Figuring out the Design Problems in Your Space
Many of us are rethinking and redesigning our library spaces. We have visions of flexible, mobile furnishings on wheels, beautiful charging stations, tools to support technology. And these are all great and wonderful. But if we go to our administration/school board/people who have money to give us and all we do is paint pretty pictures of what our space could be, they may or may not give us money. By identifying the specific design problems in our space and how they impact student learning, we are much more likely to secure that funding that we need. Here’s some common design problems we often face in school libraries and some ideas on how to reframe them.
Problem: The Library is the host of meetings, and setup takes a long time
This is a common issue for many school libraries. If your school doesn’t have an auditorium or multipurpose room, the library is often the place where meetings are located. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. If it’s meetings afterschool that are getting teachers into your library and making collaborations possible, it’s good. If it’s meetings in the middle of the day that are closing the library or if you’re having a to spend a good chuck of time setting things up, it’s bad.
Reframe: Meeting setups take away time for planning instruction
Instead of complaining about how long it takes you to set up the furniture for meetings, reframe the problem. Focus on how you need time to plan instruction, collaborations and programs, and how having to spend an hour every week rearranging your tables is digging into that time. Maybe your administration will find a different place to hold meetings. Or maybe they’ll support you with some office staff. Or maybe they’ll start considering more flexible furniture that lets you quickly and easily prepare for meetings.
Problem: Inflexible furnishings block bookselves during events like bookfairs
Bookfairs are often an important fundraiser and community event for school libraries. But unfortunately, with inflexible furnishings and a lack of space, we often end up having to close all or most of the library whenever we host one, which can disenfranchise those students who can’t afford books at the bookfair.
Reframe: Inflexible furnishings prevent student access to learning materials
Reframe this problem and use it to advocate for furnishings or space or support that can make student access to library materials possible during the bookfair. Both serve important purposes. Maybe your administration can help support you in hosting the bookfair in a separate room, or in recruiting PTSA volunteers. Maybe they can help you change up the physical space so that fewer bookshelves are blocked. Even if you can just keep part of your library open during the fair, it will still help to support your readers.
Problem: Non-stackable chairs are stored in front of shelves during events
I’m not sure who decided that heavy, wooden, non-stackable chairs should be the standard in school libraries, but if I ever met that person, I’d like to give him/her a piece of my mind. When we had chairs like this in my library, we frequently had to block the bookshelves any time an event was happening in the library. They were a pain to move out of the way and it took a lot of time to set things up.
Reframe: Non-stackable chairs create safety hazards for students
Rather than focusing on how much of a pain these types of chairs are, reframe the problem in terms of the safety hazards they create for students. The words “student safety” are like magic words for getting things done in schools. For my school, I noticed that students would climb on top of and underneath the chairs to get to the books they wanted. I used the above image as part of a grant I wrote to replace our library furniture with more flexible options, including lightweight, stacking chairs. And I got that grant :)
Problem: Overly deep shelving looks bad and causes book to fall behind the shelves
One of the most frustrating design problems in my library when I got there was the fact that ALL of the shelving was picture book deep, even though we were a middle school. The librarian before me had cut up printer boxes and put them behind the fiction books to keep them from falling behind, but the boxes were gross and dusty and books still ended up getting lost back there.
Reframe: Overly deep shelving makes it harder for students to find reading materials
For years, I kept pitching that we needed to replace these shelves, and the response I kept getting was that they had worked for years, so why change it? But when I started digging into checkout statistics and took pictures of lost books fallen behind the shelves, the problem took on a new light. This wasn’t a cosmetic issue – this was making it more difficult for students to find the reading materials they were looking for. It took a lot of advocating, but eventually I got those shelves.
Problem: Instruction space has an awkward layout
A lack of a good instructional space is one of the design problems that I see frequently in school libraries. My library originally had shelving on EVERY SINGLE WALL and no designated instructional space. There were two pulldown projector screens in odd locations that either went right through our reading nook or covered up bookshelves. There were few outlets on this side of the library, meaning that if I wanted to use a computer and projector, I had to run an extension cable across half the room. Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly encouraging instruction and collaboration.
Reframe: Instruction space is difficult to setup, causes safety hazards, and blocks student access to reading materials
While these things frustrated me to no end, I knew that I needed to do more than just complain. So I reframed the problem and focused on how the library was being underutilized as an instructional space since it was so difficult to setup. I looked at the safety hazards caused by having to run extension cords across the room. I talked about how these screens were blocking student access to reading materials. When I was finally able to weed enough books to remove some wall shelves and put up a whiteboard, my administration was more than happy to pay for a short-throw projector. Now our instruction space is always ready and never blocks student access to books.