A School Library Transformed – Part 3: What do I need to do and know before I pop the question?

As I’ve mentioned before I am describing my experience because I wish I had had a guide to follow when I started this project. Although I can tell you about my plan and steps taken to accomplish it, keep in mind that this must be a custom design to meet the particular needs of your students & staff.

Know What You Want to Do and What You Need to Do It

For most, if not all of us, the approval of administration is necessary before you can begin to make radical changes. You will also want to ensure that you have buy-in from teachers. In order to be successful in your proposal, you will want to have in place a solid concept, so there are a lot of things to think about before you ‘come out’ with your plan to do away with your traditional library arrangement.

When I first took my school administrators on a tour of the library, describing what I wanted to do, I showed them a hand-drawn layout and walked them around to help them visualize it. I was able to describe how it would support the curriculum and the school’s vision. I not only needed approval of the concept, I needed them to agree to extend my pay over the two-month summer break since I could not imagine accomplishing the change while continuing to run the library. It was important that I was very clear in describing what I wanted to do, how it would benefit teachers and students, and what would be required to do it.

(Since I did not completely finish re-classifying the collection in the six week period and have had to continue working on it while the school was open, I can now see that it would be possible to convert the system if plans were very solid and schedules would allow some dedicated time or assistance. It would take longer, of course, but it is possible.)

Gather Ideas and Information

To get to the point where I was ready to ‘pop the question’ with my administration, I needed to have a plan in place. I began to pay extra attention to specific and especially common inquiries that I was receiving. I made notes of past and current interests and curriculum request that had me traveling to different parts of the library to satisfy a single inquiry. I tried to ‘connect the dots’ to begin to plan how I might organize the library to keep related resources on popular topics together.

Brainstorming connections

I confided in our regional library consultant, who suggested a tour of the Spruce Grove Public Library, which had just completed their ‘Neighbourhoods’ project. It was very inspiring to see for myself this custom applicaton of the bookstore concept in a library. The staff there were very friendly and helpful, then and later when I contacted them for extra advice. I browsed through as many different library websites as I could find, and a few books as well on the bookstore model and general library arrangements, until ideas for what would work in my library began to sift through.

Make a Plan

I made mind-maps, playing around with curriculum and popular subject connections. What subjects were broad enough to incorporate enough sub-topics (departments) to make it practical? Which topics were important enough to require their own departments?

K-2 Social & Science Curriculum Connections

How could I physically divide my library into visually separate thematic areas? How many areas did I have room for, given that the concept required each area to be as separately defined as possible? Would I be able to arrange the space to shorten and separate the ranges into smaller, less intimidating sections? Would I be able to incorporate a table or other workspace into each Island?

Eventually, I decided on seven broad areas with varying numbers of departments within them. I needed to be able to physically divide the library into ten sections: seven Islands, plus YA, primary and central desk areas. To this end, I initially tried to find some layout software, but ended up measuring and cutting pieces to move around on graph paper.

Not exactly the way it turned out, but pretty close.

The Islands stayed the same from here on, but the departments were not determined until I handled the books themselves. I thought a lot about whether I wanted to incorporate fiction into the departments themselves, as a separate ‘Department’ in each ‘Island’, or maintain a traditionally separate fiction section.

I knew I would have the luxury of literally sorting the books themselves at a later stage, so did not have to make these decisions on a purely conceptual basis. I also thought about the potential for incorporating realia (models and other objects) and technology (DVDs, eReaders, tablets, computers, smart board, etc.).

Getting Approval

Soon after my administration’s enthusiastic approval as described above, I presented my concept at a staff meeting, showing slides of some of my mind-maps and the layout, and talking about specific scenarios of frustrated students and time-consuming searches. I briefly described the learning commons concept that the SLSI was recommending and how I felt my plan would support teachers and students in implementing the inquiry method of learning embedded in the curriculum.

I was certainly hoping to having everyone on-side but was looking forward to some debate, if only to make sure that I had thought it all through thoroughly. However, the teachers were not at all attached to traditional library arrangements and also gave their unanimous and equally enthusiastic approval.

Preparation

The project approved, including summer work, it was now time to get things in place. With the shelving configuration determined, I found a supplier and ordered the new shelving, agonizing over colour and compromising a little to meet the budget limit.

Now I had to determine the signage size, type and style, how I would hang them (think safety) and where I would get them. Large signage for the ‘Islands’ is a very important part of this concept. My initial idea, which would have featured photos of Grad students, turned out to be too complex and expensive. My principal proposed the signs we eventually bought and although unsure before I saw (and spray-painted) them, I now really like their clean look.

Brushed aluminium spray painted silver

I also had to order supplies that would be needed to re-label all the books. I ordered tape, spine label sheets and genre stickers. I underestimated, but as delivery from Brodart is usually very quick, I managed to keep up without delaying the work over the summer.

Expect the Unexpected

A project is never as streamlined as initially planned and before school was out and the work really begun, I realized that if I was going to be emptying the library it might be a good time to replace the 20+ years-old carpets and paint the equally neglected walls. Thankfully, our maintenance department agreed (and even let me choose new paint and carpet colours) but now what began as a re-arrangement became a total renovation.  Painting meant that the eight existing bulletin boards could come down and I easily decided that only two would be put back up. (I do not miss the continual frustration of trying and failing to keep so many bulletin boards looking spiffy.)

Caught Reading Bulletin Board – Great idea but hard to keep updated. (I thought the kids might miss it, but no one has said a word.)

The plan was in place and as I waffled between the melancholy thought of loosing my carefree summer and the excitement of anticipating my new library, school ended for the year and the ‘real’ work began. I’ll rest up now, and get into that tomorrow.

Before I put my feet up, though, I will remind you that as I can only talk about my own experience, and all such projects will differ, I sincerely hope that others who have either embarked on a similar change, or anticipate such, will contribute to a dialogue in the comments section so we can all learn from each other. I would also love to hear from those who favour the traditional library arrangement. Maybe you will convince me I will have to ‘get the mess cleaned up’ before I retire after all.

Part 4: Getting It Done

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Filed under Library Management, Rethinking My Library

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