Location, Location, Location
Making the move to the new building down the street made organizing the library easier in some ways as I packed. I labeled the moving crates and once I was in the new building I offered community service hours to high school students to help shelve. Our new library was decentralized, the fiction shelves are spread throughout the entire second floor hallways and team commons areas.
The new school is two stories, and the second floor has six team common areas, two for each grade. These upstairs common areas are centered around a square mezzanine that opens to the first floor common area below it. Library shelves dot the common areas, along the walls and along the railings. Flexible seating overlooks the mezzanine. Classrooms surround the common areas, so students have easy access to the bookshelves and a fluid workspace.
In figuring out how to best utilize the space, I employed rising 9th graders' perspectives as they helped to shelve, so they decided where the genres should be placed. Deciding that romance should go in an 8th grade common area, for example, was easy, but what about the other sections? For these we turned to the curriculum to help guide us. These recent 8th graders decided historical fiction was popular because Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson was taught in English Language Arts. Then, we got practical: given ths space the historical fiction holdings took up, we saw we were able to slot in action/adventure next to it.
Students in 7th grade do a genre study throughout the year for independent reading with a short story unit that focuses on fantasy and science fiction, making those genres a natural fit for the 7th grade team commons. In the traditional library setting of the previous building, narrative nonfiction and bios successfully circulated when they were front and center. Placing these genres on the shelves closest to my circulation desk was a natural fit, not in the least because the desk is in the center of the 2nd floor at the top of our expansive, open Hellerup stairs, one of the most prominent areas of the building. Often times I find this is the section that students often request the most help with, too. In the upstairs cafe, we had space for a large part of the collection, and students thought realistic fiction, sports, and mystery/horror would be best suited here, not far from the circulation desk but also between all grades.
Finally, I had a few categories I was decided could best fit in the empty shelves in the 6th grade team area, which is centrally located: the fledgling graphic novel and manga sections, plus a popularity-based collection I’ve called Middle Grade Favorites. I hesitated to separate out titles that may be familiar from elementary school and was concerned about the potential stigma of a leveled section, but I found that it not only provides more comfort for the students, but helps teachers in guiding students to the material.
Books in the library collection are color-coded by section using Demco Color-tinted Glossy Label Protectors and besides the colorful key that is available in certain locations, this chart is every shelving area in the building and in the slideshow ELA teachers share on their Google Classrooms.
I understand some middle school libraries have a separate YA section. This has not felt like the right move for our shelves, but the location of the romance and historical fiction sections in the 8th grade commons area has had what I suspect is a somewhat similar impact. Since the youngest students in the building don’t have classes in that section, they do not head there first when searching for their next read. Placing realistic fiction, the largest genre in the collection, nearer to my circulation desk allows for easier access to reader’s advisories. Since it is so large, there are a lot of options to meet academic and developmental needs, but this genre often crosses over to other genres, so I can direct students to other areas if they are looking to dive deeper into the tropes of a genre shelved in another section.
Having the Middle Grade Favorites section leveled off is convenient, but it also provides a comfort zone because it is a first stop for 6th graders. Older students are welcome to check out the books as well and they don’t seem to have been deterred from the section, but not seeing it right away often gets them to start moving beyond their comfort zone and exploring genres.
Eleven year olds just out of elementary school and a 14 year olds months away from high school, are all patrons of the library with a right to books that will serve them. I can let a student know if the topic may be intense and they can always return a book if they want or I can suggest that a student might want to see something a bit more challenging. Ultimately, I want them to read and my role is to design a collection that allows them to find books that fit their interests, helps them see themselves in the pages, and encourages them to learn about the world beyond their small piece of it.