art computer. 

I'd quickly spend about half of that $100,000 on a wireless lab that could be used anywhere in the school, thus reducing scheduling and space problems because the 110 computers in our media center are not enough. I'd purchase more video projectors so there would always be one available and equip our auditorium with a permanent video projector, VCR, television, and slide projector so we are always ready for any group that wants to use the auditorium. Time and hassle saved would be worth the expense. 

The remaining dollars would go for a permanent smart board, and a high-end computer equipped with all the software and peripherals necessary to conduct demonstrations in the media center's instructional classroom. Also on the wish list is an adult staff development lab with 15 to 20 computers and furniture like that found in a corporate training or meeting center. Wouldn't teachers be impressed if they could attend training sessions in plush surroundings? Either or both spaces could double as a distance-learning classroom. And of course I'd set aside a portion of that $100,000 for training.

What If You Could Hire Staff with That $100,000? 
Most media specialists say they need more technical support or other staff. One 800-student middle school in Minnesota has a media center staff of five, including a technician, and a teacher who works with video production and multimedia. It's a dream situation. I wouldn't hesitate one minute to hire more technical and secretarial support. 

Administrators from a small district inquired about how they could best spend their money if they had money to hire additional staff. The district had a teacher who served part time as a technology coordinator, handling the hardware and wires, but no media specialist. A school secretary was handling a few library functions. They recognized the technology was not well used and integration was lacking. But class size was also a little too high in some grades. The superintendent wondered if he should hire another teacher or a media specialist. The answer was obvious: The right media specialist could move the integration efforts forward and help out the busy teachers. The return on the investment already made in technology would improve. Everyone wins.

It's Fun to Dream ...
Some readers will think, "Big deal; we have all this." Others will only wish, and hopefully some can use this to start planning. Costs are estimates only. By the time this article reaches you, prices will be different. Check current models and prices; watch for good deals and bundles. Many computers come with AppleWorks, Microsoft Office, or other productivity tools installed. Plan carefully, fire up the spreadsheet, and crunch the numbers. Imagine the possibilities, and then pick and choose what's best for your students, teachers, and the media program.

Mary Alice Anderson is a frequent contributor to professional journals, a conference presenter, and an adjunct instructor in the College of Education at Winona State University. The Winona Middle School Media/Technology Program has received both state and national recognition and awards. She is also the lead media specialist for the Winona Area Public Schools and was a Library of Congress American Memory Fellow in 1999. The Winona Middle School Web site can be accessed at Communications to the author may be addressed to Mary Alice Anderson, Media Specialist, Winona Middle School, 1570 Homer Road, Winona, MN 55987; e-mail:

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