AL Live: Revamping Your Space – Creating a Modern Media Center

This blog post describes the ALA webinar “Revamping Your Space – Creating a Modern Media Center”. This session was presented by Angela Webb from School Outfitters and Doug Mader, Principal of Sycamore High School and Chad Lewis, Sycamore’s Director of Business Operations from the Sycamore Community (Ohio) School District. The discussion focused on the transformation of Sycamore High School’s library into a modern media center.

School Outfitters engages in educational renovations across the country and particularly library renovations. They are asked to help schools address the challenges of under-utilization, immobile furniture, and wasted space. The goal is to create better learning spaces for students.

In the case of Sycamore High School the school was built in 1974 and as a result the facilities reflected the technology and education space use practices of 1974. Their community was looking for the school to rejuvenate the media center. They spoke to students and parents. They approached an architecture class to generate ideas. They asked the architects to come up with ideas that encouraged a collaborative approach within the media center. They approached School Outfitters to find furniture for the space.

The media center is now referred to as “The Hub”. The Hub still hosts the library book collection, but now also includes collaborative spaces and classroom spaces that teachers can book for assignment work. The vision was for students to feel comfortable coming in and troubleshooting any technology issues. Two years ago the library used to have 20 student visitors per day, but now students use the Hub space all day and it has become the center of school activity.

Principles need to have an ambitious vision of what the media center space should be. Their initial visions may have too high a budget to be implemented as originally envisioned, but without these grand visions you can’t break away from old ways of thinking about educational spaces. From a budgetary standpoint the most important thing you can do is to know exactly what you want to do with these spaces. Doug spent a lot of time doing research and looking into how media spaces have been implemented around the country. The space reflected student learning needs. They surveyed their students to find out how they wanted to use the space. As the space changed the role of the school media specialists changed. They had to learn about technologies and maker spaces in addition to their traditional library functions.

When thinking about furniture use in the space they had several criteria. First, they wanted the furniture to be mobile so that students could move it around to meet their collaborative needs. Second, they wanted the furniture to be visually appealing. The space had to be inviting so that students would want to come in and use the space. They included lots more soft seating as well as movable furniture to maximize use.

In order to complete the project on time and on budget you need to start your planning project well in advance. They started the planning process 12 months in advance of when they planned the renovation to start. This type of a renovation is not something that can be done in a single school year, you need a lot of advanced planning time. They also highly recommended bringing in expert consultants who can provide you with the advice and help that you need to design the space. They advised that you need to choose your partners carefully because you want to work with companies and consultants that respect your vision for the space rather than either overwhelming you with options or sticking to their own vision for the space while ignoring yours.

Once the vision and budget were in place the team began defining their specifications. When the first introduced the new space they were immediately questioned about where the books went. The space changed from a silent room to a hive of activity and this took some adjustment. They also had to define some other specifications for how the space should be used. They knew that they wanted the space to be used outside of the school day. The space is used for after-school meetings. Sports teams use the space. They also included a raised space (platform) where the circulation desk used to sit. This is used for guest speakers and presentations. They use the space for presentations and showcases.

The decision to modernize the media center space reflected a desire to change the learning culture of the school. Developing collaborative, technology-focused facilities helps to better prepare students for the workplace. Renovating the space increased student pride in the space and enjoyment in using it. The only problem that the school has found with the space is that it is so popular that teacher now compete to use it.

Featured image by Teaching and Learning with Technology – https://www.flickr.com/photos/psutlt/

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