Taking a Step Back

Taking a Step Back: Assessing needs after four years in a new space

by Stacy Nockowitz

Email: nockowitzs@columbusacademy.org

The Reinberger Middle School Library at Columbus Academy, Columbus, Ohio

Four years ago, our school completed a huge construction and renovation project. The Middle School Library moved into a newly constructed space almost twice the size of our old one. I was asked to take an active role in designing the new space, and I relished the idea of flexing my library design muscles.

Here we are, almost four years later, and the time has come to assess how we’re doing. For now, I’m focusing on the space itself, not the collection or programming or any other matter.

Some parameters were placed on us when we moved into this space, the most difficult of which was that we could not tack anything up on the walls nor could we cover the glass in any way. This left us with very little usable wall space, as a good percentage of the walls are floor-to-ceiling glass windows. In addition, the library’s décor and furniture choices were undertaken by an interior designer, so the only input I had was in asking that the chairs and tables be moveable for flexible seating arrangements. The paper mâché tree, flying book lights, and “space chairs” give the space those extra elements that make it exciting yet child-friendly.

I wrote a grant proposal for the construction of a 10 ft. x 10 ft. Lego wall, and a parent gave the library a generous gift so we could make one of the rooms around the periphery into a green screen room. The students enjoy the Lego wall, but I need to come up with some ways to utilize it more with the middle school students.

The Lego wall is dedicated to a middle school student who passed away several years ago.

Our green screen room is the only one in the school, and it is used on a daily basis by kids in both the middle and upper schools. It’s a small space that was originally intended to be a conference room, so it has windows and a glass door. Not particularly good for a green screen room, but we’ve worked around these issues. Things took off in there when we decided to paint an entire wall apple green rather than hang a green piece of cloth. Scheduling time in the green screen room is complicated, and because it’s the room that’s furthest from the circulation desk, it tends to get messy in there. But it’s working.

The other rooms around the perimeter of the main space include an office, a conference room with a folding wall to convert it into two rooms, 2 reading/relaxing areas, and a workroom for faculty with a sink. We also have two large spaces for tables and chairs where entire classes can meet.

One of our reading/work areas. Plenty of natural light.
The Middle School Library in a rare, quiet moment.

Thanks to all of the glass, the library fills with natural light throughout the day, which is beautiful, but it makes it difficult to heat and cool the space properly. Because everyone loves the library, school events are held in here often. This means that we have come in some mornings to leftover food and event set-ups that haven’t been broken down. Another issue we have is that the Upper School Library next door is often crowded, so upper school students often come in to use any quiet rooms we have available to study. Middle school students have priority over the upper school students when it comes to space utilization, but it can be difficult to monitor the behavior of the older students when they’re in our space.

The library is a wonderful, welcoming space. Our circulation desk is huge and allows us to comfortably assist patrons. Very little of the library’s square footage is underutilized. In fact, I’d say that we will be bursting at the seams before we know it. When we opened four years ago, our stacks were a good size for our print collection. Now, though, it looks like we’re going to need a new shelf unit soon, unless we do some serious weeding later this year. Adding another shelf unit would seriously impact the space, and I’d like to avoid that as long as possible.

The circulation desk is a gathering space for students each morning.
One of the two classroom areas.

I realize that all of our space problems are good problems to have. I’m thankful that the architects asked for our librarian input when the library was being designed because we knew what we needed and what would work well for the middle school. We love our library and know we can be comfortable here for years to come.

Ten Years of Weekly Web Hits in the Middle School Library

When Friday comes around, there is one task that supersedes all others on my to-do list at the library. Friday is the day I write and send out the Weekly Web Hits. This year is the tenth “anniversary” of the WWHs, as I’ve come to call them, an email compilation of resources and items of interest that I send to 150+ people each Friday. What began as a way to reach out to our middle school faculty has grown into one of the cornerstones of faculty culture at our school and beyond.

Each week, I tap into my extensive personal learning network to find websites, apps, articles, and tech tools that might be of interest to the faculty. I created a Weekly Web Hits “banner” for the email, and I follow the same format for them each week. To introduce a web hit, I find a photo online labeled for reuse that matches the content of that hit. The photo goes above that hit’s text. The text gives a brief summary of the topic and contains links to any relevant web pages. Each week’s email consists of 3-4 of these hits.

In addition to the week’s web hits, I usually include a weekly search challenge. These are inspired by Dan Russell’s excellent SearchReSearch blog, and I always include the solution to the previous week’s challenge as well as a delineation of the search lessons the challenge taught. Over the years, the faculty’s search skills have improved tremendously. In fact, a core group of faculty who solved the search challenges every week became known as my Star Searchers. I gave each of them a detective nickname, like Trixie Belden, Encyclopedia Brown, etc.

I’ve found the Weekly Web Hits to be a terrific way to start a dialogue with faculty members about ways the library can help them with their classes or with their advisories. I can’t count the number of times that a faculty member has come to and said, “You know how you wrote about XYZ in the Weekly Web Hits last week? I want to try that in my classroom. Can you help me with that?” The Hits spark ideas that lead to faculty taking new risks with students, trying tools that they wouldn’t otherwise have been exposed to, and utilizing the librarians’ expertise in exciting ways.

The faculty tell me that they look forward to my Weekly Web Hits each week. At the bottom of the email, I always include a paragraph about things going on in my life, whether it’s my plans for the weekend or a review of a book I’ve recently read. Readers say they love that personal touch. If you would like to subscribe to the Weekly Web Hits, please email me: nockowitzs@columbusacademy.org, and I’ll add you to the mail list.