Teacher Katie McIntosh’s kindergartners made their way into Lakeside Elementary’s recently opened Learning Commons and quickly made themselves right at home.
A group of girls selected books from the easy reader section and draped themselves over soft, movable lightweight blocks. Nearby, Lucas Ratchford sat at a curved table on a stool with a wiggle-friendly rounded base and turned the pages of a Guinness Book of World Records picture book. At the checkout station, volunteer parent Britt O’Malley helped Mae Moser check out “The Bag I’m Taking to Grandma’s.”
“I love it,” said O’Malley, one of 25 volunteer library staff at Lakeside. “It’s an inspirational space, full of potential. There’s something for everybody here.”
And the district — and students — appreciate O’Malley’s enthusiasm. Lakeside’s former media center space, along with those at Wealthy and Breton Downs, has been transformed into volunteer-run, technology-friendly collaboration and meeting spaces where borrowing and using books still plays a major role.
The work, which began last summer, is nearly complete. Trish Reid, an East Grand Rapids High School graduate who has a master’s degree in library science, headed the transformation along with Carole McDonald, the district’s technology hardware specialist.
When East Grand Rapids Public Schools eliminated its elementary media center paraprofessionals three years ago due to budget cuts, it was clear to parents Reid and McDonald that a new way was needed to provide students with library services.
“What this process has given the district is a new way of looking at (the spaces) that is much more structured and efficient,” Reid said. “You can’t not have libraries for kids.”
Building a Foundation
Reid, who previously was a children’s librarian at Kent District Library, incorporated some KDL-type systems to streamline and make processes as efficient as possible. That includes self-checkout, scanning, shelving and cataloging of materials all needed to happen without staffing.
Reid and McDonald built teams of 20 to 30 volunteers at each of the district’s three elementary schools, who devote 400 hours a month to ensure students are getting books they need and developing a love for reading.
“It’s unbelievable how much time the volunteers put in,” Reid said. “The passion everyone has for this … Everybody gets why it’s so important.”
Reid and McDonald curate the huge collection of 10,500 books at each school, cataloging new books, making sure each school has a consistent collection, ordering materials and training volunteers and staff members.
They’ve also started a catalog system where students can look up a book and see which school it’s shelved at. Reid regularly contacts KDL for current popular titles and information to help with ordering.
Reid and McDonald also tap into knowledge of teachers, who fill out Google spreadsheets every month about what they’re teaching. That helps the pair make sure books that complement classroom teaching are on the shelves.
“It’s been a learning curve for everyone involved,” Reid said, “and I think it’s definitely given people a sincere appreciation for what happens in a library beyond checking books in and out.
“Books are getting into kids’ hands, and that’s the important thing.”
The Transformation Continues
The district is re-imagining its school library spaces to meet the needs of the district for years to come, said Jeanne Glowicki, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.
“Our school community knows how important the literature piece is — that’s clear from how they have supported this process so far,” Glowicki said. “Now it’s about looking at these spaces differently from how we have looked at them for so many years.”
Reid agreed. In the ever-evolving world of libraries, “You have to constantly be flexible,” she said.
The district’s bond issue, passed in 2014, funded renovation of the spaces into learning hubs outfitted for the latest technology, with flexible space to allow students to work in groups interactively and from their own devices. Breton Downs, Wealthy and Lakeside each received between $453,000 and $539,000 in work and upgrades, including new furniture and enhanced audio-visual technology and connectivity.
The same bond issue will fund the transformation of the middle and high school. Those projects are set to begin in the spring.
Previous SNN article on EGR library transformations