Tag Archives: A School Library Transformed Series

Easy Street Gets a Makeover

Well, not a total makeover, but a pretty big one. When I first renovated the library, I kept the platform that the circulation desk had been on, thinking it would make a great little ‘room’ for elementary library classes.


Easy Street 2012

Easy Street 2012

(More pics here and here.)

I loved it and for the most part, the kids loved it but after 2 years, I finally decided it had to go. A class of 27 Grade 2 students decided it for me. They were just too crowded. So after compromising with the maintenance department, my husband, my sons and I ripped the platform out and maintenance got the carpet relaid and fixed up the bottom of the walls. I purchased 3 book carts on casters with the profit from my book fair and this is what I have now.

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Easy Street 2014 (From Behind the wiring pole on the circulation desk)

Now there is much more space for the kids and a much more flexible space. I can roll the carts out for classes and can even roll up the alphabet carpet and place chairs for a sizable gathering. I loved the platform but I’m liking this even better.

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Jillian Jiggs says Hurrah! There’s room to dance.

Three more sleeps till the kids come back and still a list of things to do including getting textbooks ready to go and barcoding 75 new Chrome books.

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Thinking About Buying New Library Shelving? Here’s My Advice

In June of 2011, I purchased all new shelving for my library. It was difficult to figure out a whole new configuration, choose the type and colour etc., and on the whole I’m quite happy with my decisions. I like the heights I chose, the adjustable metal shelves, floor kickers (so nothing gets lost hidden underneath) and the solid tops and end panels.

However, the past 15 months have revealed a few things that I would now do differently.

If I Were to Do It All Over Again

I would get all freestanding shelving on wheels. It’s more expensive, but makes the space more flexible. I have to unload and pack up stacks to move them for the annual Book Fair and if it wasn’t so much trouble there are other events I would hold in the library. I’m going to ask our maintenance department to put solid bottoms with Very Strong Wheels on them, but I don’t know if it’s doable.

I would not buy the shelving company’s end panels, but would purchase the much more inexpensive slatwall sheets. I ended up needing a few more after we changed the configuration so, after hearing about the idea at a workshop, I bought slatwall from a retail supplier. Our maintenance department cut them to size and framed them and I purchased the fitting holders for end-of-range displays, which I love, although I’ve experimented with some different sizes and types and would not purchase some of them (the displayers) again.

I would buy shelving with some kind of backstop, especially on the back-to-back stacks. Books are always falling and pushing through. I have begun to collect  boxes from book wrap and long paper rolls to put between, but that will take forever and really doesn’t look that nice, so I expect to be able to purchase some kind of back-stops before that ever gets done.

I would definitely budget for installation. It was not worth the time and hassle involved in assembling it myself, begging volunteer help. It was difficult and it put the project days behind just as school was about to start.

*The fun numbers in this post are from Discovery Education’s Clip Art Gallery


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“Easy Street” – Decorated (Part 6a)

As an addition to A School Library Transformed – Part 6: Easy Street, I’ll show you some pictures of the area now that it’s decorated. I regret that there are no children in the picture – what’s a school library without the kids? – but FOIP privacy regulations do not allow it.

Easy Street from the circulation desk

The Canada and the World Island is on the far side of Easy Street. I replaced the plexiglass displayers on the slatwall stack-end with plastic ones because 2 got broken last year.

The border helps to camouflage the back of the ‘World’ Island stacks.

This side is against my office

Primary periodicals are on the shelves and I use the top sections for library class books and materials. I’m not sure if the donated tiered shelf is staying there or not, but you can’t have too much face-out display.

The smart board looks awful when I don’t have anything on it. The border helps a little. I often project a revolving slide show of reading pictures or photos of the students, but it’s a distraction when I have students working in the library. The thing beneath the smart board is just covered cardboard boxes, but I’ve submitted a request to have a trunk built, with a sloped lid for book display in which I’ll store the puppets.

My next request will be a stand/cupboard of some sort for the computer, ‘Sad Books’*, the ‘No, No, Never’ pail**, the Spacer*** box and other library class paraphernalia. The carpet, sponsored by a local business is awesome, but the space is a little too small for 25+ students once they get to about grade 4. Luckily there is a nice open space between Easy Street and the circulation desk were they can sit when we want to gather. All-in-all, I’m pretty happy with it and the kids love it, which is all that really matters.


* Sad Books are books that have had to be discarded because of their condition. There are examples of mouldy, torn, cut-out, dog-eared and other very sad books that I show the little ones so that they can see for themselves books that they can no longer check out (I try to choose tempting ones) because of improper treatment.

**The “No, No, Never” pail contains items that when revealed the kids love to be able to call out ‘No, No, Never’ or ‘Happy Mr. Wiggle‘ when they discern whether or not an item (sizzors, bookmarks, glue, book bag, etc.) should be used with library books.

***Spacers are numbered, 10x30cm strips of coloured corrugated plastic that our students are taught to use to hold the place of the book they are looking at. Other libraries call them different things. What do you call yours?


Read the whole series of the transformation of my K-12 library to a modified bookstore model here.


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A School Library Transformed – Part 6: Easy Street

My entire library is now arranged on a modified bookstore model. Fiction and nonfiction are shelved together in sections (called ‘Islands’) and subsections (called Departments) according to broad themes. It only took a year, but  I have finally completed the reorganization of the K-2 ‘Island’, which has been known as “Easy Street” since before my time.

The undecorated, bare bones of the new “Easy Street”

Shelving for the rest of the library took up the entire renovation budget except for one 2-stack free-standing range for Easy Street. Working with this and the existing shelving, I sectioned the picture books into 32 departments, which had to be distributed among the 7 tall and 6 short stacks as well as the new shelving that fits 24 tubs. For a list of the Easy Street departments, click here.

If I could, I would have them all in bins or tubs since they are natural face-out display and the kids just seem to really like them. However, working with what I had was OK too, since the old stacks are nicely divided to keep the books upright in small sections.

Tales, Holidays and Fantasy along the back wall.

As I sorted the books I weeded heavily to eliminate any dingy or dated feel. From tightly packed shelves with ratty spines almost more eye-catching than the bright new ones between them, little fingers can now easily pinch and slide individual books out to give their typically quick evaluation of the book by its cover – the inevitable, if regrettable process.

As I mentioned at an earlier stage, I did not eliminate the Dewey Decimal numbers, but feel quite sure that they will be dropped in the near future. Nonfiction and fiction are grouped together within each shelf or bin. The books in the tubs are randomly mixed. In the stacks they are shelved with the nonfiction first and fiction following. Stories follow information books.

Dividing fiction and nonfiction materials is less and less important, given the proliferation of fact and concept-based fiction and narrative nonfiction. Critical thinking is always necessary to determine what information is researched and what can be attributed to an author’s imagination. My primary teachers are completely on board with this, being used to combining fiction and nonfiction in their teaching. They think it’s great that, for example, math stories and nonfiction are now together on one shelf.

The centre island with 24 bins – 1 to 2 bins per topic as well as some separate bins of easy readers at the bottom.

Apart from periodicals  and tubs of standard format readers kept separate from the themed sections, the departments range from the 2-stack, 329 book “Me, My Friends & My Family” to the 1 tub, 18 book department “Building and Construction”. (One of the many benefits of this project has been how obvious the need becomes to develop certain areas.) Many books could have been placed in more than one department. I tried to determine the primary theme to place each one. Thus fiction books with animal characters could be in one of the animals departments if the theme related to the real-life needs or habits of the animals, or any one of the others if it was about friendship or community, etc.

For the first month or so, I won’t obscure the signs with any display books. I designed the signs in Publisher to have a large image or a couple of images that students will hopefully identify with. Apart from the department title, I also typed a list of subjects included within the section for older students, program assistants and teachers, ensuring that connections to curriculum and common classroom themes were always included. The department abbreviation appears in a bottom corner corresponding to that on the bottom of the spine labels, assisting with shelving.

The tubs are more specific in theme than those in the stacks and do not need the list of included topics.

Although my mandate for library classes is not lesson-based, I intend to feature one department during each weekly library class. Showing a fiction and nonfiction book and reading aloud from either or both, I will encourage the children to identify the commonalities and differences. Students will need to think critically to separate fact from fiction while becoming familiar with the Easy Street departments.

Unfortunately, I could not complete this during the school year and put over 65 hours of my own time into it over the summer. (I do have a life, but it’s flexible.) It took me that much time to sort, read when necessary, weed, reclassify and relabel over 3,000 books and to make the signs. Being the sole person in the library during the school year, daily assistance to students and staff naturally took precedence. The bits I got done on this project barely made a difference. Not being the kind of person who can leave such a project incomplete, it was worth it to me to get it done over the summer.

Students share a discovery in Easy Street

The reaction of our Division 1 teachers during our first work day last week was very positive with absolutely no objection to the new arrangement. The grade 1 teacher was effusively enthusiastic. She has been teaching for over 20 years, is an inveterate library user and assures me that this is a better system.

It helps to remember that when Melville Dewey set up his amazing system of classification, patrons requested and librarians located the books. The success of the browse is absolutely essential in the modern library where patrons of all ages are encouraged to peruse, touch and make discoveries for themselves.


Click here to see Easy Street after it has been decorated.

Read the whole series of this project here.


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A School Library Transformed – Part 5: Summary and Round-up

This is the final installment in this series, describing the conversion of my K-12 library to a modified bookstore model. In Part 1 I described the changes I made to my library, Part 2 explains why I did it, Part 3 is about what I had to have in place before I did it, and Part 4 describes how I did it.

The title of my blog, ‘…Beyond Survival…’, speaks to my desire to overcome the trend in our schools to allow the library to dwindle in function and relevance and helps to explain why I have taken the chance on messing with traditional library arrangements.

There have been growing pains, a few steps back here and there when the process got ahead of the planning, but the response by my school community has been overwhelmingly positive. I will summarize here the steps taken in the project, pass on a few tips I learned along the way and links to other libraries and articles about the concept.

“That’s a question you hear a lot. “Was it worth it?”

Not certain what either “it” refers to, but generally we’re saying, “was the destination worth the journey? Was the effort worth the reward?”

The thing about effort is that effort is its own reward if you allow it to be.

So the answer can always be “yes” if you let it.”      Seth’s Blog

Summary of Steps

  • Observe and note subject-related requests from students, teachers and support staff.
  • Mind-map collection, connecting areas of related interest and curriculum themes.
  • Determine number of possible physical broad theme areas (Islands).
  • Create draft chart of Islands, listing divisions (Departments) beneath each one.
  • Physically sort books into Islands while severely weeding.
  • One Island at a time, sort books into departments, adjusting chart as necessary.
  • Reclassify and re-label each book.
  • Spine label includes code for Island and Department.
  • Colour-coded dots on top of spine for each Island.
  • Thematic classification labels wherever possible.
  • Arrange shelving to isolate or separate each Island as much as possible.
  • Install clear signs for each Island, smaller signs for each department.
  • Provide lots of space for face-out display.
  • Include realia (objects) and multimedia within each Island.
  • Include seating/tables.
  • Provide access to library catalog, databases and Internet.


  • Know why you want to make changes.
  • Know how it connects to your school’s goals.
  • Develop a vision for the change.
  • Outline the plan.
  • Get support from administration and the rest of your school community.
  • Keep an open mind and expect the unexpected.
  • Be prepared to apply some elbow-grease and loose some me-time.
  • Ask for help.
  • Delegate.
  • Listen to the needs and desires of your students and teachers, to the ideas of others and to your own hopes and doubts.
  • Be prepared for dissenters, respect and consider their opinions.

My Hopes for the Future

  • Tablet mounted on an end-panel at each Island  set to a home page with library catalog and Island-related links, especially audio and video.
  • Class set of mobile laptops or tablets.
  • More realia for hands-on learning.
  • Replace K-2 shelving.
  • Better and more attractive chairs.
  • Develop the courtyard outside the library as an expansion of the library space.


Creating the Customer-Driven Library: Building on the Bookstore Model by Jeanette Woodward. Beyond decisions about the arrangement of the books, this books makes you think about your clientele, or patrons: how are you meeting their needs and what makes them feel comfortable and welcome.

Mr. Dewey, I Bid You Adieu – Great article on the transformation of a middle school collection with some more good links at the bottom.

Miss Christine tells about her successful experiment with “featured collections” during her practicum, in Bookstore Model in the School Library.

Using  the Bookstore Model of Classification in an Elementary School Library: A Slideshare presentation of the project at St. Vrain Valley School District. (Click to watch the embedded videos.)

Anythink: A Revolution of Rangeview Libraries and the Anythinktank: great discussions and a Resource Kit.

There are 17 more great articles assembled here at A Media Specialist’s Guide to the Internet.

School Library Journal – Ditching Dewey: Hot Topic in Hartford – AASL 2013 (Added Nov. 2013)

My ‘New’ Library

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Things I Wish I Had Done Differently

I have no regrets about the arrangement of the books themselves. I have made adjustments to the initial plan and will continue to do so, but that’s the beauty of the system: it is very flexible.

  • The K-2 and YA areas are both a little smaller than I would like.
  • The tall shelves between the K-2 area and the ‘Canada and the World’ Island, block the Island off too much.
  • I should have put the book return on the open side of the circulation desk rather than in the aisle formed by display shelves.
  • I would not buy factory end-panels at all, but all slat-wall from a retail supplier instead.
  • I would buy shelving on wheels for the short, freestanding stacks.

As always, reader opinions are welcome and if you have your own tips to share, please do.

Much later – Part 6: Easy Street


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A School Library Transformed – Part 4: Getting it Done

At the end of the 2011-2012 school year, with the project to convert my K-12 school library arrangement to a modified bookstore model approved and the planning done, it was finally time to get down to work.

Getting Started

Since the entire collection had to be packed up and moved out of the library for new carpeting and painting, I needed a lot of boxes. My principal decided to purchase U-Haul boxes, a move that I at first thought was extravagant, but I quickly came to appreciate. Unlike scrounged retail store boxes, these were all the same size and shape, which made sorting and storing them in order much easier than the alternative.

I labeled each of seven boxes with the working name of one of my new Islands and lined them up on the long counter that runs along the back of my library. At the end of the counter I left space for books to discard.

Not wanting to lift the full boxes any more than necessary I moved to tables when the counter filled up until I could get the them  moved into the classroom where I would be working for the summer.

Weed Heavily

It’s more important than ever with this concept that students are not turned off in their explorations by dingy, dull and out-dated materials. My new library was going to be all about looking good. The students were to be drawn to the collection like kids in a candy store. Having decided that online resources and interlibrary loan were going to easily replace a lot of the nonfiction that I had previously hesitated to remove despite their sad condition, I prepared to be ruthless in weeding.

Beginning at the 000s, in the general (Grade 3-12) nonfiction section, I began to go through the collection one book at a time choosing first to keep or discard the item. Despite thinking of myself as a good weeder for the past twelve years, I was shocked at the books I had left in the collection. (I only wish I had kept some of the real gems to show you.) The space left at the end of the counter had to be expanded as I went along.

Weeded from the nonfiction

First Sort

Once I decided to keep a book I chose one of the seven boxes to put it in, continuing that way throughout the nonfiction collection, replacing the boxes as needed. I had students sort the fiction into genres and boxed them up separately, postponing the decision about how they were going to be shelved until after dealing with the nonfiction.

Volunteers helped to pack the picture books and K-2 nonfiction in shelf order. I didn’t know how far along I would get by the end of summer and as I suspected I ended up re-shelving those sections. I am still working on them now.

Picture books boxed up ready to move out of the library

Once the books were all packed up, a few strong volunteers helped move the boxes to the classroom that I was to be using throughout the summer. I had already set up the room for the books to be stored in an organized fashion.

Final Sort and Reclassification

There was a lot of work to be done in supervising the removal and storage of furniture, etc., but I’ll concentrate here on the collection. I drew a large chart on the classroom’s white board with the seven Islands across the top and the first ideas for department divisions beneath. The departments would be determined as all the books for an Island had been unpacked and sorted, ensuring that they were all assigned. I decided that each department would consist of no less than one shelf (thirty books) and no more than four (one stack), although there were areas where I broke the rules anticipating further collection development.

My helper and I unpacked all the boxes for the first Island and literally made piles for each department, adjusting as we went until we eventually determined a final configuration for the Island. Our guiding principle when deciding how the books would be grouped was, “Near what other books would this book likely be discovered?”. It was completely subjective but worked well as I drew from experience; trusting in my knowledge of the curriculum and my students’ related interests. This is where collection needs really stood out and although I did take some notes, I wish I had made a better list.

Once we finalized the chart for that Island, determining final Island and department names and codes, my helper and I sat down at facing computers to make the necessary changes in the online catalogue, print out new labels and apply theme labels as available, as well as adding a colour-coded dot specific to the Island. Then the spines were taped over the labels and the books repacked by department.

Applying over a hodge-podge of old labels made it impossible to be completely uniform, but that doesn’t happen to bother me. (And, yes, occasionally we missed one.)

As each Island was packed back up and the boxes re-labeled, we began the next. Then we moved to the fiction having decided that they would fit into the Islands quite nicely. We were ever-so happy to finish up the last of the fiction as the end of August approached, although we had to make the decision not to start into the K-2 collection until the library was again up and running. (As I mentioned above, I’m still working on that.)

A Word About Labeling

In this icon-flooded world , I did not worry about covering some of the books’ spines with labels. In standing with many a student looking for a particular book in a row of spines, I realized that it is the unusual student who actually reads the title or author from the spines. They are looking for a clue – an image or an icon, which they will find with the new system. In fact the spines actually take on a more uniform look, making scanning easier and encouraging students to pull the books to look at them, which is what I want.  That’s how discoveries are made.

‘Historical Fiction’ Department in the ‘Canada and the World’ Island

Rather than change the call number itself I decided to add the Island (Loan Code in my software) and department codes to the bottom of the label.  Genre labels are applied as available, but I hope to find the time one day to make my own for Departments that I have not been able to find anything appropriate.

Putting it All Back Together

Our new shelving arrived, some of it badly damaged, about mid-August just before the carpeting was installed. The replacement pieces did not arrive before we had to get it installed so we managed without one wall stack and many shelves that were unusable after the shipping mishap. I can’t really describe what the next two weeks were like; it is all a bit of a blur now.  However, I can’t recommend strongly enough to purchase the installation service with new shelving. With some volunteers and one day of summer student help the shelving took me over a week to assemble and install, with my helper still finishing up with reclassification.

Harder than it looks.

I was very grateful to have the knowledgeable help of Jocie and Cera from Yellowhead Regional Library in the final stages of arranging the shelving in the ‘new’ library. Paper layouts are great, but still adjustments had to be made once the traffic flow was practiced on foot. Jocie and Cera stayed for two days, helping me with so many last minute decisions and getting the books onto the shelves.

Too busy working to get pictures of every body that helped, but happy to have these three.

We adjusted the departments within the Islands, keeping the shelves no more than half full and the bottom shelves empty wherever possible. All the extra space is taken up with books on face-out display, which happily must be changed quite often. Little-by-little, I am getting more realia (objects) to display as well.

Then the Island signs arrived and had to be hung, and the department signs made. I chose clear images and font to print on card-stock and laminate. I will be making some of them larger now,  (especially for the fiction departments) and include the department code on them.

Laminated 3×5 department signs

The library was open on August 30th for junior and senior high text book check-outs. At that time it looked finished, although there was still a lot to sort and do; a lot hidden away. It was not essential to have the most departments in exact shelf-reading order, since the departments were small. That had to come later.

A new glitch in the plan wasn’t revealed until school started. A computer lab that is attached and has always been part of the library, was re-purposed as a computer classroom for distributed and distance learning, the computers and tables no longer available to classes visiting the library. I had originally intended for small café tables to sit within the islands and now had to fit in much more seating. Five new tables (may have to get one more) and chairs from the gym.

A little more crowded than I would have liked, but we needed workspace.

The computers will be replaced (eventually) with a mobile computer lab that will be reserved for the library. (I do manage a mobile lab from the library, but it is all spoken-for.) I also hope to eventually have at least four tablets that will be fixed to end panels for catalog searching. At the moment I have two desktop computers and an iPad that students can use to search the library catalog or Internet.

And on…

Tomorrow I will summarize this series for an overview and give you examples of other libraries and other articles on variations of the bookstore concept in libraries. Your thoughts, pro and con, on the project are truly welcome.

Part 5: Summary and Round-Up


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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.


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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A School Library Transformed – Part 2: Why Would I Do Such a Thing?

Yesterday I told you about my ‘new’ library, which is arranged on a modified bookstore model. In this segment I will describe the circumstances that led up to my breaking with tradition and redesigning my library from a functioning repository for books to what is quickly becoming a vibrant learning commons.

Nudge #1: Unsuccessful Browsing

See anything you like?

My initial motivation was prompted by a combination of many factors. As the sole person in the library, I deal with the everyday challenges of such a position, the most frustrating of which is the knowledge that a student has gone away unsatisfied. I can’t always help each student in a class, either because there are too many students in line ahead of them, or because they didn’t try to ask.

Students don’t always know what they want. Often they have a vague interest in mind: possibly a book they’ve read previously and enjoyed, or a hobby they would like to know more about. I could see them in the stacks wandering up and down, or fooling around with each other because, despite my attempts to leave a book face-out on the crowded shelf-ends, nothing was catching their eye. Busy helping other students navigate the online catalog, locate books or check them out, I was often unable to spend the time chatting with these wanderers to help them find something that interested them. I started to realize that my library was just not very user-friendly.

 Nudge #2: No More Library Skills Instruction

Adding to the problem was the growing lack of understanding about common library arrangements. Nowhere in our curriculum does it specifically state that children must learn the skills required to access material in a traditional library. For several years after I first took over from the last teacher-librarian in our district, I tried to carry on her (increasingly infrequent, because of changing assignments) attempts to instill this knowledge in our students. I failed. I am not a teacher and was not able to provide adequate activities to instill any real understanding of the Dewey Decimal System in the elementary classes, which still visit on a weekly basis. The students understand that books are arranged, but never really understood how. It didn’t help that I often could not answer questions like, “Why are knights and castles in different aisles?” to their satisfaction.

 Nudge #3: Repetitive Labour

Then there was the repeated assembling of books pulled from various parts of the library for annually required book displays and curriculum support materials. I began to threaten (myself) that I was going to just keep these themes permanently assembled on shelves of their own so I didn’t have to continually feel like I was living the year-long version of Groundhog Day. I was always looking for ways to promote books that were unjustifiably underused because they were hidden within others that were basically unrelated just because Dewey (and his successors) put them there. If you only have a couple of books about money for elementary students, they can be completely lost within high school level books on politics and government.

 Nudge #4: Changing Needs

The last factor had to do with the changing of the times that all libraries have had to adjust to. I could no longer consider most of my collection relevant. With much more current and varied resources online, it was a waste of money and time to attempt to support much of the curriculum from Grades 6 and up with print materials.  If I was going to keep the library relevant, I needed to build a collection that appealed to an increasingly visual, highly trend conscious student population, and arrange it appealingly.

 The Stars Begin to Align

A general frustration was setting in. I had spent twelve years sneakily re-classifying books so they would suddenly appear in popular sections where I knew they would go out;  giving up on the always faint hope that before I retired, a professional librarian would be hired whom I could assist rather than trying to figure it all out for myself. Suddenly, I realized that I knew my students and I knew my library. The two were drifting further and further apart and I was the only one would could or would do anything about it before it became completely obsolete.

The old library looking very dated

There were four other elements that came together around this time that prompted me to begin to completely re-think the whole set up of my library. First, our Parent Action Committee completed their fundraising project for new library shelving. I had been looking forward to this new shelving and until now had assumed I would simply replace the rickety nonfiction ranges in their existing configuration.

Secondly, I had been following the progress of Alberta Education’s School Library Services Initiative that was looking at school libraries in the province for the first time since 1985. Their findings had been postponed several times, but what I came to understand was that whatever the final report was going to say, the shift was not going to be towards reinstating teacher-librarians as I had hoped. A new buzzword was going to be an important part of it. School libraries or Media Centres were going to be asked to transform into something called the Learning Commons.

I felt that my library could do more to support Alberta Education’s inquiry method of learning embedded in the curriculum in 2004 and described in the Focus on Inquiry document. This method encourages an “integrated, cross-disciplinary approach” to learning and “capitalizes on student curiosity”. The document also prescribes students taking ownership of their learning and describes how learning should involve the unexpected. A reorganization of the library along broad themes and a move toward the learning commons model seemed to be a step in the right direction.

As I was trying to wrap myself around what this new breed of library would look like, I ran across some articles on the Internet about some radical public libraries that were doing away with Dewey and adopting the bookstore model to increase patron satisfaction. And it seemed that it was working.

Jumping in With Both Feet

I tried, but couldn’t find any school libraries that had gone this way or at least any that had described the project. I was beginning to warm to what I understood about the Learning Commons concept and felt that the book store model could help this kind of atmosphere evolve. By nature, I am a (sometimes regrettably) impulsive person and as all this came together I made the decision. If my principal would continue my pay over the summer and allow me to hire an assistant I would transform my library to be one that students would want to be in and once there would find all kinds of inspiration, challenge and motivation to read and discover.

I tried to stop myself. Did I really want to give up my summer? And truly, what right did I have to mess with a time-honoured system when I’m not really qualified? Never mind, (I told myself), I still have more than ten years to retirement  – ample time to clean up any mess I create.

Enthusiastic Support Where it Mattered

Photo by Agnieszka Bernacka

I was lucky.  My principal went for it whole-heartedly. He is a modern thinker and loved the idea that his school would model a whole new concept in libraries. I regretted the use of the word bookstore, however, since his first thought was of a cappuccino machine…

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I approached my administration team and the staff, I had to have a very clear idea of what I wanted to do and how I was going to do it. I’ll cover those many initial considerations in Part 3 tomorrow. I welcome your thoughts and experience to the comments section below so that the dialogue can be relevant to anyone thinking about changing arrangements in their school library.

Part 3: What do I need to do and know before I pop the question?


Filed under Library Management, Rethinking My Library

A School Library Transformed – Part 1: What Have I Done to My Library?

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.

A Compromise

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.

Enthusiastic Reactions

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.

Part 2: Why Would I Do Such a Thing?


Filed under Library Management, Rethinking My Library