New Life for the Library with the Islands Theme Design

I started this blog last February with an idea: a thought that my library needed a transformation. It had become not just dated, but uncomfortable and completely uninteresting. My students were not finding anything to satisfy their technology-fed imaginations, nothing that piqued their curiosity; and worse yet, I was uninspired.

I had intended to track my progress in this blog – the challenges and triumphs – but the project itself ballooned. It became so much more than a simple reorganization. The blog, along with so many other things, became the precious ring dropped on the floor of the car in the midst of heavy traffic.

The ballooning resulted from a practical expansion of the original vision: since the timing coincided with the installation of new shelving funded by the fundraising arm of our parent committee, I suggested that it would be a good time to also replace the very old carpet and paint the walls…

It was all I could do to make time for family and friends while the library was torn apart and rebuilt. There were constant decisions to be made; orders of supplies and sundries; sub-contractors, district maintenance people, a deeply appreciated temporary assistant and volunteers to be directed, and an incredible amount of heavy lifting that my body is still complaining about. Home and hobbies took the back seat as I focused on driving the speedster of transformation.

Vickie, my helper and I holed up in a classroom throughout the sunny summer weeks, completely surrounded by boxes of books that I had sorted into seven themes as I packed. One theme at a time, we reclassified and relabeled each book until finally, while I wielded screwdriver and wrench, assembling the new shelving, Vickie completed the catalogue work and labeling.

Now I have my wish. My library is transformed. Although there were many compromises due to space and budget considerations, my library is now open, bright and spacious. Attractive and highly visible signs point the way to each of the seven ‘Islands of Knowledge’, where students and staff bury themselves in the theme of choice, discovering books that they didn’t even know they wanted until they find them.

Instead of gathering in groups to fool around among tall rows of cluttered spines, students are excitedly fanning out – following the signage to spacious spaces of attractive displays of books in their area of interest, and discovering volumes that, although they had been in the collection sometimes for years, had never been noticed.  Brutal weeding has a lot to do with it, but it’s clear that kids of all ages are responding to the promise of discovery.

Showing the central circulation desk and four of the "Islands" from the storytime corner

The project is not complete. There are many things yet to do. The books on many of the shelves are not even in order – a very difficult thing for me to ignore. But as the shelves are not crowded and each one holds books related in theme, with many on face-out display, their order is not quite so important as it was before. The students don’t seem to mind that a shelf of joke books is a little mixed up.

Despite the endless to-do list, as I look around me now I am content. The remaining two of a previous eight bulletin boards were just installed on Thursday and are not yet decorated, the Smart Board is not yet wired, there are empty shelves waiting to be filled with realia and student work, and I have not even begun to reorganize the K-2 collection. I have not yet properly thanked so many who have helped me, I have no tables or computers (a very important part of the concept) and still plan to fundraise for a few more treasures…but I don’t mind. I am again inspired – by the change itself, but mostly by the excitement of my students and the enthusiasm expressed by teachers and support staff. It’s been worth it.

Now that the library is up and running, the pressure is off somewhat and as soon as I complete a presentation I am building on the subject for an upcoming conference, I will come back here and fill any interested readers in on the details of just how I’ve “messed with Dewey” and given my collection a custom design. Over the next year, my students, school staff and I will evaluate the project and having dug this ring out from under the seat I wear it again with gratitude.

In the meantime, if you have not been following this blog, here are previous posts that describe the “Islands of Knowledge” idea in its conceptual stage.

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3 Comments

Filed under Rethinking My Library

3 responses to “New Life for the Library with the Islands Theme Design

  1. Pingback: YRL Conference & My First Presentation « Going Beyond Survival in a School Library

  2. I wish I could get a remodel someday, but the library always seems to fall between the cracks… 😦

    • I’ve very lucky to have had supportive administration and parent council over the years. Don’t give up though, it’s amazing how refreshing small changes can be. A small fundraising project and some volunteers can go a long way toward at least making you and the students notice something anew. They say ‘a change is as good as a holiday’. 🙂

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