How to transform your library space on a budget

How to TRANSFORM your library space on a BUDGET

Recently, I’ve been looking back through photos of my media center at Stewart Middle Magnet from the past five years. I’m working on a conference presentation for the Florida Association for Media in Education about transforming library spaces. As I look back over these photos, I’m struck by how the space slowly evolved over this span of time. It’s easy to just focus on all the big sweeping changes we made in the summer of 2014 when we got our Lowes Toolbox Grant for $5,000 and used several DonorsChoose projects to create a makerspace and flexible learning commons area. But a lot of important changes happened before 2014, and I realized that many of them are very budget friendly and easy for anyone to do, no matter what situation they’re in. So rather than focusing on the big, overarching themes about learning space design or big, transformative renovations, I want to focus on simple changes that are approachable for anyone.

Ditching reference made room for more comfy reading areas

Ditching reference made room for more comfy reading areas


Less is more

One of the easiest changes to make to your space is to get rid of the things you don’t really need. When I first got to Stewart five years ago, the library had been badly neglected. There was an excess of furniture and shelving, making it difficult to walk around without bumping into things. It had been decades since anyone weeded–there were books on the shelves that hadn’t been checked out since the seventies. We still had a set of card catalog drawers and an atlas stand that wasn’t used. My first few years were mostly spent purging. I weeded aggressively. I cleared off unneeded floor shelving units that were taking up huge amounts of floor space and had the district remove them. I got rid of the random unused teacher desks that were scattered throughout the library. I gradually got rid of the reference section as I realized that our databases were much more current. Removing so much from the library was a little scary, but it was also liberating. Suddenly, there was breathing room again. Students started to feel more comfortable in the space. And it paved the way for further improvements, like grants for new books that the students actually wanted to read.

Weeding and clearing off shelves to open up wall space for a whiteboard and projector

Weeding and clearing off shelves to open up wall space for a whiteboard and projector


Don’t have wall space? Make some.

When I first got to Stewart, every inch of available wall space was taken up by shelving (which was all picture book deep, but that’s another story). There were even wall shelves in odd dark corners behind teacher desks. As I weeded and weeded and weeded, shelves were starting to clear out, and I realized that I needed to make my own wall space. I cleared out some shelves and had the district come and remove them. Suddenly, I had space for a repurposed bulletin board that wasn’t being used in another classroom. And a wall-mounted magazine rack that I was able to purchase with bookfair money. Later on, having shelves removed allowed us to mount a whiteboard and projector for our instruction space, and cleared up room for our Epic LEGO Wall and whiteboard wall. I did have to reduce our collection size over time to do this (from 20,000 books when we were stocked to the gills to around a comfortable 10,000 now) but the weeding mostly focused on books that had never been checked out, so I wasn’t cutting into the books my students were reading.

Play house and rearrange your furniture

I’m a bit of a nerd for organization, so early on in my career, I created a to-scale rendering of my library in Excel, complete with each of the items of furniture as movable objects (I realize there’s probably better programs for this now). I can move around the furniture and try out different layouts without having to break a sweat. This let me see the possibilities that we could have with our space. Eventually, it helped me to do things like rearranging our wooden tables to create more room in our instruction space. It helped me see that we could turn around our fiction floor shelving units to make a better use of the space and create reading nooks.  It took a little sweat and effort (and recruiting several custodians to help move the heavy shelves), but it was an easy and free way to change things up for the better.

Get creative to source new ideas

Many school districts have furniture warehouses for items that schools have gotten rid of. Get to know whoever is in charge of this space – I’ve used old circular cafeteria tables in our makerspace, gotten free whiteboards and bulletin boards, and more. Since it’s already owned by the district, I don’t have to worry about having a budget for it.

Depending on how strict your fire code is, garage sales and IKEA are great places to find affordable and student friendly furnishings. There’s also funding sources out there if you know how to look. DonorsChoose is a great way to get Hokki stools, cozy carpets and decorations. Many grants can be used to get furniture if you can frame your essay around how the new furniture can facilitate collaboration and improve student learning (I’ve gathered some resources on finding grants for your library on my blog).

One of my dream library layout brainstorms

One of my dream library layout brainstorms


Keep on dreaming

All of these changes are easy and budget friendly, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t still dream big. Rather than just accepting the heavy wooden tables that came with my library, I kept dreaming and eventually got a grant to replace them with flexible furniture. Rather than accepting that the library would always be a dull beige, I gathered together a group of volunteers and repainted everything over the summer. And I’m still dreaming that one day, a generous benefactor will help us build a brand new, state of the art library building (or at least tear some holes in the walls and give me windows).  Always be dreaming.

Author: Diana Rendina

Diana Rendina, MLIS, is the media specialist at Tampa Preparatory, an independent 6-12 school. She was previously the media specialist at Stewart Middle Magnet School for seven years, where she founded their library makerspace. She is the creator of the blog & is also a monthly contributor to AASL Knowledge Quest. Diana is the winner of the 2016 ISTE Outstanding Young Educator Award, the 2015 ISTE Librarians Network Award, the 2015 AASL Frances Henne Award & the 2015 SLJ Build Something Bold Award. She is an international speaker on the Maker Movement and learning space design and has presented at conferences including AASL, FETC & ISTE. Diana co-authored Challenge-Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace and is the author of Reimagining Library Spaces: Transform Your Space on Any Budget.

Categories: Blog Topics, Makerspaces/Learning Commons

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15 replies

  1. This is perfect timing and perfect for my situation. I have zero budget, but my space desperately needs help. Thanks for all your advice and tips!

  2. I have already implemented some of these ideas for your presentation at #FAME15. I am even being adventurous and have bought chalk board paint and white board paint…sometimes it is nice to be reminded to be a Risk Taker :) Thank you!

  3. Thank you for this – it’s going to keep me going to the next steps. We just got rid of all our old wooden chairs [big and very ugly] and replaced them with old chairs from another room… not new, not beautiful, but what a difference it makes to have space to walk in between things, just as you say! We’ll keep hunting for left-overs and thank you so much for the grant info. I love your dream library layout.

  4. This seems like it is on many of our minds, these days! My colleague and I just presented at the Illinois Library Association joint school/public/academic library conference. Here’s our slides with our DIY on a budget tips!

  5. Thanks, Annette and everyone for the great ideas. I am excited to begin design of a new library within the next year. You all are leading the way!

  6. Thank you so much for these great ideas! This is my first year as a librarian (middle school), and my goal is to redesign our library to bring it into this century! (Really, our library hasn’t changed since the school opened in 1996!) Although I am aware our library is in good condition, it is just does not have that innovative and creative feel I would like for our students. I can’t wait to implement some of these ideas. Thanks again!

  7. What do yo do with your weeded books? I am always at a loss on this.

  8. @Kathy – my district has us box up weeded books and send them to the warehouse, where they’re either sent to other libraries or recycled, depending on their condition and currency

  9. I am so excited, I start at our school library next year. I am already brainstorming new ideas for improving the media center. Thank you for your ideas! Can’t wait to put some in to place :)

  10. We have offered our weeded hard cover books to the art department to use in an annual collaborative Altered Book Art competition. After several years of this creative repurposing, we have a accumulated wonderful displays of altered book art in the library.

  11. Thanks so much for the info and inspiration! I’ve just taken over the responsibility of updating our oh-so-aged library and merging it with our tech resources dept and I can’t wait to get started!

  12. I would love to see more pictures of your new and improved space. That is the only thing missing on this excellent post. Do you have pictures on another post that you could direct me to? For example, I would love to see the after shot of the whiteboard and projection screen area.

  13. Thank you very much for this excellent ideas..I am also thinking of my media center to be renovated but it lacks fund. This is timely for me and I love to adapt most of your ideas. :)

  14. Thank you for sharing your big ideas. It inspired me to improve and continue to be productive librarian. God bless!

  15. I have been at the library a few years, and it has a new layout and looks different to what it did before I started my job here at the library. But we still do not have much room, we need a conference room of some sort.

    We have a new director and she has been implementing new projects and we have new projects but not enough room.

    And yes weeding is another problem we come and think about it twice before we add more boxes to our collection. We have ideas but not going anywhere. Thanks

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