At the end of the 2018-2019 school year, a renovation shuttered my middle school’s library. They reallocated the space for use as science labs as part of a school renovation. The renovation also reconfigured science rooms in a way that changed several classroom sizes. When it was all done, there were fewer full-sized classrooms and fewer storage areas. And the middle school library ceased to exist.
The middle school was told it could use the high school’s library, which would now be the middle school-high school Complex Library. This did not facilitate middle school library use. The Complex Library was physically a several minute walk to get to, and the materials were geared to high school academics.
I convinced the libraries supervisor to bring me on in January 2022 as, essentially, a middle school liaison for the Complex Library. My first assignment was to focus on collection development to meet the needs of the middle school. While the collection grew to help students at both schools, the middle school’s access to the physical collection remained limited. Even though I took steps to bridge the gap, like setting up a new website and publishing a library newsletter, the library situation for the middle school was less than ideal.
Bringing the Library to the Students
This year, I decided that if the middle school couldn’t easily come to the library, then maybe the library needed to come to the middle school.
In November, I ran two “pop-up libraries”. I grabbed several carts, some tables, and a bunch of books. I set up shop in a small niche in the hallway (ironically, the former entrance to the middle school library). And I “sold” books to students between classes.
I did my best “carnival barker” imitation. “We’ve got action! We’ve got romance! We’ve got mystery! Whatever you like in a story, we have you covered! Want graphic novels? We’ve got ‘em! Want verse novels? We’ve got ‘em! Prefer nonfiction? We’ve got you covered!”
The Difference Physical Access Makes
I had lots of students – and some staff – pass by and pick up books. They flipped through pages. They asked for recommendations. And they borrowed books.
November 2023 marked the first time students in the middle school had library books available en masse in their school since 2019. For the previous year, they’d accessed books through the online catalog; without seeing the books first-hand, they’d place holds on items that they wanted and I’d deliver them from the high school library.
Circulation under this system averaged a little under 100 books a month. For a school of 550 students, all of whom are required to have a book to read each month for independent reading, I found this disappointing. The majority of those checkouts went to a small handful of students – most of whom knew exactly what they wanted. Many of the holds focused on books I book-talked during English classes.
In November 2023, circulation was 240 books. Many of them were books students happened to browse during class passing time. Many of the students who borrowed books were first-time checkouts. Clearly, having physical access to materials makes a difference for students who weren’t sure what they might want to read.
Seeing what a difference having a physical presence in the middle school made, I spoke with my school’s assistant principal about making it a more regular thing. She was incredibly receptive and enthusiastic about the idea.
At the time, my assistant principal was also interviewing to become principal of the school. Shortly after our chat about future pop-up libraries, she asked me if I had any information about the importance of libraries in schools, as she wanted to include it as part of her interviewing process.
Of course, I immediately set her up with several pages of facts and research about the impact school libraries have on student achievement! It was really wonderful to have an administrator who was excited about having some library presence for students!
The Best Gift “Under the Tree”!
A few weeks later, shortly before Winter Break, my assistant principal came by the closet that I use as a “library office” at the middle school. She told me she had gotten the principal position, which was really great. And then she dropped the bomb: She wanted to set up some permanent library presence in the middle school – and she had a spot picked out.
As part of the renovations several years ago, they created “collaboratorium”. This room held lots of tables and chairs, along with a Promethean board and several additional monitors mounted around the room. Intended as a space for teachers to bring multiple classes together to collaborate, it ended up as a study hall space, and a meeting and conference room.
But study halls moved to teachers’ classrooms this year, and meetings happen sporadically. So my new principal thought a good use for a portion of that room would be as a permanent “mini-library” for the middle school students.
One Month In
It’s been about a month since I started slapping together some kind of library space. I began with a more permanent version of my “pop-up library” setup – tables with lots of books on stands. I added one of the two book display towers I previously purchased for the high school library. And in the past week, a few sets of shelves from the defunct library have made their way into this new library space!
It’s all a work in progress, and there was never an official “launch”, just a “soft opening”. But in that first month of operation, we’ve already surpassed November 2023’s circulation: January 2024 had 250 checkouts!
Teachers are starting to bring classes down to visit the space. I’ve given a few lessons on the Five Types of Nonfiction. Students have checked out a whole bunch of the nonfiction I have on hand. Every day I play around with the corner of the room provided to me as I figure out the best arrangement of materials and furniture. And I have big dreams for how to increase engagement as we get to a more stable floor plan for the space.
I want to leapfrog from “corner of a conference room” over “functional mini-library” and get straight to “amazing space for student engagement and inquiry.” My impatience is killing me! But with a toehold for the library in the middle school once again, I am ecstatic.
Author: Steve Tetreault
After 24 years as a classroom English Language Arts teacher, Steve became a school librarian in January 2022. He has earned an M.Ed. (2006) and an Ed.D. (2014) in Educational Administration and Supervision, and completed an M.I. degree in Library and Information Science (2019). He is certified as a teacher, school library media specialist, supervisor, and administrator. He is an old dog constantly learning new tricks!