Within a few months of taking my current position as a middle school library media specialist, the town voted on a new building for us, with project based learning at the core of its design. In discussions with the visionaries in the district and the design firm it was clear: anything I knew about library management would be revolutionized.
New beginnings on the horizon
As with any town project, rumors about the building ran rampant as people were “horrified’ at the idea of no “actual” library, which lead to thinking there would be no librarian. Wherever I heard this, I made sure I clarified my job was secure, but I also regularly found myself half-heartedly projecting confidence about the future. Sure, I was aware of the design and had conversations with the architect and project management team, but that was in the early stages. What I saw on my walk-through last spring was still a shock to the system and no one could offer me a model for inspiration.
From spin doctor to believer
We house grades 6-8 with two teams per grade and to look at the floor plans, you’d see six different “media commons” areas of the school, each at the center of a team area. So where is the librarian’s homebase? Right in the middle of school, not in any of those media commons. For months last spring, various district administrators stopped in the old library to tell me I had the best space in the building, or my desk had the greatest view. It’s nice to hear, but it didn’t really mean anything when I wasn’t even sure what the term “your space” meant.
In truth, my desk is absolutely in the best spot in the building.
I’m stationed at the top of our Hellerup staircase leading down from the 2nd floor into the dining commons. I have the most amazing natural light from the large window above the main entrance. Where I used to be isolated in the old library, here I see everybody as they walk through the second floor. I also went from teaching my own fixed schedule in the library to teaching in a couple of classrooms around the building. At least half the student population walks by my desk each day and the other half I may see as I transition to class.
Making the Transition
While I wasn’t sure on the exact design, I always knew I would have an open concept library. I started weeding the collection as soon as I started the job, in part to showcase more modern books, but also because of projected limited stacks. We had over 7,000 titles in 2014 and last school year ended with around 3,000. The best surprise upon moving in has been actually having way more shelving then projected and an opportunity to add numerous titles.
Genrifying the collection has been my two year professional practice goal and I gathered excellent advice from the MSLA listserve to set this into motion. The arrival of the large orange rental bins two weeks before school was out forced the process. I sorted as I packed and then made the best guess as to which of the six media commons areas a genre might fit.
The other tricky thing about packing the books in the rented bins was they would have to be emptied quickly; there would be no time for patient decision-making at the beginning of the school year with the bins on loan. In June, I secured a group of rising 9th graders to earn community service hours by helping me unpack. Having active readers who were fresh out of middle school to assist me in shelving decisions and even some genre corrections, was the key to getting books on the shelves before we officially started back to school and before the ribbon-cutting ceremony welcomed the town.
I’d never asked for volunteers before, but this year it was necessary. Two of our great paraprofessionals offered to help with a variety of tasks during our twice weekly enrichment blocks, while students with no homework color coded spine labels. The PTO sent me parents for data entry and they marked every book by its location in Destiny. With our building connected to the high school now, I sought out a senior intern from the first term 'school to career' class. The intern was a self-starter who took amazing direction and mapped the entire library so patrons have another way to easily find the books. I gave up some control and allowed her to be creative in her ideas.
But how do they get the books?
Because my classes are in learning studios throughout the building, I’ve had to create easy systems for patrons to find and check out books on their own and shared Google slides presentations that teachers place on their virtual classrooms. The changes have been positive, including an increase in circulation of five times more books out to patrons during the first half of this school year. And while I can’t be sure of the specific reasons for the increase in circulation, I suspect it has a lot to do with students walking by the books everywhere they go. There’s been plenty of trial and error with this process, though now its becoming routine. So will books walk away? Of course they will, they always did before; but, if a student really wants a book that badly it isn’t the worst thing in the world.
I’m still learning and growing in the new space as everyone in our building is. We’ve had several visiting teams from other schools pass through our hallways this year and they note the design is indeed daunting, but also awe inspiring. One of our core tenants in the district is having a growth mindset and there’s really no better way to prepare for this kind of transition then to welcome change, seek help and feedback from others, and be willing to embrace the challenges as opportunities.