At the end of the 2010-2011 school year I began a complete transformation of my K-12 school library. I started this blog specifically to track the project, but mostly got sidetracked. My collection is now arranged on the bookstore model with modifications. Six months into it, I can begin to evaluate the project and put together a comprehensive series explaining what I did, why and how I did it. I’ll do that over the next week starting today with a general description of the project and the results so far.
Islands of Knowledge?
The project title, Islands of Knowledge came about when I was asked to do a conference presentation about it in September, and had to come up with a session name. As I cast around, I tried to find the words to describe the potential total immersion scenario I envisioned: a student surrounded by books, a laptop or tablet nearby; he is holding an artifact and at hand are all the resources he might need to allow his mind to delve deeply into the thing has piqued his curiosity. I thought of that feeling of delicious isolation I feel when I am absorbed in a quest, each revelation leading to questions, then answers, then more questions…A cave came to mind at first, lined with ancient-and-wisdom-filled tomes, a deep comfortable chair and large, paper-strewn table in the centre. Then I saw an island to explore, where discoveries could be made, and that is the image that stuck. Pretentious, perhaps, but I’m stuck with it now.
My Islands did not turn out to be as isolated from each other as I had originally conceived, but they are clearly defined. Gone are the long rows of spines that you have to crook your neck to read. The plan is open, with no tall shelves dividing up the space and a central circulation desk. Old and outdated books have been removed from the collection and many books are displayed face-out on the less crowded shelves.
The books have been completely rearranged somewhat in the manner of a bookstore. When you first walk into the library you can see seven large signs hovering over the Islands. Students usually have a pretty good idea if they are interested in Canada & the World, Science & Technology, Nature, Fantasy & the Supernatural, Modern Life, Arts & Entertainment or The Art & Science of Language.
The Sub-Divisions or Departments
Within each Island are smaller divisions such as the popular Domestic Animals department in Nature, and the Body & Health departmentin Modern Life. First Nations in Canada & the World combines books about aboriginal spirituality, arts, modern issues and history, which were previously in separate areas of the library. A local history section is in the planning stages; I have requested loans and donations from the community.
The process and arrangement have uncovered hidden gems like books on space travel, that used to be on a bottom shelf stacks away from the astronomy books and were seldom taken out. Now that the Space & Space Travel department in Science & Technology holds both genres, students who are interested in space and may previously have assumed that everything on that topic was together, have discovered these related books. Science Fiction books are nearby to further satisfy the science-and-technology-inclined student.
Did I Kill Dewey?
This is a custom plan, designed with the needs of my school community in mind. The departments can be compared to permanent displays and I saw no reason to eliminate the Dewey Decimal System altogether. The books are still classified as they were, but often pulled together from different areas. They are still shelved in numerical order, but as the departments are small, it is not as much of a crisis if they get out of order. The plan is flexible and I can change a book’s department if I see a better place for it. A tweak to the online catalog and a new label is all that is required to change a book’s location.
A Whole New Look
New paint, carpeting, and an open floor plan have modernized and made the library more welcoming. Visually pleasing and simplified navigation increases students’ success in finding materials they want or require. Teachers have commented on their class’ improved focus in the library. Students love it. The plan is meant to satisfy the needs of all learning styles. Increasingly, there will be technology available for the auditory learner and more realia – models and other objects – for those who prefer a more tactile experience.
Besides the seven “Islands”, there is a Young Adult section for books reserved for junior high and senior high students, who will have a say in the potential of dividing their fiction into genres like mystery, fantasy, and horror. “Easy Street” is dedicated to primary students with bright and cheerful colours, and a collection that is also being rearranged to stimulate the students’ literary taste buds as well as to make it easier for teachers to identify books that will meet curricular needs.
The feedback has been tremendously positive: the students love it, circulation is way up and they are finding any excuse to hang out in the library. Teachers and parents have been very supportive, commenting on the bright, open and inviting feel. Teachers have observed that their students are calmer and more focused in the library, having been drawn to an attractive Island and finding much to satisfy them there, supporting the ‘dynamic process’ of inquiry-based learning.
The community has assisted the school with financial help from the Parent Action Committee for the new shelving, as well as a donation from a local business for the Easy Street carpet. Many volunteers helped with packing and moving boxes of books and shelving, as well as the assembly of the new shelving.
Back to the Beginning – Tomorrow
Tomorrow, in Part 2 of this series, I will explain what led me to make this radical change. What was wrong with the way things were? In Part 3, I will cover some of the things you need to have in place before going ahead.
Since I can only speak about the details of my project, I hope that readers will contribute their comments and questions. I’m writing about my experience because I wish I had had some sort of guide to follow (or to reject!) when I embarked on my project. I hope we can all learn from a dialogue that will begin to consider issues that I have not had to think about.