“You only have one chance to make a first impression.” The first time anyone comes into your library they take in the message you’ve created. They may not consciously realize it, but they have learned something about you and your program.
Many years ago I was a consultant for a school district wanting to improve its library program. I walked into one elementary library. It was empty at the time, but it spoke volumes. The first thing I saw was a poster opposite the entrance headed, “Library Rules.” Among the items on the list were “No loud voices – speak in a whisper,” “No running,” and “Return books on time.” There were others in the same vein. You can probably come up with many of them.
Other than speaking in a whisper, many libraries have similar rules. What made this stand out was the sign was large, in a very conspicuous location, and it was repeated on at least one other wall. What this told me me is this library is all about rules. What is most important to the librarian is people following them. It certainly wasn’t conveying a welcoming environment. Another take-away I had was the librarian was not a leader. She was a protector of her territory.
You may be thinking you don’t want your library to be a disorderly place, therefore you need rules. Don’t you? The answer is yes and no. Signs don’t need to be posted if students know what behavior is expected. You can achieve that by example, and by discussing with students “how we want you to be in the library and why.” I know one librarian who has three simple rules. “Respect yourself, Respect others, Respect the facility.” That covers all that is necessary. If you must have them visible, use a list created and designed by students and at call it “Our Library Rules.” That creates buy-in and community.
This is only one way a message is sent. Step outside your library and then walk in trying to see it for the first time. What hits your eye? Is it mired in the 20th century? Are the shelves crowded? Are there places to relax appropriate to the level of your students? What is the balance of tech and print? Where is the circulation desk? How good are the sight lines?
What about the furniture? Can the tables and chairs be easily moved to accommodate different types of projects and group work? Do end caps invite browsing? Are there areas for creating information as well as finding it? Is the circulation desk too high for elementary students to approach it comfortably? Have you allowed for students with a disability? It is the law.
And possibly most important, “Are there clear signs guiding users to the information and resources they want?” Do you call it a “Circulation Desk” or “Check Out?” Do you have a “Reference” desk or does the sign say, “Information?”
What about the displays? Are all signs commercially made? Is students’ work prominently showcased? Is there something showing work in progress? For example, do you have dry erase paper on a wall where students can make comments? Do your displays change with the season and what’s happening in the school?
Some ideas require an investment of time and creativity. It doesn’t cost much to put tables on wheels, although you will need your administration’s approval and probably willing custodians. Other changes require a substantial amount of money to accomplish and would require serious pre-planning or even a fundraising campaign. But could you apply for a grant from your local education foundation?
You, too, send a message. How are you when people enter your room? Are you engaged with students? If you are free at the moment, do you greet guests with a smile? Do you do that with students? Without saying a word, your library speaks volumes. (And the pun is intended.)
How are you sending a silent message that your library is an integral force in student learning and the educational community? Or are you saying “keep out”?