Thinking Outside the Building

I have been a school librarian for three years, which of course means pandemic-induced library contortions are my normal. That said, there is at least one idea that came out of the constraints of pandemic protocols that I’m happy to continue for years to come. I call it my lawn library.

Last year, like so many, we started the school year fully in distance learning. By January we started experimenting with a hybrid schedule, and in late March most of our school was back full time. Our ability to circulate books varied, and we met student needs as nimbly as possible during distance and hybrid learning. While students were all back on campus every day by March, we were still hamstrung in the library–our health protocols prohibited browsing and book displays.

In practice, these restrictions meant that students could search the catalog and make requests through a Google form, then I pulled the books and delivered them to students. We had a quarantine period set up for returns so areas of one floor of the library were covered in books waiting out their decontamination period. It worked fairly well for our students doing research where I provided instruction in class and other supports. But, without physical displays and browsing, our fiction was languishing.

Taking it–Thanksgiving dinner, family gatherings, restaurant dining, etc.–outdoors was the answer to so many challenges during the pandemic, and so it was for our library. I took our largest and shiniest book cart, added some signs, sent some email blasts and Canvas announcements, and (with the blessing of our Health Services folks and a few bottles of sanitizer) loaded it with the newest additions to the collection and most enticing fiction and headed outside. Each day the rain wasn’t falling, I brought our lawn library outside during break and lunch so students could finally get their eyes on some books just for pleasure.

My view from the cart. Students were just starting to trickle out from picking up their lunches, and our talented jazz students were jamming on the piano.

And folks, it worked! Tentatively at first, but then in groups, students came. They browsed the cart and checked things out. Faculty started stopping by regularly, delighted that we had the titles right there that they were on long wait lists for at their public libraries. Middle school students ran to me and squealed in delight that they could check books out (our middle school library was sadly not able to circulate books at all last year, and the kids were missing it dearly). I swapped the books out regularly, and adjusted based on what students asked for (all the fantasy, folks).

The Lawn Library cart, loaded and ready to roll.

I admit that I probably wouldn’t have thought of such a simple way to get books in front of and in the hands of more students had it not been for the pandemic. Being forced to think outside the box–and outside the building–brought me to a solution, the usefulness of which will long outlast the health protocols that brought it about. Our library gets lots of student traffic, we are a busy place, but being outside we got in front of new students. And, we got on their radar when they were in a different mindset than when they came into the physical library. This year, I’ve suped up my lawn library cart with an elastic cord to keep the books in place as I rattle down the stone ramp to the courtyard where students still eat outdoor lunches. I imagine there will be more improvements as we continue.

How can we get outside our library boxes to surprise and delight our communities and ourselves?

I share my story, because I want to hear yours. What feats of ingenuity did you develop under duress the past two years that are worth sustaining? How can we continue to support the creative ventures that we all launched since 2020, even as the pressures and constraints that fueled them ebb? How can we get outside our library boxes to surprise and delight our communities and ourselves?

5 thoughts on “Thinking Outside the Building

  1. I’m betting you are enjoying the spring weather even more now that it’s a choice to be outside. Great thinking!

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