The words mirror the sentiment and the message you want everyone to receive when they step into your library, but words are not enough. Some of you have signs outside your door or on a bulletin board just inside. Excellent. But that won’t really convey the message. That’s telling, not showing and it doesn’t have the impact you want.
I blogged in December of last year about inadvertently sending mixed messages and spoke about posted negative rules and a library devoid of any student work. Keeping rules positive – stressing what you are allowed to do and focusing on respect is important. Displaying student creations does show the library is meant for them. But there is more.
In March of this year I blogged about transforming your library into a Learning Commons which I believe is ultimately the way to go. However, I am sure that many of you consider it too large a goal to tackle and I understand your constraints. Split between schools, an overloaded schedule, and no help doesn’t give you time to take on big jobs.
You can make big changes in small ways, and you don’t have to do it all at once. To start, step outside your library. Pretend you have never been in there before. First impressions count, and although it really isn’t your first time to enter try to do so with fresh eyes.
Walk in the door and look around. What catches your eye? Keep looking. What message are you getting about what the library is about? Is there anything off? Is there something that is inviting you in for further exploration?
I once took over a library that was considered to be beautiful in its day, however the previous librarian had missed some things. If you entered and looked to your left there was a wall of windows with counter height shelving just below them. That’s what was beautiful. The windows looked out on a scenic setting. Great idea by the architect.
But time and the exigencies of running a library had made some subtle changes. Looking straight ahead from the entrance to the back wall, you could see the tall fiction book stacks. Above them were an assortment of old shelving that had never been discarded. Libraries don’t have to be super neat. Those that are don’t have kids using them. (Mine were only at that “perfect” stage when the school year was over and the books were all neatly shelved and all magazines put away.) But the clutter of the old book shelves was distracting. They marred the attractiveness of the library.
What had happened was the librarian had stopped seeing her library. When you are in the library every day and have work to do, you no longer notice these things. They have become part of your world. Making time to see your library anew and spruce up what has been quietly disrupting the library environment will help you make some simple changes. You don’t need much time or money to do it.
When many librarians genre-fied their collection, they made sure to create great signage to help students and teachers find where the books were shelved. Signage is equally important if you are a Dewey library. Remember signs are for your users, not for you. You know that 500 is for Pure Science and 600 is for Technology, but they probably don’t. Remember pictures are better than words and with clip art you can tailor them to what your students study and are interested in.
Counter height shelving is great for displaying books. Have different themes on different bookcases. An appropriate sign will draw readers to the titles. Be sure to change them regularly or everyone will stop “seeing” them.
Some can displays can tie into your current bulletin board which should also change regularly. If you feel there isn’t enough time, try to get students to do some –under your direction. If you are at the elementary level, contact a high school art teacher to find out if any of his or her students would like to take on the project for their portfolios
Next look at the “flow” of the library. You naturally arrange your collection to follow the Dewey sequence (or alphabetical sequence if you genre-fied) but what about your floor plan. How does traffic move when it enters your library. Is this the way you want it to go? If not, how can furniture be re-arranged to help it go in a better direction. Do students have room to move around tables? When your library is busy, step back for a few moments and consider whether the arrangement is working to help promote collaboration without creating unnecessary noise. (I always had a fairly noisy library, but it was almost always under control—voices did not need to be raised to be heard.)
Do you like the way the computers are placed? The printer(s)? Does the arrangement work? If not, what needs to be changed? You probably can’t do anything until school is out, but you need to know what you want done and you can start making and keeping notes.
Don’t forget about welcoming teachers. If you have the room, create a “teacher table.” You can put a copy of a current education magazine such as Educational Leadership from ASCD and perhaps one or two new professional titles.
Keep the coffee pot on in your office and have snacks there. It’s a tried-and-true way to bring teachers in. (It also brought in my IT people.) Once they are accustomed to hanging out there, you can show them some of your latest additions, mention a new website you think they’d like or want to use with students. Start building new relationships with food and eventually you can branch out to collaboration or cooperation.
You have to show everyone that the Welcome Mat is always out at the library.
What are you doing to show the library is a safe, welcoming environment?