Elementary Library Makeover

Amy Brownlee

Earlier in the year, I posted a plea on the KASL list serve for ideas.  Our grade school library is getting new carpet this coming summer, and we want to do some reorganizing (on a very modest budget) to make our library less crowded and more efficient.  I asked KASL members for help with ideas for circulation desks, staff workspace, A/V storage, shelving, floor plans and layouts.  You came through for me, and as requested, I am sharing what I learned.  Pictures are posted under Circulation, Display, Layout, Seating, Shelving, and Work Space slideshows.

*Be sure to weed like crazy before moving.

*Several people mentioned using correctional facilities for building shelving.  You pay for materials and inmates build the furniture or shelving for free.  (Their phone number is 620-728-3296.  Ask for David Ochs.)  It usually takes 6-8 weeks for delivery and there is a cost for setting it up.

*Other vendors:

            Scholastic will help you design shelving and has some nice, all wood shelving.

School Specialty -- rep is Curtis Coup (ccoup@schoolspecialty.com, 1-800-307-8899x805).

            Boxes   Love Box S-42   17 ½ x 11 ¼ x 10 ¼ worked very well

                         Love 180 boxes are also similar in size and less costly

            Custom shelving:  Wall shelving     most of what I saw in the Salina Public Schools was 72” high and 36” wide (some 10” and some 12” deep) – most of these were made by Salina Planing Mill many years ago.  Be sure they have adjustable shelves, use sturdy enough wood to hold books without sagging, and don’t have facings around the edges which hide the first and last books on the shelf – also nice to have the 4” rise on the bottom to get books off the floor


*Advice from the trenches:

I was told last October I was on the list for new carpet.  I started planning right away for a whole new look.  If I was going to move everything, I was going to put it back like I wanted it.  This was my opportunity.

You are starting out right just by asking for suggestions.  It helps so much. 

My next step was to get a cookie sheet and a sheet of refrigerator magnet stuff.  I put graph paper over the top.  Then I measured everything--cabinets and desk and shelving--in my library and cut out movable pieces.  I started with a blank piece of graph paper the size of my room and put in all the doors and walls.  I also noted where electricity outlets were located.  Then I started moving furniture on my map.  I measured and measured again, making sure I had spacing like I wanted and everything was organized to fit.  I discovered that I did need some additional cabinets and new computer tables in order to make everything fit. 

I showed my plan to the administration and explained my reasoning for the decisions I had made.  They agreed to my plan.  I did OK with everything until I had a few miscommunications with maintenance staff and administration.  I had a plan for getting this all done and they had another.  I had to keep explaining why again and again.  I had to give on a few points, but on most I said,  “No, I need it done this way.” 

Whatever you do, have a plan for where the books are going to go and make sure you have PLENTY of help to move them.  My very best helpers were, of all people, a group of 4th grade girls who were so good I actually had them come back after school was out for two days to help me move back in.  They had boundless energy and followed directions.  I had some HS kids help toward the last day of moving and that was a big mistake.  They couldn’t have cared less and just put books wherever.  It was a mess.  I moved a lot of stuff myself.  Try to make sure you get as much help as possible.

The cookie sheet map became the bible for moving because the maintenance staff and I knew where everything was to go.  I got down on the floor with masking tape and ruler to make sure cabinets were placed where I wanted them.  My attention to detail has paid off in the long run.  I have a wonderful space that has been complimented by many.  We have a much more functional library, and I think it will be used even more now that we have an attractive, spacious room.  It is worth it, but be ready for a few headaches along the way.  (Sue Buhler)


Designing a School Library Media Center for the Future by Rolf Erikson and Carolyn Markuson. Chicago: American Library Association, 2001.

Designing and Renovating School Library Media Centers by Jane P. Klasing. Chicago: American Library Association, 1991.

A Moving Checklist for Do-It-Yourselfers by Carol Smallwood. Book Report, Jan./Feb. 1998: 12-13.

The Power of Paint: Refurbishing School Libraries on a Budget by Marian D. Usalis. School Library Journal, 28 February 1998: 28-33.

Whole Building Design Guide: School Libraries http://www.wbdg.org/design/school_library.php

Thanks to everyone who took the time to respond to my plea for help.  I owe a HUGE thank you to Janice Ostrom, Coordinator of Media Services for Salina Public Schools, and her wonderful staff of librarians.  Janice took me on a whirlwind tour of elementary libraries in her district, allowing me to take photos and ask questions along the way.  Janice’s knowledge and expertise have been invaluable to me.  Thanks also to Hutchinson librarians Raimy Hester and Letty Watt for allowing me to visit their libraries.

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Last updated: December 13, 2005