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A Librarian’s Perspective: My Media Center Makeover

I recently coordinated a project to update our Elmwood Park Memorial Middle School/High School traditional library to a modern media center. While some students were using the library regularly prior to the changeover, there are definitely more students using the room now. The students have embraced the change.

Why the changeover

The old furniture was heavy and uncomfortable. Seating was limited and the tables had to be kept very close to one another just to fit into the space. We had traditional, heavy, wood tables and chairs. It was difficult to move the tables due to their size. There was one couch and coffee table, and the room looked dated.

It wasn’t an area conducive to holding a class, nor someplace where students could come in during lunch and work alone or collaborate without being on top of one another. I wanted wheels! I needed flexible furniture that I could move myself or have students move without fear of someone getting hurt. Aside from drawing students in from the lunchroom, I wanted a space that teachers would use.

Who was involved

I was in charge of coordinating the change-over. My original plan didn’t include a total transformation of the space. I merely proposed updating the existing furniture. However, being a one-to-one chromebook building, the students weren’t turning to the books to find information. We needed to change the room to meet their needs. Having made the switch from classroom teacher to school librarian not long ago, updating libraries’ physical spaces was a common theme in my courses for certification. One of the papers I wrote was about this topic. I visited other schools and public libraries to see what they had and what was most popular.

The Business Administrator, Director of Facilities, and building principals were all part of this project. There were many discussions about what was envisioned for the space. I worked together with Mr. Warner, who is the high school principal, and Avi Goldstein, the regional sales manager at Hertz Furniture. Avi visited several times and he was the greatest help in planning all of this. He was just as excited to change the room as we were. He gave us great suggestions and showed us examples of other media centers. His knowledge was a key component in making this a successful project.

What we changed

Deciding what to implement wasn’t too difficult. We knew we wanted tables that could easily be reconfigured. We wanted to match the existing wood finishes in the room and Avi Goldstein knew exactly what we needed. During the first meeting with Avi the budget was set, and he only showed items that would work within what we had to spend.

The media center features many innovative types of furniture. It includes comfortable tablet arm chairs, flexible tables, and colorful soft seating areas to name a few. I had seen much of this in catalogs that came through here, on Pinterest, and in professional journals. The tablet armchairs are very popular; we probably could have gotten a few more of those. The item I was most skeptical about was the tiered seating. We had a hard time choosing fabric and colors. When they arrived, I had to explain to a lot of people what they were. Now, the students come in and they really enjoy the different atmosphere.

The difficulties

Honestly, my greatest challenge during the conversion was the massive project of weeding through the collection of books and deciding what was staying and what was going. I had a very difficult time coming to terms with the loss of the books. I required A LOT of reminding that it was okay to get rid of them. The rest of the project was exciting, and I looked forward to the changes.

Our media center is unique as it is shared by the middle school and high school and it contains a classroom area. The only challenge I’ve come across at this point are the chairs we ordered for the classroom, the Ethos Mobile School Chair. High school students understand the concept of the chairs and it works very well for them; they place their bags underneath, move the tablet arm, and move the desks into groups as needed. These chairs do not work well for the middle school population. They are too busy and distracted by all the moving parts. I find it difficult to teach them because I’m so distracted by all their movements. The one thing I wish I had would be noise cancelling panels to filter some of the sound when both the main area and the classroom are in use.

The accomplishments

Being able to move the tables and create large and small group stations has been very beneficial. Groups can spread out to complete work without bothering the group next to them. We removed our old book stacks and created room for new seating areas. The media center has become a brighter, more open space. Most importantly, more teachers are bringing their classes in. The overall feel is less stuffy and traditional, and more casual.

Overall, the reactions to the new room have been positive. I’ve received many compliments. Other school librarians have asked me about the project and have visited. The teachers and staff are impressed with the new look. As with any change, there are people who do not like it, but most importantly, the students love it. They enjoy it, they’re comfortable, and the media center is being used. I can’t ask for more than that, after all, this space was designed for them.

About the author: Mrs. Veronica Alfonso is excited about her new Media Center. She was a high school history teacher for ten years, teaching all the grade levels. She is an alumnus of EPMHS and William Paterson University. Veronica is currently the Media Specialist, HS Student Congress Advisor, and Senior Class Advisor at Elmwood Park Memorial MS/HS in Elmwood Park, NJ.

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