As a public librarian, I welcome any chance I have to visit my colleagues at school libraries and academic libraries. There is so much inspiration to be found outside of one’s regular working environment and I really value my connections both in and outside the public library realm. Librarians, educators, and parents everywhere will be inspired, I think, by today’s featured library.

Susan Grigsby is school librarian for Elkins Pointe Middle School in Roswell, Georgia, who (among other awesome initiatives) undertook a major library transformation project, turning a drab underused space into a colorful, lively hub of activity where students and teachers want to work, play, and learn. Loving the before and after pics she sent us! ~ Laura

A bit of background

I came to Elkins Pointe Middle School in August of 2007. What I found was gray/beige carpet, gray shelves, beige walls, generic “team building/feel good” framed posters, and an expansive open steel beam domed ceiling (beige). The lighting was a collection of cans with weird halogen bulbs that made everything tinted green. The computer lookup stations were set up on top of book shelf frames in which the shelves had been removed – chairs could not be pushed up under the “tables” because of the shelving frame that went completely around the unit. There was precious little line-of-sight on the computers because of the configuration which made teaching whole-group lessons nearly impossible. There was no teaching space either.

Over the last 5-6 years I have transformed the space to bring in color, a variety of spaces conducive to both individual, small group, and large group work, reconfigured library computer placement, and display/teaching space. The county approved new lighting and it was installed last summer. I painted plain beige columns with the colors of the rainbow and a parent volunteer painted a beautiful new entry-way highlighting the rainbow theme. ~ Susan Grigsby

Why the rainbow theme (it’s so beautiful!)? 

It’s somewhat personal to me – I love rainbows and have always been attracted to bright colors. Also, when I was trying to decide how to brighten up the walls I realized I had 12 columns and that going through the color spectrum would make a perfect circle of colors so I went with violet, blue, green, yellow, red, and orange.

A cheerful rainbow welcomes students to the library.

A cheerful rainbow welcomes students to the library.

Can you talk a bit about the process of doing a major transformation like this – especially since it didn’t happen overnight. How did you prioritize what to do first/next? How did you stay motivated?

My first priority was to bring color into the space so I focused on my columns – they all have about a 2′ indention in the middle and I thought it would be cool to paint that indention. I bought quart sized cans of paint and decided to tackle the project over the summer. You see, I was in between principals: one was leaving as of July 31 and another was coming on board August 1st. The month of July was a bit of a crossover so I used that fact to my advantage. I figured the outgoing principal would assume the incoming one had given me permission to paint and that the reverse would also be true – it turned out I was right! It was a gamble that paid off.

That same time is what I used to paint my slogans “Enter with Curiosity” and “Exit with Knowledge.” I thought it was a creative way to state my mission of fostering curiosity, creativity, and information literacy.

The slogan overhead sets the tone.

The slogan overhead sets the tone.

The next step was the furniture & arrangement. I realized that our county had a huge warehouse full of discarded items (I think of it like the room at the end of the Indiana Jones movie…). I wrote to the warehouse manager to see if they had a big white board (yes) then I wrote to see if they would take out excess shelving (yes).

I rearranged the Dewey (non-fiction) section so that I had 2 super long shelves right in the middle of the media center completely emptied. Then I weeded and consolidated the Reference section so that one tall shelf was completely empty. County maintenance folks came and picked them up AND installed an 8′ whiteboard on the wall behind where that tall shelf had been. Zero dollars and major transformation (luckily the carpet had been installed before the shelves and I worried that might not be the case but went for it anyway).

The final step was the purchase of new tables, chairs, and carpet for the computer stations – that was 5 years of scrimping and saving local funds to be able to make the purchase. That was also when a parent volunteer painted the rainbow entrance and then created a dry-erase wall with Idea Paint that students can write on (it’s currently full of student drawn pictures of their favorite apps).

What keeps me motivated? The changes make me happy and kids respond positively. The space is a 180 degree change from before I came and it is way more student-centered.

I never stop thinking of the next step to make it even better: collaborative work spaces, maker spaces, etc. My next big project is going to be to alter the sound buffers (covered with beige fabric) by having school classes or clubs sponsor one and create a poster out of it.

The library's student voice wall engages students with questions and fun facts.

The library’s student voice wall engages students with questions and fun facts.

What has the response to the space been like over the last several years? From students? Parents? Other teachers?

Every single change has increased visitation AND circulation. I didn’t advertise, I didn’t show it off, I just changed things and watched students pour in. Before I started I’d have between 5 and 15 kids in here during the morning arrival times and lunch times. Now, in just 3 weeks of keeping hard data I’ve had over 2,400 visits (my tech specialist helped me by creating a check-in system on a computer) – this is independent visits outside of class visits. My school population is just under 1,000.

Our parents love setting up programs in here and my principal (yet a new one) loves to bring people here when they visit.

Reading volunteers consistently tell me it is the “happiest” space they’ve ever been to in a school.

Teachers use this space more than ever, too. [Recently] I had 3 classes at the same time in different areas all working together – it was great.

Susan Grigsby is a Teacher-Librarian at the Elkins Pointe Middle School in Roswell, GA. Follow her on Twitter @skgrigsby.

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