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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... 

1 Comment

I appreciated your thoughts and insights on creating library environments that reflect the values of the people learning and working in them. As a teacher with a background in early childhood education, I immediately connected with the topic of your post and its similarity to one aspect of the Reggio Emilia Approach.

Pedagogical documentation is a foundation of the Reggio Emilia Approach. It makes children’s thinking and learning visible to all members of the school community, and it tells the story and purpose of a project or event. Giving voice to children and showing the learning process as it occurs provides evidence to every visitor of the work that children and teachers undertake together. Pedagogical documentation can be a powerful…

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