Tag Archives: library browsing

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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Full Circle to the Dark Ages?

To explain the term ‘call number’, I tell my students about traditional library service in the ‘old days’: where the librarian stood behind a counter and ‘called out the number’ of a requested tome to a page in a back room where the books were all kept. “Still,” states History Magazine, “libraries remained the domain of the learned: teachers, scientists, scholars”.

When they hear this, my students are appalled: to not have the freedom to browse the shelves for the perfect book seems completely barbaric!

And yet, now, with the potentially universal freedom to browse the unlimited quantity of a full range of quality internet material, one library has chosen to again remove the books from public access and replace them with a “so-called red room: a space filled with more than 100 plastic red crates, where students can pick up books they requested online”. Tradition seems to have gone full circle with a distinct digital twist.

Granted, this is a college library where students are still presumably able to get the traditional library experience at their local public library but I am nonetheless saddened to view the cold, sterile and to me uninviting space where students are expected to be inspired.

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Islands of Knowledge will Transform Learning: the Plan Begins to Come Together

Acitrezza Faraglioni Moon Rise Sicilia Italy Italia by gnuckx

In earlier posts I have discussed my dissatisfaction with current library organization and my thoughts on how the improvement of successful library use is essential. In these days of almost all public school libraries in Alberta being staffed by heavily burdened, non-professional assistants, it is even more essential that students and teachers can successfully find what they require and desire with minimal assistance.

Working through the possibilities and researching the projects undertaken by public libraries who have embraced the bookstore model like the Spruce Grove Public Library’s Neighbourhoods and Anythink’s innovations, I have designed a plan to transform my collection into the possibly pretentious sounding “Islands of Knowledge”.

From supporting the inquiry-based learning philosophy of Alberta Education to improving the success of the browse for reluctant readers, the Islands concept will transform the way the library is used by students and teachers alike.

Instead of being scattered throughout the library, general topic areas for Grades 3 through 12 will be grouped in u-shaped Islands and will include all media that pertains to that theme including guided access to virtual resources and related fiction. There would be seating and table space within each island and realia decorating the shelves.

By mind mapping the Dewey Decimal System and its uses in my library both for curriculum-specific topics and general interest use by students, I was able to connect disparate areas that are commonly used together. I am still working through the fine-tuning, but my current plan consists of nine Islands with the following working titles: Arts & Entertainment, The Art & Science of Language, Mental Health & Relationships, Fantasy & the Supernatural, Body & Health, Daily Life, Science & Technology, Nature & the Environment, Global Society. The ninth Island, Global Society is far too large and will likely be further divided. As I work out the physical configuration these will all evolve.

Current draft of Islands project - Click to enlarge

This is a custom-fit plan. Each library would be different, based on the needs and interests of their patrons.

Despite my initial thoughts, the Dewey Decimal System will not be eliminated. Rather, it will be preceded in the call number by an abbreviation of the Island’s name and subtopic, and shelved accordingly within the Island. There will be further customization as time reveals the need, but the quick location of specific items by call number is still essential and shelving by author or title is not a useful option.

I have placed almost equal emphasis on curriculum and general interest needs because I believe students learn best when they are following a personal path of inquiry. There is significant learning value in a student successfully discovering and enthusiastically perusing a range of resources to support his or her current fascination with snowmobiles or hamsters.

Easy Street, the fiction and nonfiction section in my library for Kindergarten through Grade 2 will be a large, inviting Island of its own. I am considering the possibility of highlighting some specific genres within these primary books as well: interfiling fiction and nonfiction relating to Dinosaurs and Animals for example. Many books at this level cross the fiction-nonfiction boundaries. I feel it would be a valuable exercise in critical thinking for children to personally and instinctually work out truth from fiction among and within the material they read, a life skill that most are in the process of developing in their daily lives.

A presentation to administration, teachers and program assistants with discussion and feedback and a specific appeal for any potential negative impacts on teaching and learning outcomes yielded only positive, enthusiastic responses.

There are many challenges ahead not the least of which is designing the physical layout and finding the shelving that will work with the plan and within the budget. The nine Islands need fine-tuning for some kind of consistency in size and scope and many areas have been identified for serious collection development.

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In Response to Robert McCoppin

There’s a very interesting discussion here, with some very good arguments for hanging on to the Dewey Decimal System. One commenter suggested, “These so-called nouveau-libraries would be better served by holding classes in their neighborhood schools to educate both the student[s] and, obviously, their teachers on how to use the Dewey Decimal System.” So true! However, that statement does not address the reality of libraries staffed by non-teacher-librarians and teachers who can barely find the time to teach research skills as needed. Library managers are not in control of policy or budgets. We can only do our best so support curriculum and promote literacy.

It was also suggested there that no-one ‘browses’ nonfiction. Although I understand that school libraries are not the focus of the discussion, that has not been my experience. My students, especially up to Grade 7 and particularly boys, browse the nonfiction stacks with enthusiasm. In my opinion, the potential ‘success of the browse’ is what is going to keep nonfiction books in the hands of our children. The question is only how radical does the change need to be to make this happen. Is signage enough, or does there need to be a revamping of the way books are displayed as I outlined in my previous post?

I did attempt to join this discussion, however I’m not inclined to enter my birthdate or even a fictitious one when simply commenting on a blog post as the Chicago Tribune required me to do. My entry would possibly not have been accepted anyway, since ‘Zip Code’ was also required and my Canadian Postal Code would not likely have passed muster.

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