Author Archives: mtechman

An Elementary Library Redesign with Very Little Money, Part 2

Workday at the Cheap and Cheerful Library


After our planning sessions with principals, librarians, Superintendent Pam Moran, and consultant Ira Socol from Michigan State, my principal and I chose 4 changes that volunteers could help with:

  1. painting trees on 3 short walls, leading the eye through the glass door to the playground
  2. rebuilding 3 shelving units to add window seats
  3. covering dull maroon chairs with bright fabric
  4. low bench seats under the trees

Painting crew.

We found key volunteers who could manage groups. A first grade teacher offered to head the chair crew in the art room. Two parents with carpentry skills agreed to bring supplies and tools for the window seat crew. Our art teacher sketched and taped outlines of trees.

Then we contacted UVA’s Madison House volunteer center and the high school’s Key Club. We asked parents for help via email blast, our Connect Ed phone calls, notices in backpacks, information on the website and even a wiki with embedded video explanations of work involved, and Google form surveys under each work crew to collect names of interested helpers. And yes, some parents never heard about it.

There is no perfect day for anything in the school year calendar! We chose Saturday, April 16th, the end of the last full week after Spring Break. BookFair was set up in the library the night before, but we closed and covered it. My principal showed up early, having bought fabric and paint the day before and we were ready to go.

Carpentry crew making window seats from shelves.

Everything went beautifully. The largest group was the Chair crew. They worked efficiently, taking chairs apart, ironing and cutting, stapling and reassembling. The carpentry crew consisted of 5 dads and a high school student who loved the chance to do the math for them. They took apart solid wood shelving and reused the shelf tops for window seats. The art teacher’s group was the last to finish. Volunteers of all ages painted brown trees on the pale blue background, with a 7th grader doing the precise edges.

One group decided to wait until after Book Fair to start their project. The furniture maker dad said the low bench seats should be light, portable and easy to detach from the tree wall. Then he pointed to the stripped wall in my office, visible through the internal window, and offered to put furring strips on the concrete blocks and attach a wall of wood, to paint, hang, and mount changing displays easily. I can’t wait for my Tableau Wall and my first display is going to be a giant bug, inspired by Cool Stuff from Bottle Caps.

As soon as  Book Fair is packed and gone, we’ll be able to see the changes. Part 3 will show the after pictures.

Maroon chairs were recovered in 6 different colors!

An Elementary Library Redesign with Very Little Money, Part 1

I’ve been thinking about how library spaces can be improved for a long time. When I was a Children’s Librarian in a public library, I often marveled at how architects treated certain aspects of libraries as their chance to be noticed (at a big price) without really understanding how libraries might feel to children. As a career-switcher with an alternative path Teacher’s Certificate added to my MLS, I wanted to wait and really understand schools before I tackled my own library. Two years ago at the School Library Journal Summit 2009 in DC, I heard about several impressive projects at a session moderated by Dr. David Loertscher. This school year, the time finally came for me to re-think my space.
Our superintendent, Pam Moran, proposed a small seed project to help several school libraries move away from the rigid overpriced library environments of the past (think 1940s in some cases) toward more configurable spaces that would promote the library as a center for learning. Luckily, my new principal Kendra King was all for it. We discussed technology, lighting, color, shelving and learning activities with an eye for how to accomplish our vision with very little money, but with some help from parents and the community. We mapped out what we wanted in several sections, what should go, what could be added and which jobs were for maintenance (electrical and window work) and which could be done by volunteers. Our focus was how to revamp the library into a place where students would have more choice and be more invested, not only in the physical space, but in their own learning.
The first thing I did was commission a giant clipboard from Shadiah Lahham, an illustration/multimedia wiz and graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, because I’ve always wanted one! It is mounted on the wall and the top is 8 ft off the floor in the entry to the library. It sparks immediate interest, as well as lesson ideas for math, animation, and student work. Then I set up a working wiki:
and gathered ideas from other teachers, school librarians, artists and designers.
I began weeding like never before. In terms of books, my goal was to shrink my nonfiction section down from 3 long shelving ranges to two. This took about 3 months and nerves of steel, but it was the only way to free up the space we needed. My main considerations were:

1. What’s of interest?
2. What’s not just factual, but has narrative power and beauty?
3. What books have lower reading levels and therefore will not be easily replaced by database articles or websites?

Weeding books was hard enough, but I weeded the walls and furniture too. I wanted a lot of space for intriguing art, posters, installations and student-made displays. As I weeded furniture, the part of the library with table and chairs began to look more appealing and less like an area waiting for the next PTO or faculty meeting.

Melissa Techman, MLS

Melissa Techman

I’m a Teacher Librarian and Tech Lead Teacher for Albemarle County Public Schools at Broadus Wood Elementary in Earlysville, near Charlottesville, VA. I have been a Children’s Librarian as well,  at Houston Public Library (Go, Mosquitoes! Oh wait, libraries don’t have sports teams). I’ve taught for 9 years and am currently putting together an informal day camp for grades 5 through really old (me) to learn how to make apps and e-books. My interests include art/design, usability (especially truncating the heck out of stuff), Special Ed, and encouraging students to have strategies in all areas, not just math and reading. Best current use of Twitter: asking Scholastic to show good customer service by sending popular book in promo video, after 6 email and phone requests. They arrived by FedEx the next day.


Twitter: @mtechman