Shelf Markers from Paint Stirrers (step by step)

Hi friends!

Once again, I’m using FREE paint stirrers from Home Depot to make shelf markers for our school library. I like these shelf markers because:
(1) They are sturdy and they last all year. The fancy shelf markers I purchased never held up to all the use/abuse they took.
(2) They are sturdy and they hurt if you slap them against your leg. Rules that enforce themselves just make our lives easier, so we have time for other things. You know that sound that the flimsy shelf markers make as the kids slap them against their hands or legs as they browse? They learn quickly with the wooden shelf markers that the painful smack is not worth repeating.
3) Without much effort, I can decorate these to match our library theme for the year. I think that having a theme makes the library more inviting for everyone on campus!

Here is the step-by-step, detailed how to:

Step 1: Go to Home Depot (or your favorite hardware store) and ask the nice person at the paint counter if you can have about 30 paint stirrers for your school library. I think my nice person gave me extra. 😀

Step 2: Buy your paint and scrapbook paper. I always buy a pad of scrapbook paper at Hobby Lobby to set the colors for my library theme. I use the paper when I create decorations and bulletin boards. It costs $19.99 for sixty 12 x 12 pages, but I buy it when it’s half off or use a half-off coupon.

Here’s the paper I’m using for my camping theme. I really like the owls and the bright colors!

I use a solid color from this pack of scrapbook paper for the color that I will paint the paint stirrers all over. This year I chose a bright red, and found a big bottle of tomato red paint for $2.99.

Step Three: Choose one page of scrapbook paper that has lots of little items on it. These will be what you Mod Podge onto the handles of the paint stirrers/shelf markers. I chose a page with colorful owls, and cut them apart. Hint: This would be much easier to do with a paper cutter than it was with scissors and a ruler.

Step Four: Use a foam brush to paint the front, backs, and edges of all of the paint stirrers. This takes a while, because you obviously have to let one side dry before you can paint the other side. If there is any wet paint on the bottom of the paint stirrer when you set it on the newspaper, it will stick to the newspaper and be ugly. Don’t even ask me how I know this.

I spread newspaper out on the tile floor of my living room, squirt the paint into a plastic cup so that I can dip my paintbrush into it, and then I spend a few evenings painting every side of each paint stirrer, leaving them out to dry in between Olympic events  coats of paint.

This is not the time to invite the Better Homes and Gardens photographer to your house.

Step 6: Paint the handle (one side only) with Mod Podge, stick your picture on the Mod Podge, then Mod Podge over the top of the picture. The Mod Podge under the picture holds it onto the stick. The Mod Podge on top of the picture is a protective coating so that the paper doesn’t get torn when it’s held in a sweaty, sweet, book-searching student’s hand.

Mod Podge on stick
Picture on Mod Podge on stick
Mod Podge on picture on Mod Podge on stick
I do this all at once, without waiting for the first layer of Mod Podge to dry. Then I let everything dry for a day or so before I take them into school. 
Here is the finished product! Ta-da!
I made a set of these shelf markers last year for my space theme, and they lasted all year without a problem. It does take time, but you can do this and watch TV at the same time. I have fun choosing the paint color and the picture and making these look just like I want them so that  they match my library decoration theme.
I hope you are having fun making your school library a special place for your teachers and students!
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    1. Cute, Cute, Cute!!!! If the Better Homes & Garden photograher is in education, you will get your own article in the magazine!!!!

      Thank you again for sharing!!
      Anne-Marie Ross
      Library Media Specialist
      Manomet & Indian Brook Elementary Schools
      Plymouth, MA

    2. The Girls Scouts at our school made shelf markers one year. Very colorful and unique, which really helped first grades remember which shelf marker was theirs. No more tears over someone removing someone else’s shelf marker:)

      1. oooh, I like the community involvement, SEMS Library Lady! Thanks for sharing that super idea! And a much better idea than having the librarian make all of them!

    3. I love the fact that Home Depot stores (and to be fair, probably other stores) are so generous. I went in once to get sticks to paint so I could keep track of how my library helpers were shelving books and asked how much to buy them. When I said I needed 100 the staff member behind the counter just started counting and gave them to me. I was super impressed! Now I can have my helpers put a stick of their color beside the book they shelve and I can go along behind to check to see if they did it correctly.

    4. The librarian with whom I volunteer (I’m in library school) does this, but instead of modge podgeing (just made up that word) on images, attaches craft foam that has been die cut in the shape of the school’s symbol (a panther paw). Just another suggestion to add onto a great idea!

    5. I just discovered Pinterest and I am amazed at all of the wonderful ideas for librarians! I love this shelf-marker idea. I have been using paint sticks for 2 years now but they also sure as the student’s “library card.” Each student “decorates” their stick so they can easily identify it. But I think I will add a few extra sticks like you’ve made so that new students and parents can use a marker too (until I can get theirs made). I think I might even get brave and try some center ideas, too. I’ve resisted them in the past because I didn’t have time to repeated explain what to do but you have made them VERY easy! You may already know, but there is a Dewey Rap video you might enjoy if you don’t know about it. My 4th & 5th graders LOVE it… of course I encourage them to dance to it! You can google it.. there are a couple of versions but my favorite is found here:

      1. Muriel,
        Thanks for sharing! I’m hearing so many great ideas for shelf markers that I think I need to create a page to gather all these thoughts! So, when you make shelf markers for every student, where do you get all those paint sticks? And how do the students decorate them? I would love to know the details so I can share them with other librarians. If you have any photos, you could email them to me at librarycenters at gmail dot com. I hope you will try some library centers. You’ll be hooked once you see how engaged your students are! And thanks for sharing the Dewey rap, too. It’s great!

      1. I used spray sealer when I was done. The paint didn’t come off on any little fingers!
        I’m glad you got your sticks painted! Enjoy!
        And thanks for your comment!

    6. Have you ever tried spray painting the sticks with outdoor paint (the stuff made for patio furniture, etc?) Then you could spray them all at once, let them dry, flip them over, and spray the other side. I love the modge podge idea!

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