Doing renovations can be, well, a trying experience. This summer was full of do-it-yourself (DIY) home renovations for Margaux, and last year Rose’s library at Freeport (N.Y.) High School completed a makeover, which was finished in just three short weeks after winning a Capital One Heart of America READesign Library Makeover. But at time when many libraries are rethinking both their space and services, we found that, to our surprise, the projects taught us a few valuable lessons as educators and librarians.
Before Margaux’s home renovations began, there was much preparation: measurements, schematics, lots of tools, and consultations with experts (such as electricians) for the jobs that required their skills.
For libraries, too, preparation is always key: over the summer, why not take the time to clean and reorganize your library? Take advantage of the opportunity to work with the custodial staff to finish small projects without interruptions from faculty and students. By preparing your libraries as much as you can over the summer, you can offer a warm, welcoming environment for your students when the doors open on the first day of school. And that preparation applies not just to the physical space, but the virtual library as well. For example, spring, after budgets are settled, is a great time to place database and digital orders for the following year. This allows time to work out any kinks with the vendors and ensures students have a seamless experience in September.
Seek Out Help
Don’t be fooled. We may call these projects “do it yourself,” but you can’t always do it all by yourself. For example, the vanity in Margaux’s bathroom had been glued to the backsplash since J.F.K. was in office. It took the help of a neighbor to get it out.
At Freeport, everyone pitched in on the library makeover—administrators, teachers, students, custodial staff, and of course the Capital One Heart of America team and their volunteers. Let this be a lesson for every day—there is always help available, if you seek it out.
No matter the project, don’t be shy about reaching outside the library for help from fellow educators, both in person and online. The school library listserv LM_NET is a great network for help throughout the school year. The Professional Learning Network (PLN) is always there for us, too, with librarians across the world answering questions and sharing knowledge via the hashtags #edchats and #tlchats on Twitter.
We all know when a lesson is just not gelling, but sometimes we push through it anyway, hoping for change, forcing a mediocre learning experience onto our students. Pausing over the summer allows time for reflection. What lessons have you learned? What worked last year in your library, and what fell flat? Reach out to your PLN for fresh opinions and collaborative assistance, even if it means ditching that great idea and starting from scratch.
The Mess Is Okay
With any renovation project, there are messes everywhere. In Margaux’s house, it made sense to limit the cleaning jobs to just one a week. And after the Freeport library project, books were out of order from being returned to the shelves by volunteers. And with so much teaching going on during the school year, Rose had to wait until the summer to fully reorganize the library.
But, renovations or not, messes happen in libraries. There are days in every library when a cart of books sits waiting to be shelved. Sometimes books must sit for a while—and that is okay. It is more important to connect with students and teach instead of shelving books or zapping inventory.
What can you do with that cart of books to make a statement? School librarians across the country are increasingly directed to do more with less. Many find themselves overwhelmed during the school day and lacking time to properly manage their facility. If that means that the library may look a little messy, so be it—but then perhaps a little mess can help administrators consider sending more help to the library.
Take a Break
During her renovation, Margaux learned that nine hours of trudging through hardware stores will leave you hungry and exhausted. Without taking time to rest and refuel, the work suffers.
In libraries, there is a similar type of push-through mentality. How many days do you and your fellow educators eat a proper lunch, and how many days do you choke down something small in between classes? Even a half-hour away from your desk and that germy keyboard can make a difference. Allow yourself to take a half-hour, or go crazy and take a full 40 minutes; the library will still be there when you return.
The Freeport library renovation made Rose focus on cleaning up her office, and on creating a space where she could enjoy taking a break to have lunch or meet with teachers and students. Having an inviting space for yourself is not only okay but necessary. It can provide the renewed focus you need and create a positive perception when working with others. A full-scale renovation is not required to give you a chance to create that space.
Failure Is Necessary
When the closet doors fell off the track and the hardware for the new shower could not be installed, Margaux wanted to give up. But, of course, you solve your problems, get over the frustration, and eventually, you are gratified with your success. This is an important lesson to bear in mind in school libraries, where a fear of failure permeates the hallways in so many of our schools.
The library has always been the one place in the school where students are not expected to know all the answers; it is the place they go to find answers. That applies to librarians, too. Spurred by the burgeoning maker movement, many libraries across the country are working to become places where students, and their teachers, are encouraged to experiment with DIY projects and endeavors. Not all of these experiments will be successful. Many will fail. And most of those who fail will try again. Let’s remember the valuable lesson that even though we will sometimes fail, we grow by working hard and searching for answers.