Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Moving From Decoration to Documentation

I've been thinking a lot about first impressions lately and about what our physical spaces say about the work that goes on in the library.  I visit a lot of school libraries and when I do I try to put myself in the shoes of someone who a) knows very little about what happens in these spaces BUT who is also b) charged with making funding/staffing decisions for libraries in the coming year. (This may sound silly, but think about it.  Most people who make these types of decisions for school libraries spend very little time in them). Then, I look around at what's displayed on the walls and on top of bookshelves.  I look at what's posted on the front door and at the remnants of student work on tables.  I check out the library rules and learning objectives - if such things are posted.  In short, I try to let the space itself speak to me... and during that conversation, I look for evidence to help me answer the following questions:

What does this librarian value? 
What happens in this space?
How does what happens here impact student learning?
Why do we still need libraries?

Whether you work in a brand new, state of the art library, or one that hasn't been updated since the day it was built, your work should look like the future.  Every wall, every book shelf, every bulletin board is an opportunity for us to share evidence of how our work matters.  For every READ poster we hang, we need to also display evidence of how our work is about more than just giving kids access to books.  For every banned books display we create, we need to build displays that target, engage and impact specific learning groups within our schools.  Our spaces should look less like book museums and more like learning commons.  Less like places where resources are stored and more like places where knowledge is built.  In other words, we have to stop thinking of what we hang on the walls as decoration and start thinking of those artifacts as documentation.

Now... don't get me wrong, I know that what happens in our spaces is far more important than what we hang on the walls.  However, for better or worse, our spaces tell the story of the work that takes place in them.  And every visitor, be they a parent, principal or school board member, makes judgements about your work and the importance of school libraries based on what they see when they walk through the doors.  And that's if we're lucky enough to have those important members of our community visit.  In short, first impressions matter. And we have to make every effort to ensure that the stories our spaces tell match the one we would share if asked.  Look around your space.  If the answers it provides to the four questions above are different from the answers you'd give, it's time to make some changes.  

And here are some suggestions to help... 

18 comments:

  1. Once again you have hit the nail on the head Jennifer! I will be sharing this with my supervisor and fellow library media specialists in my county. Thanks for always making us take a step back and really look at our library programs.

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    1. Thanks so much. Remember... we're all works in progress and every step forward is a success!

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  2. Love the post. Unfortunately as a "co-librarian" some of what I do or don't do is kind of influenced by the person I work with. As she has been the librarian there since the 70's, it kind of feels like "her" library right now.

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    1. Keep on, keepin' on, friend. Remember, the space isn't about you OR her... it's about the kids you serve.

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  3. Love this post! It definitely has me thinking about the space at my library and how it can be utilized to advocate and inform while still remain inviting to kids. I always enjoy reading your posts - keep em' coming!

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    1. Thanks so much! I really appreciate the feedback!

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  4. Thank you for taking so much of what I've been pondering, clearing away all the cobwebs and giving me a way to focus on the changes we need in our library. Your flyer should be reviewed at least annually in every school library! Last night on Twitter a discussion of viodetaping our spaces and sharing them online developed. It would be a great way to get an objective critique of what we may overlook since we see it every day.

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    1. Thanks so much! I agree... having a fresh set of eyes look at your space is always helpful! It's amazing what others see in the spaces we look at each day!

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  5. Thanks so much for the excellent post, Jennifer! As always, your advice makes so much sense. I am afraid I have my work cut out for me implementing this. I've tried very hard to display student work, but I have a LOT of work to do to fulfill your suggestions. I would love if you have some example photos you could share. Or perhaps we could organize a Pinterest board to help with ideas?

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    1. Hi Jane. I agree, I do need to do a better job of taking pictures of examples I see and of asking permission to post them. In the meantime, I shared Pinterest board would be a great resource. :)

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  6. Holy Smokes! I am new to the profession and feel like I can learn a lot from you! I feel so scattered between trying to promote lit, teach research skills, teach digital citizenship skills, and integrate technology. I'm so glad I came across this post. You are definitely now on my radar! Thanks for narrowing down what is truly important.

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    1. Thank you, Melanie! Our profession can be isolating, I don't know what I would do without the support of my PLN to help me reflect and refine the work I do for children.

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  7. Wonderful, thought-provoking posting, Jennifer! I wish librarians would also use your chart to evaluate their library webpages. I've seen some sad examples recently; some include "blogs" that haven't been updated since the first day of the 2013-14 school year.

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  8. Have you been reading my mind, Diane? I've been planning something similar for webpages and hope to have it ready to share soon. Thanks for your feedback, friend!

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  9. It's like you read my mind. I've been inspired by several blogs, tweets, Pinterest boards and more to give my library a make-over (without spending money). I'm excited to get started on this project. Thanks for the confirmation of what needs to happen!

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  10. Love it and plan to share with other librarians in my district. But I'm still wondering how we can display student work that we help them create when so much of it that they create now is online???

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  11. I worry sometimes about the space of the library looking messy if an administrator should walk in, but then I'm reminded when students are making a productive mess in the library to create a product, they are using the space as a creative commons, and it's not always going to be a perfectly neat, quiet space. Thank you for the Pinterest anchor charts. I will be excited to share these. I appreciate the direct questions at the beginning of your post which makes me do a reality check about the work I am doing as a librarian and what I need to do to ensure the library space isn't just being used to shelve books.

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  12. Great things for me to consider as I go forward! I'm finishing up my first year in my library and moving from of 'seeing what I have and where I am' to 'figuring out where I want to be and how I want to get there'! A recent article to help answer #4 is: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/serious-reading-takes-a-hit-from-online-scanning-and-skimming-researchers-say/2014/04/06/088028d2-b5d2-11e3-b899-20667de76985_story.html

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