A Lower School Library: Renovated!

A photo essay.

First Day at my new job August 2017 – lots of potential!

Immobile furniture, no soft seating, awkward browsing, but lots and lots of great light, a solid collection, and it’s an octagon!

At the start of my job as Lower School Librarian and Information Specialist in August of 2017, I was in meetings about a possible renovation. I reached out to everyone I knew who had completed a reno recently, researched furnishings and finishes, and, later, took detailed notes at AISL ATLANTA. Visiting Atlanta area independent school libraries made a lasting impact. In the mean time, I encouraged my space to sing as best I could.

Year after year went by. No renovation. Meeting after meeting. Promises not kept. Then COVID.

And then, the renovation magically made it to the top of the CFO’s to do list!

In the Fall of 2020, there was a glimmer of hope. I started updating all of my planning documents. The fun part happened in Spring 2021. We met with architects, and held listening sessions. I shared a slideshow and a document of the vision with stakeholders:

Come May 2021, the packing began. I was on my own – thanks to mentors from my past roles, I had a system: box books spine up and in shelf order. Label each box exhaustively with contents and number order.
This is what I returned to in August 2021: boxes in scary heaps, but the carpet was down and the walls were painted! Supply chain issues plagued our furniture…
waiting and waiting and waiting…then the day came!

The first two months of school I held “library classes” in the library. I gave public library website browsing lessons to older grades, borrowed books from the public library, and taught my digital citizenship lesson earlier in the year than usual – figured might as well get the nuts and bolts of non-library space instruction completed before furniture arrived!

Two months into the school year, after multiple false starts, we got the call! Would we accept delivery of we-don’t-know-what-will-arrive…? Of course I said SEND IT!

I was able to get help from our maintenance crew to open boxes, and take and break down empty boxes. Over 200 boxes of PK-5 library books were unpacked over 2 days.

The space is reflective of my library program: warm, welcoming, open, vibrant, inviting, curious and exciting!

Circ desk area
The Last Box. #moodattheend

All in all, this project was 5 years in the making. Folders and folders of quotes, scribbles, ideas, furniture books and linear feet measurements! 3 months for wall removals, painting and carpet. 1 full day of assembly from the furniture company. 3 days to unpack and put everything away. And all the months of the school year ahead to share and celebrate!

All that is left is some soft seating still “stuck somewhere in the COVID supply chain disruption” and art for the walls.

There were many silver linings to the delay – I learned more about my students, my school, my space. I developed tastes and interests in ways to reflect the library program with the space and furnishings.

And grand opening week has been magical! Here is an album from one class visit!

Renovation was an exhilarating experience. Reach out with questions!

Design Thinking @ Your Library, a SI2016 Recap

Librarians are, by our very nature, selfless creatures. We think about our users constantly, in just about every area of our work. From collection development to research instruction, web design to furniture and paint colors. But do we really know them and understand the full spectrum of their needs?

Enter Design Thinking @ Your Library, the 2016 AISL Summer Institute.

This June, 36 librarians came together from the four corners of the United States, representing Lower, Middle, and Upper Division libraries, all with a single mission: to learn how to “do” Design Thinking and to return to our schools ready to tackle challenges, great and small.

My background in Design Thinking is varied. Three years ago I participated in an awesome Leadership & Design Design Thinking workshop here at Emma Willard. We designed around the downtown Troy revitalization effort. This spring, I took an ALA course that applied DT to information literacy instruction.  I have read about it and watched videos on it. I was on a committee at school where we used it to study the effectiveness of blended learning in our classrooms. There have been some awesome Independent Idea blog posts in the past that dealt with the DT in the library, but in the vein of all the other awesome posts of late where bloggers admit their limitations,

I still couldn’t quite wrap my mind around how it would work, from start to finish, in the library world. There, I said it.

The Summer Institute changed all of that.

We started with an opening cocktail party where we mingled and got to know one another. We enjoyed delicious food and drink but then…it was time to get down to business. We split up into teams for a quick, fun Marshmallow Design Challenge.

Photo Jun 21, 7 37 57 PM (1)Many a group has attempted this challenge before, from Kindergartners to PhDs , engineers to corporate executives. Who do you think is the most successful? The engineers? Think again! It’s the little ones! Why? Because they are completely open minded. They jump right in and start building. Adults plan, contemplate the “what ifs”, and basically eat up their 18 minutes. Kids aren’t afraid to fail. They build. It falls down. They try again. If you need a great team building activity for a faculty meeting, this is a great one.

Photo Jun 22, 2 04 45 PM

Highlights of the SI included a fantastic keynote by Steven Bell giving us a birds eye view, or WHY Design Thinking works in tackling our “wicked problems”. Two of my amazing colleagues, science teachers and experienced design thinkers, then stepped in to teach us HOW to do it. We practiced as a group designing around my nemesis: a rickety wooden book cart circa 1960-somethin’, that hurts me, literally, falling over when I least expect it, bruising my shins. My assistant and I explained our many problems with the cart, the group interviewed us further to practice the empathy stage of the DT process, then everyone broke into teams to determine what they thought the “real” problem was (ie: was it a physical cart issue or a process issue?). That was an interesting conversation in and of itself! Their prototypes were AMAZING, and included, among other features, a student-led shelving system, fancy carts with huge tires, device charging stations so that we can listen to music while we shelve, flat, adjustable shelves to accommodate oversize books and a laptop for doing inventory, among other things. Designs shared via Twitter were picked up by Demco. How cool is that? I digress…

The final part of the conference was the one that my colleagues and I were most anxious about. How could we divide such a diverse group into balanced teams, around shared challenges in varied divisions, in a way that made sense and provided them with real, applicable, takeaways from the SI?

On the fly, we asked them to take a piece of paper, write their division at the top, their challenge as a headline, and at the bottom, which “track” of the SI their challenge fell under: Research, Physical Space, Maker, or simply “Other”.

You know what? IT TOTALLY WORKED.

Rather than tell you about their intriguing challenges, their thoughtful “What If…” statements, their design horizons, and their prototypes, why don’t you check it out on your own in this SI Libguide I created? While you’re there, feel free to visit the presentations, see the recommended reading, and download the free DT Toolkit provided by IDEO.

How can we ensure that we are creating the spaces, programs, and lessons that our community needs, both now and in the future? We do what we do best: we observe, we question, we listen, we invite other perspectives to the table, we think outside the box, we take risks, we try things! Whether we realize it or not, the skill set emphasized in design thinking is very much what we as librarians do best.

SI Participants, feel free to share your reflections below. If anyone has questions or if you would like to discuss the experience further, please let me know!

SI2017 will be here before you know it! It will be hosted by Caroline Bartels at the Horace Mann School in NYC focusing on One Book One School. More info to come as planning progresses.

I wish you all an excellent start to the ’16-’17 school year!


From one-room library to learning commons



What do YOU think of when you read that word?

Me? I get giddy with excitement! In my first year as the Lower School Librarian at Carolina Friends School, I was given the privilege (and let’s not kid ourselves, the enormous responsibility) of re-designing and re-imagining not only our library space but also our library program. In this post, I’ll share with you a small fraction of my thoughts and considerations in designing the physical space.

Our Lower School library serves 120 students, first through fourth years.

I started the 2014-15 school year with 8,000 print volumes nestled in this 600 square-foot space.

Our storytime area could comfortably seat a handful of students, though I often had 10-12 students at a time.

Space was an issue from that very first day I arrived. But for a year, I made it work. (That’s an entirely different post!)

Plans were already in the making before I arrived to increase the library space as a part of a larger Lower School renovation. I was beyond thrilled. After looking at the architect’s drawings, though, I realized that the library would only be gaining a few feet of space. This couldn’t be right!

After much research and consideration, I presented my proposal to increase the library space to the entire 1,800 square-foot building to my staff. Yes, the library would be tripling in size, but it would still be well below the state recommendations for an elementary school library (see resources at end). This was not an easy presentation to make, especially since I was brand new and had yet to develop working relationships with any of my teachers. Nonetheless, the proposal was approved!

(This is where I have to pause and cheer for my co-workers and administration because they were incredibly supportive and open to my suggestions and ideas to increase the library space.)

So, now what?

Well, after performing an in-depth collection analysis using TitleWise by Follett, I realized that the collection needed to be weeded immediately. Or rather, 20 years ago. I know that weeding in your first year is highly frowned upon, but my options were limited. I would have to either box up all 8,000 musty books and place them on brand new library shelves, or I would have to confidently cull the collection. I chose to cull.


I was conservative in my weeding efforts. Only 2,000 volumes were whisked away to find better homes. The rest were meticulously boxed up near the end of the school year. I boxed everything in shelf order and labeled and numbered each box so that they could easily be unpacked by volunteers. This is where thinking ahead saved me from a ton of work later in the summer!


Emptying this tightly-packed library was no easy feat, but I had loads of help from staff, staff kids, and extra workers we employed for the renovation. Remember, the whole Lower School was packing up, too! The boxes were hauled to a Pack Rat, which was then transported to a climate-controlled warehouse.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Throughout the school year, I was planning and designing and researching library spaces. I knew that we were heading for some BIG changes. I do not exaggerate when I say that all of my “free” time was devoted to designing the new library. I visited other school libraries and took notes on what worked and what didn’t. I read books about 21st century library design. I spoke with experts in the field. I talked to anyone who would listen and provide feedback!


A common theme was emerging from my research – the space had to be exactly what it was not in the past. It had to be FLEXIBLE. Bookshelves on wheels. Tables on wheels. Lightweight furniture.

Because our needs are many and varied, so our space would need to accommodate them. Can I fit a whole class in the library? A half class? Small groups? Are there quiet reading areas? And loud ones too? Cozy nooks for students to get lost in a book?

These considerations and more were on my mind when I met with our furniture and design consultants to select shelving units, tables, chairs, lounge pieces, wall colors, furniture fabrics, tabletop finishes, carpet designs, and more.

So, when I say that I re-designed our library, I mean it! I selected every new piece, every new color and textile. This is not something that everyone will feel comfortable doing, but I think I must have been an interior designer in a former life. I had my say in every last detail.


Once all of the hard work of planning for this renovation had been done, it was time to renovate! Luckily, I could now sit back and enjoy my summer.


When I returned in August 2015, the library was nearly transformed! Okay, nearly might not be the right word. If you’ve ever lived through a renovation, personal or school, you know that timelines are not always, or ever, accurate. We started the school year with most of our spaces ready enough for students.


It’s now November, and the library is almost finished. I still have furniture on back order. And of course, there’s the work of adding artwork and bulletin boards and signage. That will be ongoing throughout this school year.

But the end result? It’s simply breathtaking. The comment I hear most often is, “It looks like a real library!” Well, thank you. We have moved from the one-room “library” to a true learning commons.




Bibliography (or, the sources I consulted to aid me in the redesign)

Bitterman, A., Gray, L., and Goldring, R. (2013). Characteristics of Public Elementary and Secondary School Library Media Centers in the United States: Results From the 2011–12 Schools and Staffing Survey (NCES 2013–315). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved 21 Aug. 2014 from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch.

“Educational Specifications for the School Library Media Center.” IMPACT: Guidelines for North Carolina Media and Technology Programs ~Information Access and Delivery. NC DPI, 2006. Web. 21 Aug. 2014. <http://www.ncwiseowl.org/impact/info.htm#LMCspecs>.

Erikson, Rolf, and Carolyn Bussian. Markuson. Designing a School Library Media Center for the Future. 2nd ed. Chicago: American Library Association, 2007.

Hart, Thomas L. The School Library Media Facilities Planner. New York: Neal-Schuman, 2006.

Harvey, Carl A. The 21st Century Elementary Library Media Program. Santa Barbara, CA: Linworth Pub., 2010.

PowerPoint presentation from Designing School Libraries for 21st Century Learners by Peg Sullivan, Standards and Guidelines Implementation Task Force Member, at AASL National Conference in Charlotte, NC.

Sullivan, Margaret. Library Spaces for 21st-century Learners: A Planning Guide for Creating New School Library Concepts. Chicago, IL: American Association of School Librarians, 2013.