As I was adjusting the brand-new curved fiction shelves in the library just a couple of inches to the left…and then back again for what must have been the tenth time in as many minutes, I was reminded of a quotation I shared with families at Curriculum Night several years back. In his picture book Zen Ties, Jon J. Muth writes, “It is easy to believe we are each waves and forget we are also the ocean.” While this notion may be nothing new to those better versed in Zen Buddhism, I was struck by the rolling waves of our new fiction section that now draw you into the library. In that moment, they served as a reminder to me of the power of our community, as well as the not insignificant ways that the library enables students to discover themselves as individuals within it.
The new middle school research and collaboration room represents how students can explore their individual and community identities within our new space. For a while now, our middle school students have needed a place to call their own within our library, and that has finally come to fruition. Within hours of the furniture arriving, classes started making use of the new space for collaborative social studies work. Eighth graders planned and recorded group videos to teach their classmates the material they had studied about Colonial America. One group loved the experience so much they asked their advisor to bring their whole advisory down for resource period in the new space that same day. And more than one student grabbed a book to check out on the way out!
Our lower school students will also benefit greatly from the re-imagined space. New design features include book browser bins to support the ways in which our youngest children search for books, cozy nooks to curl up in, and colorful lines incorporated into the carpet design for guidance on where to line up. The story room remains as it was–and how it should be–with some shifts in the collection and some décor changes to come. Our fifth graders are now creating an art installation in the story room inspired by their summer reading book Finding Langston and the paintings of Jacob Lawrence. Stay tuned for their grand opening.
Passing by as the new Erskine Library was coming to life was an experience students throughout the school remarked on in these joyful moments:
“Has anyone sat in this chair yet? How about this one? I want to be the first!” – a fourth grader stopping in after school
“I love the new mini-Kiva.” – a new sixth grader, admiring the set-up of the research and collaboration room, which had been described during orientation as like a mini-Kiva
“Wait, are those seats? Like for sitting in?” – an eighth grader checking out the new reading nooks
“There are books! I don’t care that they’re I Can Read books, I used to read all of these…and they’re books!” –a sixth grader admiring the unpacking and reshelving of the very first section of books
“My favorite part of the new library is the way it smells.” – a first grader reflecting on her first library class in the new space
The whole community’s effort in this undertaking is evident. Since the beginning of this project with the AISNE self-study eight years ago, dozens of teachers and administrators have been involved in imagining the thoughtful features that have now come to life. We’re thankful to everyone who had a hand in the work, including the Library Project task force and Corrado Paramithiotti for making sure each piece of the project was completed to exacting specifications. The Erskine Library has always been a beloved space, and our aim was to preserve the character of what makes it the heart of our school, while also making sure that all children can find themselves within.
I would also like to thank the parent community, without whom the library couldn’t function on a daily basis and this project could not have happened. The profoundly generous support that came out of the Wonder auction was inspiring and energizing. In recent days, parents have stopped in to check on the progress to find out “Was this how you envisioned it?” “Are you happy with it?” The trust the parent community has placed in us as educators tasked with rethinking our library reflects the trust you grant us each day in caring for and educating your children. It is striking and humbling. So, please join us in this essential community space—walk through our waves of shelves, and, as a fourth grader noted after our visit from author Erin Entrada Kelly, “get lost in a book.”