An Elementary Library Redesign with Very Little Money, Part 1

Students have lots of ideas for this space.

I’ve been thinking about how library spaces can be improved for a long time. When I was a Children’s Librarian in a public library, I often marveled at how architects treated certain aspects of libraries as their chance to be noticed (at a big price) without really understanding how libraries might feel to children. As a career-switcher with an alternative path Teacher’s Certificate added to my MLS, I wanted to wait and really understand schools before I tackled my own library. Two years ago at the School Library Journal Summit 2009 in DC, I heard about several impressive projects at a session moderated by Dr. David Loertscher. This school year, the time finally came for me to re-think my space.
Our superintendent, Pam Moran, proposed a small seed project to help several school libraries move away from the rigid overpriced library environments of the past (think 1940s in some cases) toward more configurable spaces that would promote the library as a center for learning. Luckily, my new principal Kendra King was all for it. We discussed technology, lighting, color, shelving and learning activities with an eye for how to accomplish our vision with very little money, but with some help from parents and the community. We mapped out what we wanted in several sections, what should go, what could be added and which jobs were for maintenance (electrical and window work) and which could be done by volunteers. Our focus was how to revamp the library into a place where students would have more choice and be more invested, not only in the physical space, but in their own learning.
The first thing I did was commission a giant clipboard from Shadiah Lahham, an illustration/multimedia wiz and graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, because I’ve always wanted one! It is mounted on the wall and the top is 8 ft off the floor in the entry to the library. It sparks immediate interest, as well as lesson ideas for math, animation, and student work. Then I set up a working wiki:
and gathered ideas from other teachers, school librarians, artists and designers.
I began weeding like never before. In terms of books, my goal was to shrink my nonfiction section down from 3 long shelving ranges to two. This took about 3 months and nerves of steel, but it was the only way to free up the space we needed. My main considerations were:

1. What’s of interest?
2. What’s not just factual, but has narrative power and beauty?
3. What books have lower reading levels and therefore will not be easily replaced by database articles or websites?

Weeding books was hard enough, but I weeded the walls and furniture too. I wanted a lot of space for intriguing art, posters, installations and student-made displays. As I weeded furniture, the part of the library with table and chairs began to look more appealing and less like an area waiting for the next PTO or faculty meeting.


2 responses to “An Elementary Library Redesign with Very Little Money, Part 1

  1. My picture book shelving is configured to hold three shelves of picture books (in a “column” of shelving). It has always been my pet peeve that the shelves were too close together (vertically) so that about half of my books had to be placed spine up to fit them on the shelves. At first I requested new shelving to accommodate the books, but after some deep thoughts such as yours, I realized that I could, and should, weed an entire row of picture books. With help from a parent volunteer we did a few “columns” of shelving to see how it would work. So far the books look great: standing upright, easier to remove from the shelves and looking fresher. I can’t wait to finish up! P.S. Love the giant clipboard.

  2. I appreciate the simplicity of a less cluttered classroom. A library is a very important classroom. I have also opened up space and reduced things the students no longer use. I have seen a positive impact on student learning.

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