The Day the Bench Broke

About three years ago, at eight months pregnant, I was sitting with my student book club at a table that looked a bit like this.  I did not have cushions on my benches, but you get the idea.


When all of a sudden the bench and three students I was sitting with came crashing down.  We were all fine!  After the embarrassment of what has happened wore off I realized that a fabulous opportunity had literally fallen in my lap.  I could begin to recreate what my library space looked like!

I am fortunate to have inherited a library filled with fabulous books.  My predecessor had created a collection that was nothing short of amazing, however, she had also collected a lot of furniture along the way.  Most of it being the heavy wood variety.  So began a slow redesign, which is still happening in our space.

Here is what I have learned so far:

Start Small – So when the bench broke I replaced the old, wooden table with a small couch, chair, and movable round seats.  We added curtains to the office window and the space affectionately became known as the Living Room.  Since that time we have added two other spaces, including The Beach and The Garden.  I have basically added one thing each year.  For me the change has been so gradual that I have not been meet with any resistance.

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De-clutter – Last June, I watched a webinar through the TL Virtual Café called Classroom Cribs by Erin Klein (@KleinErin).  Check out the webinar archive here.  In this presentation, she shared one of the best, and cheapest, pieces of advice I have ever gotten when it comes to change in design. Get rid of what you do not need.   Keep your space as open as possible and take a less-is-more approach.  For me this involved removing two large metal cabinets, two large round tables, three bookshelves, one small trapezoid table, and half of my circulation desk.  All this added space has allowed for small groups and improved instruction.

Weed – At the AASL Conference in November 2015, I attended a session shared by Bret Foster (@bretfoster). In this session, called Unbridling School Library Spaces to Empower Learners, he focused on looking at spaces for their best use.  Additionally, he addressed the collection.  He shared that having a lot of books is not the answer.  It is about having the right books.  I have found that when I have weeded well, students can find materials more efficiently.  They do not have to dig through the old to find what they are looking for.  With this decrease in collection comes more space that can be repurposed for learning.

Variety – This is a sort of obvious one.  When purchasing furniture, variety needs to be considered.  Not every kid is going to want to work on the floor or sit on a garden bench so it is important to offer something for everyone.  Having multiple options allows for different spaces to work for different types of projects as well.

Keep Your Objective in Mind – This is the one I think is the most important and the easiest to forget. Recently, I read a blog post called Office Furniture and the Future of Collaboration by Mike Arney.  You can see the full posting here.  This was a look at workspaces and how the office environment has been redesigned.  What I liked about this article was it focused on purpose.  It has been easy to get caught up in designing cute or fun spaces with no real focus.  When I was looking to add an additional reading nook I kept choosing things that were feminine. It was a colleague who said, “That would be great for the girls!”  I had to stop and rethink about my objective for the space.  As the article points out when this happens in business it does not lead to real productive change.  The same can be said for classrooms.  Not everything has to be high tech or pretty as long as you have a clear idea of what and who the space will be used for.

As the library is ever changing I am excited to see what spaces will be added in the future.  Do you have a creative space?  I would love to see and share.

If you are interested in learning more TL Virtual Webinar Series will be hosting Organizing Your Library to Maximize Student Achievement at 8pm EST on January 4th.   More information is  available at:



Arney, M. (2015, December, 15). Office furniture and the future of collaboration [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Foster, B., & Cahill, D. (2015, November 6). Unbridling library spaces to empower learners. Lecture presented at AASL National Conference in Greater Columbus Convention Center, Columbus.

Klein, E. (2015, June 1). Classroom cribs [Webinar]. In TL Virtual Café Webinar Series. Retrieved from


Author: Kelly Hincks

I am the librarian at Detroit Country Day Lower School in Bloomfield Hills, MI. I have worked as a school librarian for the past eleven years. I was a classroom teacher for four years prior to that. I have worked in charter, public, and private schools. My favorite thing about being a school librarian is the opportunities I have to work both with students and teachers. I love the co-teaching opportunities and connections I have been able to make! I have served on AASL committees as a member and chair. I currently serve as secretary of my state association, Michigan Association of School Librarians (MASL).

Categories: Blog Topics, Makerspaces/Learning Commons

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