Over the past five years, we have redesigned our media center and transformed it into a more flexible, collaborative space. This is the story of how we got there, and how you can apply what we learned as you rethink your library space.
Want to learn even more about transforming your library space? Check out my book, Reimagining Library Spaces: Transform Your Space on Any Budget
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Rethink Your Library Space
When I first arrived at Stewart in 2010, the library was in pretty dismal shape. It was dark, dingy, cluttered and pretty much the opposite of student friendly. Over the course of five years, I gradually changed things up and redesigned our learning space into one that is flexible, collaborative, and fun to be in. Here’s six things we did to change up the space that you can apply in your own space as you rethink your library.
Removing obstacles and clutter
When I first got to Stewart in 2010, the collection hadn’t been weeded in decades. My supervisor had come in and gutted the worst of it before I got there, but even then, I was finding books on the shelves that hadn’t been checked out since 1971! Not only were the shelves cluttered, but they also took up all the space. About 50% of the floor space was taken up with massive floor shelving. Every inch of available wall space had shelving too. There was no room to breathe. The small instruction area had ten 60 x 36 heavy wooden tables and about fifty heavy wooden chairs that couldn’t stack. There were odd extra desks and tables taking up a ton of space too. Students were constantly bumping into furniture and each other.
I began massively weeding the collection, paring it down to the books that students were actually reading. To break up the monotony of the shelves, I created displays within them. I rearranged the books and removed wall shelving to open up some space. To get rid of the excess furniture we weren’t using, I had the district come out and remove it. I got permission to remove the often broken alarm system to open up more room and make the library feel more welcoming. All of this didn’t cost our school any money, but it made a huge difference in the functionality of the space. Sometimes, less is more.
When we received a $5,000 grant from Lowe’s Toolbox for Education in 2014, it included money to get paint and painting supplies to add color to our library. We have no windows, which is a problem that I haven’t been able to fix yet. With the dull beige walls, it felt kind of like a cave in there. So we brightened things up by adding blue and green to our walls. It’s made a huge difference in our space – it’s helped our library to become a more vibrant and active space. Even if we hadn’t been able to get the grant, the cost of paint and supplies was only a couple of hundred dollars, which many schools could get donated from local businesses or PTSA.
Movement and Flexibility
The heavy wooden tables and chairs our library had were not flexible enough for our space. The table legs were frequently breaking from the tables being dragged across the floor and rearranged. Whenever we needed more floor space (ie. bookfairs, special events) we had to stack the wooden chairs one on top of the other in an awkward way in front of the bookshelves, preventing students from checking out books and potentially causing safety hazards.
The majority of our Lowe’s Toolbox grant was spent on purchasing six 60 x 30 Bretford Flip & Nest tables and four quarter round whiteboard top tables. (Note: Bretford no longer manufactures furniture, but you can find similar tables with many other companies) We also purchased forty blue stacking chairs. This dramatically increased the flexibility of our space by allowing us to quickly rearranged tables and chairs to suit our needs. The chairs are lightweight and comfortable and can stack six high and are easy to store in the backroom if we need more space.
We also funded a DonorsChoose project to add six Hokki stools to our library. These have been fantastic for our kinetic students who find sitting still to be torture. You’ll often see students pulling one up to a table to work on a project with fellow students.
Variety of seating
One thing I learned from the book Make Space is the importance of having a variety of seating options. High. Low. Hard. Soft. So I’ve been proactive about ensuring that there are plenty of options for my students. There are comfortable soft chairs in our brainstorming lounge, perfect for dreaming up their next project. We have high cafe tables and stools, perfect for sharing a game of chess or chatting while waiting on other students to finish checking out. We have “rocking” chairs and Hokki stools to allow for movement. And we have standard chairs to make sure we have enough seating for everyone.
Libraries should not be static places. If you look at the offices of innovative companies (Google, Facebook, etc) you will find plenty of interactive spaces for employees to relax, collaborate and have fun. Drawing from this inspiration, I’ve been intentional about adding more interactive elements to our library space. The most obvious is our Makerspace, where students are invited to sit and tinker with LEGOs and K’nex. Within this space is the centerpiece of our library, our Epic LEGO wall, where students can build amazing vertical LEGO creations.
We also have our whiteboard wall, where students can doodle, collaborate and brainstorm. There are lots of whiteboard tables throughout our library too, which students often take advantage of to jots notes for their homework, work out an algebra problem or keep score during chess. We also have an interactive short throw projector in our instructional space. Inspired by Laura Fleming‘s concept of digital breadcrumbs, we often put up interactive educational games for the students to try their hand at.
We are a BYOD library, and one thing that I noticed was how students (and teachers) were always struggling to find outlets. They’re all hidden underneath our bookshelves, which make them difficult and awkward to get to. As we’ve removed some wall shelving to make more room, we’ve opened up access to more outlets. We’ve also added several charging stations where students and teachers are invited to charge up their devices. These areas have become the new water cooler, as students gather around to charge their devices.
(Edited to add: Our original charging station later broke. We replaced it with a KwikBoost Charging Station from Demco and our students love it! It charges devices very quickly and is super durable. It was a bit pricey, but well worth the investment. At my new school, I now use the Vogek hubs, which are super affordable and work great)
Want to learn more about how I transformed my library space, read about other schools’ transformations and get practical tips for changing up your own space?
Check out my book: Reimagining Library Spaces: Transform Your Space on Any Budget
In this practical guide, I go into detail about planning a library space transformation, from brainstorming to ideation to surveying your students. I include tips for dreaming big as well as simple, budget-friendly changes you can implement right away. Each chapter includes action steps and connections to the ISTE standards.
7 thoughts on “6 Ways to Rethink Your Library Space and Make it Amazing”
I love all of these ideas! I’ve done some major weeding to update our collection, and I’m overdue to start more. I think it gets harder the longer I work in the same library. I’m at the point now where I need to weed books that I purchased 8 years ago.
As for our space, I’ve added carpets and beanbag chairs, gotten rid of 1 table, moved shelves, and added a graphic novels section. Reference is now integrated into nonfiction. I also let students check out 5 books at a time instead of 2, even kindergarteners, so the books we have are used more.
This year our makerspace has more of a dedicated space, especially for project storage. We still have a long way to go, and a fixed schedule to work around, but it’s so great to see your photos for inspiration! Thank you!
I’ve been in my library for almost five years, and I’m starting to hit that point where I’m weeding things from my first year too. I love the idea of raising the number of books that students can check out – I’ll have to see if my district will let me.
Great ideas! I have recently re-vamped the entire library space at our high school library – installing Steelcase furniture which is mobile, colorful and fun! It has made what was previously a warm, welcoming space to hang out a cool, happening spot on campus! Between the mobile furniture, the color, layout, design, a “cafe” area where kids can eat, and music – we are busting at the seams before school and lunch. During class time and instruction in the library – the students are more likely to get engaged because they know me better and know my motto: work hard, play hard!
Hi Cathy, would you be able to send any pictures of your library redesign? We are an older school transitioning our high school library to a learning commons, and I’ve seen a lot of stuff on elementary and middle schools, but not as much about high school renovations.
These are such great ideas. I hope you will see an increase in student reading after all the hard work and effort you put into the space.
I love your Ideas, its what I need in my library. Well hopefully I can get those kind of funding but still our school is generous in giving us funds for innovation but to be able to give that to us we have to justify…:)
I like your ideas in variety of chairs and the lego wall (wish I can have one of those).
Oh, by the way I’m Charlie, Grade School Librarian at Jose Rizal University in the Philippines 🙂
Whoo..Rahhh…school librarians 🙂 more power and God Bless
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