Godwin Heights — You might say that the North Godwin library took a page out of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz”: the blue walls and yellow accents coupled with the pink rope lights, planet rug and a blow-up alien peeking out from the window make you feel like you’re not in North Godwin anymore.
It is quite the transformation from when North Godwin Media Clerk Natalie Hilestad first walked into the room last October.
“The library was suffering from some neglect,” Hilestad said. “There were outdated books from the 1980s and some of the stuff was dusty from not being used, while others were so well loved, they were falling apart.”
The district has gone through some changes over the years, revamping its elementary program so that West Godwin became a K-2 building and North Godwin became a 3-5 grade building. Through that process, however, the library at North Godwin had not been updated.
That all changed recently. Shortly after Hilestad became the school’s new media clerk, she was informed by West Godwin Principal Mary Lang that there was some federal Title 1 funding available for the library. The amount came to $20,000.
“I have to admit, I panicked a little,” said Hillestad as she started thinking about purchasing new books and materials. As she began to place book orders, she looked around the library and realized something needed to be done about the space, too.
Some Paint Here, Some Lights There
You could say the pandemic worked in Hilestad’s favor. North Godwin students were only in the building for about a month last fall before a state mandate had them return to virtual learning. Hilestad took advantage of the two months to do an overhaul of the library.
“I removed about 3,000 books that students just would not be interested in,” she said, adding that the weeding helped make room for the new titles coming in.
To choose the new books, she spent time going through the Michigan Department of Education’s recommended reading list, looking to add titles that reflect the students at the school such as Jason Reynolds’ “As Brave As You” and Hena Khan’s “Amina’s Voice.”
Since she was able to purchase a wide range of diverse new books, Hilestad created “book nook” areas featuring similar topics and interests. So “The Dork Diaries” and the Harry Potter series have their own spot, as well as those books that feature LGBTQ+, Hispanic and Black characters.
“It is so important for students to be able to see themselves in the books,” Hilestad said.
The Title I money covered the book costs, so Hilestad got creative for the other elements in the space. She sought out comfy furniture such as bag chairs and donated a coffee table. She and her husband, Tanner, a tech specialist at Godwin Heights High School, spent their holiday break repainting and adding pink rope lighting to the ceiling.
There’s No Place Like…North Godwin’s Library
Now, as students come in to check out the selection or pick up a book that was on hold, Hilestad makes sure to chat with each one: “What did you think of it? Are you going to fill out a book review? Have you considered this series?”
“I think it is a good place,” said fifth-grader Aime Fonseca, who added that she likes the way the library looks now with the Lego sculptures mixed in with books. “You can find different things here. It is a calm place and you just feel like you can express your feelings here.”
Fifth-grader José Garcia agreed with Aime that the library is “a much better place,” in part because of Hilestad’s efforts.
“Mrs. Hilestad and the staff worked hard to make this a better place,” José said. “It shows how much she appreciates the students in this school.
“Now I feel like the library is some place you want to come and read books and get your school work done.”
And just like Baum’s book had a sequel, so does North Godwin’s library. After all, you can’t leave loose ends in a story. In this case, the loose ends are those 3,000 books that Hilestad pulled out at the beginning of the year.
“I let the staff go through the books and pull what they wanted for their classrooms,” Hilestad said. “The rest I am going to turn into journals for the students.”