My first goal upon becoming the Upper School Librarian at Randolph was to find balance between my vision of an Upper School Library and what students wanted from “their” space. This was (is) harder than it sounds. I admit to you that I am somewhat old-fashioned in my views of the school library. I was degreed prior to the concept of the “Learning Commons”, and I have worked in a variety of library settings (public, academic and school) so I have seen many ways libraries meet the needs of their constituents. Still, I prefer a school library on the quieter side. I view the library as an extension of the classroom – an academic space subject to the same guidelines one might place in the classroom. This view is furthered by the constraints that my particular library space operates under. It is basically one large room with a classroom attached.
But I am not the person that library is meant to serve. The space must serve our students and I must serve effectively within those expectations. And, of course, the administration must be A-OK with all of this.
After banging my head against the wall for about six months trying to force my ideas on recalcitrant students, I got the bright idea of surveying them. Some of you out there helped me with my survey. I enlisted the assistance of several teachers to administer the online survey which asked students what they liked about the library and what they didn’t like. I asked what was missing. What worked, what didn’t. I asked about furniture, study space, white boards, databases, magazines, e-books, library policies, noise levels, and hours of operation.
Then I held several focus groups. That sounds fancy, but it wasn’t. I pulled in students who were sitting around the library during breaks and free periods and I quizzed them about the library and the survey’s findings.
I learned so much. What emerged was a plan for how the space could fit the student’s needs and allow me to operate comfortably and effectively.
- A comfortable space
Although we have comfortable seating, the table locations and shelving wasn’t conducive to small groups and “lounging”. I removed two ranges of shelving and rearranged tables – mixing soft furniture with more traditional wood furniture. The school doesn’t have a student lounge, so the library often serves as that.
- Individual study spaces
Students wanted more study carrels and hidden nooks and crannies in which to withdraw. We added a few more study carrels and I placed chairs in corners and odd crooks in the walls. Those spots are the first to fill up.
I don’t allow food in the library. I just don’t want to open that can of worms. My compromise to the students was the addition of a Keurig machine that they can use. Or they can give me money and I will make them a cup of coffee from my stash.
- White noise machines/Silent Study Room/Library headphones
Because I do enforce a reasonably quiet library, I purchased three white noise machines which dampen conversations a bit producing a more muted library buzz. This allowed conversation to continue in the library without echoing off the walls or high ceilings. The Library Classroom is always silent for those who really need quiet. I purchased headphones to loan students who want to listen to music but forgot their own earbuds, or who need to cut out all noise but their own.
- Art work
The Library is very beige. There is not a lot of color. The addition of student produced art changed that and the students love seeing their works on display.
Apparently, there were not enough trashcans in the library. I often complained that I was always picking up after the students – so they convinced me to add two trash cans and I was amazed at how much cleaner things were at the end of the day. So simple.
- Collection Development
In terms of library materials, students wanted more books in world languages, were not interested in e-books, and loved using ABC CLIO (which I was considering swapping for another). They also had great suggestions for Summer Reading.
- A Sign
I hate signs. The rebel in me doesn’t like to be told what to do. But the input I received was that my expectations were not clear. So, I made a simple sign that expresses my vision and expectations of the Library as an academic space.
The absolute best thing to come out of the survey and the group conversations was that students realized that I was listening to them.
We now have a group called the Library Leadership Council made up of students from grades 9-12. They suggest book purchases, assist greatly with Summer Reading book selection, put up book reviews, and offer policy suggestions. We meet 4-5 times a year.
Finding the right balance between how I want the library to be, how students want the library to be and what the library really is will always be a challenge. I’m lucky to have a supportive administration who allow me to make the changes. Somedays it is a zoo in here. But most days I’m pretty happy with the results of this student/librarian mashup space.