Size isn’t everything, it’s what you do with it that counts. The library at Town School for Boys is not tiny by any stretch of the imagination, yet Town’s recent renovation actually left the library with less space than it had before the remodel. Read on to see how two superstar librarians have made the most of their space and continue to make a huge impact at their school.
Town School is an independent K-8 school for boys in San Francisco, CA. There are about 400 students and two librarians, Kim Stuart and Julie Alonso. A large part of Town’s campus, including the library, was renovated last year. The space is still referred to as the Library, not a Learning Commons, but there have been some innovative changes that came with the new design. A storytime room with a bright rug and glass walls is a place for a class to gather or for small groups to play games without disturbing the rest of the library. There are iPads affixed to the ends of shelves with access to the catalog, as well as a self-checkout station at the main circulation desk. Cozy webbed chairs around the space beckon kids to snuggle in and read. Stuart and Alonso chose to ditch Dewey and went with the METIS system, arranging the collection into categories that better fit the interests of the boys, including popular sections like Fun and Games and Scary, Gross, and Weird.
One aspect of the renovation that was originally perceived as a downgrade was that even though the library is now on a more central location on the first floor near the entrance to the school, it is in a smaller space than before. Because of this, they had to do a heavy weeding of the collection, bringing it from around 20,000 titles to 13,000. Stuart has ended up doing a lot more pushing into classrooms because of the lack of space, which she says has led her to become more of an embedded librarian than she was previously. She does worry that smaller space means they are less valued, but she and Alonso took major steps this year to ensure their expertise was utilized. This year, they required one-on-one research meetings with each 8th grader in preparation for their capstone project, and between that and the digital literacy curriculum for K-8 which has been in place for the last three years, Stuart and Alonso have been noticing an improvement in the sources used for capstone research. In addition, with the help of a Research Task Force they created a research expectations document for the upper grades, and presented these to the teachers during an in-service at the beginning of the year. The teachers were required to meet with them to incorporate some of these skills into at least one project-based learning collaboration during the year. They got 100% participation.
With that kind of support from the teachers and administration, it is clear that their role is valued in their community. Stuart says that by building that relationship with teachers and doing right by them, that value trickles down to the students. With greater access, these two superstar librarians are able to be a support and a resource to empower teachers and students to reflect on why they do what they do and make more informed choices. Just by talking with them, I was personally revived in my pursuit to build a better library program at my school. So, thank you to Kim Stuart and Julie Alonso. See their amazing website for inspiration. Finish the year strong, everybody!
Author: Cassy Lee
Cassy Lee is a middle school Teacher Librarian focused on education equity, empathy, and empowerment. She is the recipient of the 2020 AASL Roald Dahl’s Miss Honey Social Justice Award and the 2018 SLJ Champion of Student Voice. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, son, and a steady stream of foster dogs. You can find her on Twitter at @MrsLibrarianLee and at CSLA in February!