How Our Library Space Supports Book Fair and an Open Library

We've had great success displaying our teacher wish lists on a three-dimensional display.

We’ve had great success displaying our teacher wish lists on a three-dimensional display.

Book fair is such an important part of our library.  I love seeing the energy that book fair brings to our teachers, families, and students.  Everyone loves to come and see what new books are at the book fair each time.  It gets new books into the home libraries of our students, and our wonderful PTA helps make sure that every student who wants a book gets one.  Book fair also extends our yearly budget.  Our student book budgets, 3D printing supplies, author visits, and many other things are supported by the funds raised at our book fairs.

In the past, book fair pretty much shut the library down as far as student checkout goes.  Because of our space being smaller and not flexible, the book fair cases blocked the shelves of our library.  Since I had a paraprofessional in the past, I continued to teach classes, but checkout stopped for a whole week.

Now that we are in our new space, our library is 100% accessible to students, teachers, and families thanks to our flexible design.  Our class schedule does slow down during book fair week since I pretty much run book fair by myself without a paraprofessional, but our wonderful parent volunteers step in and help when there are classes and projects that I need to continue with during book fair week.

Here’s a look at how our space transforms during book fair.

1.  Our circulation island stays completely accessible with storage underneath for books that need to be shelved.

book fair space (17)

2.  The circulation area becomes a space that gets decorated with the fair theme.

book fair space (8)

3.  The purple counter with attached case becomes the dividing point for our library.  Turn left and you enter the book fair.  Turn right and you go to the books, computers, instructional space, and lots of cozy reading/working spots.

book fair space (14)


4.  Inside the fair, our rolling Fusion Flip tables push together to create larger tables.  Our smaller student desk tables push together to make larger tables, too.  Single desks are used for things like our book plate and flyer display.

book fair space (16) book fair space (3) book fair space (2)


5.  Our purple counter becomes the cashier station and the attached case makes a great place to display posters.

book fair space (5) book fair space (6)

The back of the case remains accessible to our graphic novels and holiday books.

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6.  Inside the fair, we leave a space to get to the equipment room and our ipad cart can easily be rolled out the side door to go to classes.  We also leave a space to enter the room with the 3D printer and studio equipment.

book fair space (15) book fair space (4)


7.  Since pretty much every table in the library is used to display the fair, there are a lot of extra chairs.  Those are all stacked in the corner, but not in the way at all.

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8.  The book fair is in the spot where our fiction and 2 iMac computers usually sit, so those have been moved to one of the 2 instructional areas of the library.

book fair space (12) book fair space (11)


9.  Some of the nonfiction shelving is circled up to create a little more space for large groups to sit in front of our projection area.  During book fair, we had an author visit with the entire 2nd grade and we will Skype with an author on Thursday as well.

book fair space (9)


Some of our green cushions have been pulled over the projection area for small groups to sit and work with the projector.  They get pushed out of the way for larger groups.


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10.  Our everybody picture book section and nonfiction are in their usual spots.

book fair space (19) book fair space (18)

12.  The book fair is completely closed in by the cases and the purple counter with case.

book fair space (13)


13.  Even without tables, students use the remaining furniture to find places to work.

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Flexible was the most important word that we kept coming back to in designing the space.  I wanted as few fixed pieces of furniture as possible.  This maximizes our space and allows it to grow or change on a daily basis if needed.  As we have progressed through the year, I’ve learned new ways of using and arranging the furniture each time I’ve moved it.   I’m sure there are tons of possibilities that we haven’t even discovered yet.





5th Grade Cell-a-bration

Star lab, checkout, computer/iPads were all used simultaneously in our space

Star lab, checkout, computer/iPads were all used simultaneously in our space

Today our 5th graders participated in 5 centers throughout the school to learn about cells.  This was another example of transliteracy in action.  Across the centers students:

  • heard a guest speaker talk about the USDA and tracking outbreaks of food sickness
  • looked at projected images of cells underneath a microscope
  • entered the Starlab to actually sit inside a cell that was projected on the planetarium ceiling
  • used a Sqworl pathfinder and iPad apps to interact with cells in multiple ways from games to videos to ebooks to interactive tours of the cell

In the media center, we hosted 2 of the rotations.  Once again, I was excited to see that the design of the space supported multiple things going on at once.  The Starlab was inflated where our tables are usually located.  This massive planetarium did not block a single shelf from being accessible to students who were coming to checkout.  The tables were moved to the other projection area so that students could use iPads and computers for the pathfinder and app center.

I started the students in the floor to intro the apps and pathfinder.  They grabbed the device they needed and then found the best space that worked for their learning.  On the pathfinder, the students most enjoyed the Capstone Interactive ebooks, Vampires and Cells and The Basics of Cell Life.  

vampires and cells

They also enjoyed the University of Utah’s Inside a Cell, which allowed them to zoom into different parts of a cell and read additional information about that part.


Explorers and Native Americans: Perspective & Transliteracy with 4th grade

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Update:  This post is featured on Jane Yolen’s page for Encounter. 

Our 4th grade is studying Native Americans and Explorers.  When I met with the 4th grade team to plan, one of the main topics of our conversation was how we wanted our students to really think about perspective.  We didn’t want them to come away looking at the explorers as only a group of heroes, but instead to question what the costs were of their exploration.  We wanted them to think from the Native Americans’ perspective and consider how they felt about the explorers coming into their land.  We decided to approach this in a few ways.  The teachers planned regular social studies instruction in their classrooms.  They made Google presentations that were shared with the kids.  They also created graphic organizers for students to use to collect info.  Some students chose to have paper print outs of their organizers while others chose to fill out the organizer digitally.

Our guiding standards included:

SS4H1 The student will describe how early Native American cultures developed in
North America.
a. Locate where Native Americans settled with emphasis on the Arctic (Inuit),
Northwest (Kwakiutl), Plateau (Nez Perce), Southwest (Hopi), Plains (Pawnee),
and Southeast (Seminole).
b. Describe how Native Americans used their environment to obtain food, clothing,
and shelter.
SS4H2 The student will describe European exploration in North America.
a. Describe the reasons for, obstacles to, and accomplishments of the Spanish,
French, and English explorations of John Cabot, Vasco Núñez de Balboa, Juan
Ponce de León, Christopher Columbus, Henry Hudson, and Jacques Cartier.
b. Describe examples of cooperation and conflict between Europeans and Native

In the media center, I pulled multiple folktales from each of the Native American tribes.  During 2 separate sessions, we looked at Google Earth to see where the tribes were located originally.  Then as we read the folktales, we considered how location impacted the food, shelter, and clothing of the tribes by citing evidence from the tales.

The teachers wanted students to have access to multiple kinds of resources for their research portion of the unit.  We talked about classes coming individually to the library, but we ultimately decided that it would be nice for students to all be together in one location with multiple resources.  We scheduled 3 hour-long sessions.  I pulled together folktales, books about explorers, books about Native Americans, a pathfinder about Native Americans, and a pathfinder about Explorers.

During session 1, we met as a whole group.  I showed students a video of Christopher Columbus from National Geographic.  After the video, I asked students to think about how they would describe Columbus.  After talking with partners, I put as many words into a Tagxedo as possible.

These words were how students described Christopher Columbus after watching a video about Columbus.

These words were how students described Christopher Columbus after watching a video about Columbus.

Then, we read the book Encounter by Jane Yolen, which is the Columbus story told from the Native American perspective.  After the story, I asked the students to once again describe Columbus.  Their words made a big shift.

These words are how students described Christopher Columbus after reading Encounter by Jane Yolen.

These words are how students described Christopher Columbus after reading Encounter by Jane Yolen.

I followed up by talking about perspective, and how so many stories in history are silenced until the perspective of that group of people is brought forward.  I cited authors such as Phillip Hoose and Tanya Lee Stone who have written multiple texts about stories from history that have been untold.  I encouraged students as they did their research for this project to strongly consider perspective.  I did not want to tell them what to believe, but I asked them to be critical of the information they read and form their own opinions of history.

During sessions 2 & 3, all classes came back to the media center.  On one projection board, I posted the Native American pathfinder.  On the other projection board, I posted the Explorers pathfinder.  In addition, I made QR codes for each pathfinder and pulled out our cart of iPads.  I separated the books into 3 separate areas:  folktales, Native Americans, and explorers.  All students brought their netbooks, but they had the option to use the iPad if it fit their learning needs better than the netbook.  After  a quick reminder about our focus and where things were located, students freely moved around the media center.  About 75 students simultaneously made choices about which resources to start with, where to work, whether to work with a partner or small group or alone, and what technology supported their needs the most.  All 3 classroom teachers, a teacher candidate (student teacher), a gifted teacher, and I walked around and checked in with students.  Sometimes we were troubleshooting technology or redirecting, but often we were able to have individual conversations with students about the information that students were collecting.  Teachers worked with all students regardless if they were in their class or not.

What amazed me the most were the decisions that students made about their learning.  I saw transliteracy in action.  As I walked around, I saw students with pencils, papers, iPads, netbooks, and books all spread out around them.  They were simultaneously moving from one device or tool to the next.  Some students sat at tables while others sat inside bookshelves.  Some students tucked away by themselves while others worked in a large group.  Some students worked with very few resources at a time such as 1 book while others had every possible resource in front of them at once.  After months of wondering about how our space would support the kinds of learning I hope to see in our library, I was finally able to truly see it today.  I saw every piece of furniture in use.  I saw students combine pieces of furniture to make themselves comfortable for learning.  An entire grade level descended upon the library and remained productive while groups of kids were still coming into the library to checkout books.explorers & native americans (15)

It was loud, energetic, productive, and fun.  It’s a model I hope to replicate with other groups and a model that I hope carries into our classrooms, which can now accommodate some of these sames types of opportunities.

Setting Up a New Elementary School Library (Part 3)

It’s hard to believe that the unpacking and arrangement of our new school library began only one week ago!  As of today, every box has been unpacked thanks to many hours of work from me and some dedicated volunteers.  This included working on 2 furlough days and the weekend.  There’s still a lot to do, but it’s nice to know that everything has been unpacked!

When people walk by, I often hear, it looks like you are all ready.  I’m glad that the library looks like a library as our kids enter the building tomorrow, but there are many things left to do like:

  • Setup our iMac computers for video editing
  • Setup up our morning broadcast equipment and prepare the schedule/contracts of the new crew
  • Get power and data installed to the circulation island and have technology image the new circulation computers
  • Install a wall case which includes 2 white boards and a touchscreen for ebooks
  • Finish putting together 2 computer tables
  • Put together our lego robotics area
  • Update 30 ipads and make sure they are working for the new year.  Install apps that have already been requested
  • Re-label and re-catalog over 200 books that were pulled from fiction in order to move to everybody, graphic novels, and series sections
  • Distribute 250+ netbooks to classroom teachers after shuffling them among the carts to make grades 3-5 one to one
  • Test out media center equipment and how it interacts with our new projectors before releasing it to teachers to check out
  • Create some type of signage to help students in locating the books they need.  I may get students involved with this piece soon!
  • Create orientation videos that students may use to make orientation more individualized
  • Finish setting up the teacher book room which includes guided reading books and professional books.  Also setup a self check-out/check-in area in this room
  • And several more things……

Today I want to highlight some of our areas of the library that I haven’t talked about yet.  One is circulation.  Throughout the planning of our library, I repeatedly said that I did not want a circulation desk.  We don’t have a library paraprofessional at the moment, and even if we did, we don’t sit behind a desk all day.  Instead, I wanted a self check-in area and a self check-out area with places for students to easily store books that were checked-in.  We went through many rounds of discussions and drawings, but this is what we came up with:  a circulation island.

Circulation island instead of a clunky circulation desk

Circulation island instead of a clunky circulation desk

As students enter the library, they will turn right, check in their books at the check-in computer, and store their books on one of two rolling carts stored underneath the circulation island.  If both of these carts fill up, a third rolling cart can be pulled out to replace one of the filled cart.  This third cart also stores within the island.  Once students find their books, they will stop by the opposite side of the island to check-out their books as they leave.  On the wall right behind the island, there will be casework with multiple opportunities for displaying student work and books.  There will also be a touch screen where students can browse the ebooks in our collection.  I hope that this becomes a user-friendly area for our students.


Some shelves have stools within the curves where students can sit and read or use the shelf as a counter/work space

Some shelves have stools within the curves where students can sit and read or use the shelf as a counter/work space

Another item I want to feature in our library is the multiple ways that students can sit and interact with the space.  The curves of the shelves provide opportunities to put stools, bean bags, or soft curved seating.  With stools, students can sit and read or they can face the shelf and use it as an additional workspace.  As I display books on the tops of shelves, I’ll try to leave spaces open so that students can take advantage of these workspaces without having to move all the books.

At our iMac video editing stations, students can sit on the rectangular soft seating, wobble around on a Hokki stool, or pull up a chair that can face forward or backward.  It will be interesting to see which seating gets used more than the other.

iMac video editing stations

iMac video editing stations


There are many more features that I look forward to sharing in the coming days and weeks, especially as students start to use them.


Setting Up a New Elementary School Library (Part 1)

I had the honor of putting the very first books on the shelves

I had the honor of putting the very first books on the shelves

After my last post (New Beginnings), I’ve received several requests to document the process of setting up our new library space.  It is an exciting and exhausting process to walk into a big open room with endless possibilities.  As I’ve said before (and keep repeating to myself), the space can and will change once students begin using it.  I can only guess what might work best for students, but the beauty of the furniture and shelving that we have is that it can fairly easily change into something new if it doesn’t work the way I’ve set it up.

Over this past weekend, our SPLOST director, David Stubbs, spent many hours with a few helpers moving all of the boxes out of the library and organizing them by category.  This was supposed to be done by the movers, but it wasn’t.  He also made sure that all furniture that didn’t belong to the library was delivered to its proper place.  This morning, I walked in to see several possible configurations of the shelves, soft seating, tables, stools, and chairs.  David walked me around and talked about what he knew about each set of furniture.

Next, my first volunteers arrived.  The wonderful Camilla Bracewell, Barrow grandparent, and Carole Langley, spouse of an early Barrow alum, began working on shelves.  All of the carts have 3 shelves, but many of our library books are tall, so each cart needed to be switched to 2 shelves.  They adjusted the “Everybody” shelves and began bringing in the “Everybody” boxes and sequencing them.  I had numbered the boxes 1 of 37, 2 of 37, etc. so that we could easily put them in order.  Once in order, they began packing the shelves with books until they had to leave.

While all of this was going on, Julie Moon, Barrow parent and professional organizer, helped me think through all of the spaces in the library.  She took the lead on rolling around the remaining shelves to see all of the possibilities we could create for the various sections of the library.  Each time furniture was moved, we thought about why it was being moved.  For example, some oval rolling tables were moved away from the main instructional area because we decided that they would be great areas for students to collaborate or for teachers, mentors, or volunteers to work with students.  The spaces wouldn’t really work well if they were right next to each other, so we changed it.  We worked on this from about 10AM-2PM, and I think when we left at the end of the day, we felt pretty good about the placement of all of the furniture.  There is a bit more furniture to come, so the arrival of those pieces might change some things.  We did our best to think about these pieces as we were laying things out.

Julie continued working on the Everybody section and realized that we had packed the shelves a bit too full.  She went back through the entire section and shuffled the books on the shelves so there was a bit of space on each shelf for some expansion.

Jaison Jacob, a Barrow parent, and his daughter came at the end of the day and helped switch a few more of the shelves from 3 shelves to 2 shelves.  To end their time, they rolled all of the fiction boxes into the library to get ready for our next wave of unpacking on Wednesday.

Before I left, I went around and labeled each section of shelves with post-its so that volunteers can easily see where sections are.

I can’t say enough about the amazing volunteers that came today.  They took over some of the strenuous work so that I could step back and think through the space and layout.  I look forward to the coming days and several more wonderful volunteers popping in to support this space.  I love the ownership of the space already by parents, grandparents, alumni, and friends.

New Beginnings

media centerIt’s that time of year.  Time to  begin thinking about a new school year, new students, new families, new amazing ideas, new innovative projects, and more.  However, this year brings another big “new” thing:  a new library!  After 2 years of planning, our new school is almost ready.  Workers are busily putting on the finishing touches and boxes and furniture are arriving daily.

The process for designing the new media center has been incredible.  I have been involved every step of the way.  There have been multiple meetings, emails, feedback sessions, brainstorming, etc. to put together the space that students will see in just a few days.  The word that we carried with us throughout the whole process was “flexible”.  I wanted a space that would be as flexible as possible to allow the space to change and adapt to the kinds of learning that students were involved in.  At no time has it been about the stuff.  You certainly have to consider the stuff all along the way, but what students, teachers, and other learners are doing within the space is what matters most.

In our new library, you’ll find 2 projection areas.  One will be more for story time, discussion, gaming, guest speakers, etc. where students will sit on the floor and the other area will have tables where students can use devices and have a work space while things are shared or demonstrated on the projection board.  Our circulation area will not be a traditional desk but more of an island.  Students will check in their own books, store them on carts beneath the island, and then check out their own books on their way out.  There will be multiple spaces for students to sit, collaborate, read, etc.  This will include tables, chairs, stools, counters, bean bags, and other soft seating.  I hope that this creates a mix of quiet areas for students as well as areas for more noise, conversation, and collaboration.  All of the book shelves will roll so that they can be easily moved to accommodate larger groups or learning needs. The shelves hook together with magnets.  Students will have access to an interactive screen for perusing ebooks.  There will be a studio where we will use iPads to record and macbooks to edit video.  Even this studio is completely mobile and won’t feature the traditional video cameras and multiple wires running across the floor.  I can’t wait to see how the space works and how it evolves.

For now, this is how it looks.  It’s an overwhelming task to take the brainstorming and visioning and turn an empty room into those ideas.  My team of volunteers will be hard at work next week and into the beginning of the school year getting everything ready.  We are still waiting on some center casework to be installed as well as casework at the entrance to the library.  Our space probably won’t be ready on day 1 of school, but I will count on some miraculous things happening in this amazing space later this school year!

New Media Center Coming Soon!

On Friday, I visited our new media center at the new Barrow Elementary that should be done sometime in July.  We are busy packing boxes at our temporary home, and it was very helpful to see the space to consider what to pack and what to leave behind.  I can’t wait to see the innovative projects, ideas, conversations, and stories that take place in this new location.  One of the key features of the space is its flexibility.  Almost every single piece of furniture in the new space moves easily and quickly in order to change the function of the space in a moment’s notice.  Students have long asked for cozy places to sit and read, talk, collaborate, etc. and they will finally get to say goodbye to the big, clunky tables and hard wooden chairs.  Thinking about where every shelf and table is going to go is a bit intimidating  but at least I know that if it doesn’t work, it can quickly be changed.  I’ll do a much better tour on the blog when we actually move in, but here are a few pictures of the space in progress.

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