and received a 2017 Super Librarian award.
“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”
-- Winston Churchill in Commons, 1925
Winston Churchill must have had libraries in mind when he spoke these words. In recent years, there has been a huge push for librarians to repurpose their libraries and many of us have taken up this challenge. Trends have come and gone throughout the years, and the Internet has been a fantastic resource for librarians to reinvent themselves and their library programs. We have all thought about genrefication, makerspaces, library commons, and cafés. I have decided that only one thing is a must for every library--make everything in a library as easy to change, move, or re-purpose as possible. In other words, change often; change really is the only way to improve.
I have been the library director at Hampshire Regional for ten years. In that time, I have moved the entire collection (approx. 10,000 volumes) four times. Just this past summer, my assistant and I had to pack everything up and move so that the library could be painted and new carpet could be installed to replace the dark paint and tired carpet from the 2004 school renovation. Each time we “change” the library, I take great pride and joy in feeling that I’ve gotten it right, that I’ve responded to students suggestions or new theories, and that now my library is “perfect.” And yet, somehow, I am always wrong.
In 2009, the need to weed the entire collection spurred one of the first changes to the original library layout. We disassembled several rows of bookcases and rearranged the collection so that it was easier for students to locate resources. During the 2004 renovation project, the former librarian had very little input into the design and layout of the library. Unfortunately, letting designers and architects decide how a school library should look can sometimes be problematic. The collection never really flowed, and there were just too many bookcases, and not enough open space. The 2009 weeding project opened up the space and created new areas where students can work and relax.
Some changes that I have made to the library do not involve significant funding, new furnishings, or the latest equipment. Sometimes, the change is to a policy, or to a program. For example, in 2012, I began to teach the Information Literacy course (Info Lit) that is now required for all seventh graders at our school. I developed this course because teachers recognized that students did not have the research and technology skills necessary to be successful in today’s classroom. Our students’ variable preparation is not all that surprising because our district has six elementary schools and each of those schools is, in effect, its own district. This lack of coordination results in schools with very different strengths and weaknesses. Only one of the elementary schools has a full-time librarian; the majority of our elementary schools have an informal library program at best. Students who come to Hampshire in Grade 7 often need to be brought up to speed about research, technology, and resources. Before I began teaching the Info Lit course, my schedule was flexible. Now, I have some fixed teaching periods, but I truly feel this is more of a benefit than a detriment. I get to know every seventh grader who comes to our school, and this gives me a very good understanding of each student’s learning style and personality.
Sometimes, the change required in the library is less external and more internal as my attitude about a situation might call for the library to change in some way. For example, our school library has study hall students in the library most of the day. My assistant and I were increasingly frustrated because verifying the study hall sign ups for the library was time consuming; in fact, intensive labor was required to keep track of students. We knew we had to change the system so that we could focus on helping students instead of coping with the enormous load of clerical work the old method created. Now, we have an online sign up system that students can access from any device. The online sign up was challenging for me to develop, but in the end it has been one of the best “changes” we have ever made! Our new approach has streamlined the system and made our day much more enjoyable.
I will not sugar-coat things. Sometimes my “bright ideas” are not as shiny as I had hoped, but each time we try something new, we learn from the process. My point is that libraries will never be perfect. We all need to look closely at our facility, at our program, and at ourselves. We need to change because change is what makes the world interesting and keeps us relevant. After all, classic literature is still important, but where would our libraries be without Harry Potter or The Hunger Games?
After our recent library “facelift,” I think we finally have gotten the space just right! We had great support from administration and incredible freedom to choose all of the paint colors, carpeting, furniture, and equipment. We have created a makerspace area with whiteboard tables so students can do calculations and sketch out ideas, and opened the area for teachers to use with their classes. There are quiet areas for students to work alone and other areas for students to work in groups. We’ve even started a makerspace club. The library is perfect! But then again... maybe we should move that section over there. Remember, “to be perfect is to change often”!