Save Display Space in School Libraries

Born out of a desperation to generate more interest in an overlooked campus library at an all-boy high school, I sought ways to constantly change its appearance throughout the school year. Thanks to parent volunteers, I was able to decorate for every holiday with twinkle lights, garland, wrapping paper, cut-outs, signs, etc. The bigger part of my efforts involved begging teachers for student projects and artwork to put on display at every opportunity. The result was an ever-changing, colorful, er… visually interesting ambiance (View photo below.)

Halloween 2013

Halloween 2013

You would think that high school boys would neither notice nor care about decor and display in a dusty, out-of-date, under-used library. But they did. I discovered that library visitors, whether teachers, administrators, parents, or students, all noticed. Many (even HS boys) expressed appreciation for the revitalized library atmosphere.

Unfortunately, there is no way to measure an ambiance outcome. The gate count reveals only how many pass through the doors. Positive comments can’t be measured, other than to be counted. I can’t evaluate the FEEL of the library compared to the year before. I can only tell you that the library, even as neglected as it had been, felt warm, inviting, and intellectually stimulating. Freshmen left inspired after viewing the work of upper class-men. Seniors left thoughtful after viewing the Holocaust Survivor art projects. Adults who met in the library walked away with snapshots of what was happening on campus without having to visit each classroom at back-to-school night.

It has always been the goal of libraries to share information with their community. In the past this meant maintaining display cases and bulletin boards. Display cases could be filled with figurines on loan from a neighbor, pottery from the local art studio, or books to coincide with a holiday. Bulletin boards could be used to advertise and share information via old-fashioned flyers.

It’s thrilling to see how many libraries are undergoing facelifts these days. Mine will be as well, which is why I’ve been reading a lot  about other school library renovations, (e.g., Potter Library, Mater Dei High School Library, and REALM Charter School Library). However, updated school libraries don’t appear to include any bulletin boards or display cases.

On the one hand, hooray! Truthfully, I find decorating bulletin boards time-consuming and tedious. It’s reason #112 for why I left teaching for librarian-ing. I totally get why librarians are reluctant to keep physical display space in their library renovation plans. On the other hand, if school libraries endeavor to become the “information hubs” on campus, then shouldn’t they include places to display students’ work?

I am as eager as the next librarian to share information electronically on the web or on TV monitors, ensuring my physical library space will remain clean and clutter-free. But, I also want to give parents, alumni, and administrators excuses to pop into the library to view the current exhibit. I want students to feel validated when their actual work is selected for “live” display. There is something to be said for the physical display versus digital. It’s why we still visit museums.

To date, I haven’t found another school library renovation plan that designates space for physical display. I don’t mean we should dig out bulletin boards from the dumpster, but a built-in glass display case or even a designated shelf or wall for art would do. To cling to something so seemingly petty and old-fashioned in the face of such exciting library renovations makes me feel like Debby Downer. Nevertheless, I aim to include some sort of space for physical display in my updated school library and renovation plans. I hope I won’t be alone in my efforts and that my fearless librarian colleagues will begin to save display space in their school libraries as well.

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