School Libraries

Up from the ashes (part seven)

Ok, I’ll admit it, I have a thin skin.

In addition to rebuilding the collection and providing library service at MPOW, I’ve also been participating in a series of meetings designed to elicit parent/alumni opinion regarding the rebuilding of the physical space. There were questions about whether the library should go back into the space (the stone outer walls are still standing, and the plan has always been to rebuild something in that footprint), whether there should be an expansion of the building by adding a second floor, if any other functions should be put into that space, etc..

As early as the first day back, I was hoping that we would not be moving back into our old space. Not because it didn’t work as a 1990s library, let alone as a “2.0” library, but because it is physically isolated from the flow of students. There are better spaces, physically located nearer to students (particularly the Middle School students). A school library should be where the people are, not a “destination”. A school library should be an integral part of the life of the school, the heart of it, if you will.

I lost that battle. We’re going back in to the building at the end of the campus (ok, ok, that’s a little disingenuous, the building is contiguous to the rest of the Upper School, but it’s at one end, not in the middle; it is very removed from the Middle School). I did win the battle about not putting administrative functions in the space with us, because having an academic department sharing our building will (we hope) bring in more traffic. I did win the battle about creating a flexible space, one that allows my successors to create the library they’ll need rather than make do with the library I helped build.

That’s not false modesty on my part: I think the library we’ll end up with will meet our needs now – in 2007. However, I know that the library the school needs now will not be the library the school needs in 2017… 2027… and beyond. Back in the dark ages when I was in high school, we had microfilm and microfiche and LPs and a card catalog and literally cut and pasted handwritten drafts of papers together before finally typing them up. I had a study carrel where I kept stacks of books – including reference books – as I did research. Today’s students keep notes on their computers, writing and revising with far more ease; their resources are not solely available in physical print or on flimsy film in a building that had limited hours, they’re often on-line and available whenever needed.

Could I have imagined that sea-change Back Then? Could the librarian at my high school (still there!) have imagined these changes and planned for them? No. I don’t have the hubris needed to imagine that I can predict what libraries and resources will need and look like in ten years, let alone 30 years. So flexibility is needed. As the Head of MPOW said at one of the meetings, “call my stupid now; don’t call me stupid in hindsight”.

Monday night I was at a meeting of the Steering Committee for the Rebuilding. We got an update (amazing how architectural plans get changed from one meeting to the next with no one being told until after it’s almost certainly a fait accomplit), and then discussion opened on the issues of where the library should go, etc.. Except that we didn’t discuss moving the library – I understand why I lost that one, but it annoyed me that it was part of the agenda and no discussion ensued.

Then it started. It’s clear that the majority of the members of this Committee have not been in a good school library – their experience was either during their days in HS or in the library we used to have. One member of the Committee (a rather prominent businessman) insinuated that we needed expert advice on modern libraries. Now, perhaps I’m being too sensitive, but hello???? Saying that in front of the Head of the Library, suggesting that perhaps she’s not qualified or aware of current trends or something??? I tried to allay these fears (I’m friends with Leaders in the Field, etc.) but it was clear he just wasn’t buying.

So the battle continues. I don’t know what to say to him, and I’m really hoping that this committee does not decide to get involved with micromanaging the new facility’s planning. I can’t think of anything more guaranteed to drive me into a new job than having to justify to them why this placement of bookcases or seating or design of circ./information desk is needed (discussing this with architects and school administration is fine, but the committee???).

Onward, and upward!

3 thoughts on “Up from the ashes (part seven)”

  1. Ugh. I have no envy for you, at all. In my place of business, the company owner is a man with many pies in which to stick a finger. His latest venture, via his former teacher wife, is a learning assistance business. Now, I work for a printing company, and the marketing of such a business requires a great deal of printed material, so…Except there are 2 other couples, all well off, entitled, successful..and certain that each holds the complete, and only, RIGHT way of doing things in his or her hands.Most of this falls on my husband, who heads the art department and has created, recreated, and re-recreated assorted cards, folders, brochures and other bits as this group of well off business people dither, diddle, and fart around, making suggestions and requests not always in the realm of the possible. They are getting this stuff for free, you see, because our boss is an investor and director in this little venture. And they are all trying to make a profit from education here, which means they are deeply involved (as well as highly entitled and crazy-making).I cannot even IMAGINE your situation, where someone would imply not only that you don’t know your own profession, but that he magically is more informed than you are. That you didn’t heave a book at his head is amazing.

  2. How maddening! Knowing you, I’m sure you kept your composure, but it can’t have been easy. :0(This sounds like a good time to curl up with the Boys, a cup of tea and a good book.But then, any time is a good time for that. :0)

  3. I’m sure that the know-it-all business is totally ignorant of his slight to you. This type of person rarely thinks before proving their ignorance or stupidity.As someone here at work said “Caesar knew the problems with expansion ie Gauls, Celts, Germans. The others just say make me an empire.” Too many of this type think they know all and yet know so little.

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