Boxing the Past

Nine years ago, I left my little classroom in the basement for the “broader horizons” of the school’s library. I spent many hours that summer delightedly taking my first library course and getting all the books and resources into an order I could function in as a beginning teacher-librarian. I was ready for the change!

The school’s library had originally been the school’s gym at some point. Half the former gym had been sliced in half to create office space at the front of the school. Above the office, an alcove was built with stair access. This spot was used as a computer lab at various times until its lack of accessibility became an issue. The other half of the old gym became the library–a mortar-bricked, windowless box, lined with shelves along the periphery, some free-standing book cases, and a few tables crowded in for work space. There were a few significant adjustments made to the space over the past nine years–a main level computer lab accessed through a door under the stairs, a wall knocked out to expand the space by a few feet to create a small read-aloud area. But, no matter how I rearranged things, no matter what I put on the walls, there was no denying that there was no way that the space could be made to be attractive. A library in a school is a high-traffic area. This shoebox was not designed for three or four classes to be accessing it at the same time, nor to hold all the boxes and teacher resources that needed a central storage and access area. Lines of students collided, senior students jostled on the stairs, noise levels were too high. There were days I despaired of ever reading a story out loud to a class of primary students. The lack of windows made me desperately claustrophobic and drove me to leaving the emergency door open on beautiful spring and autumn days. The other side of that same emergency door endured thousands of ball-pounds through countless recesses. Visitors cringed, thinking the school was under attack. I got to the point where I didn’t even hear it any more.

The news of a massive renovation and construction project was received with great enthusiasm by our staff. The present library was earmarked to become a kindergarten classroom, and the new library was once again destined to be in the school’s present gym. This gym was much bigger, and the design perfectly aligned to the needs of elementary students. And–there would be windows.

We lived through a year of pounding and banging and muddy halls and wires hanging from ceilings. Some how, the student body and staff managed to soldier on in a pretty impressive state of normalcy, in spite of the chaos surrounding us. Outer walls crumbled around us, leaving us gaping outside like dolls from the inside of a frontless dollhouse. Many teachers packed up and moved to temporary locations while their rooms were gutted, then moved into the next available room. Some of us were lucky enough to remain relatively untouched for the duration of the school year, myself among them. We lost the main level computer lab, but we were able to function with the upper one. The library itself remained temporarily unscathed. But, time has caught up to the old library. I started this week to get my own stuff packed up. The lab went down today, and tomorrow, the book collection will be transferred to boxes. Everything has to be cleared out by Friday. I will spend the last four days of the school year homeless, wandering the halls and looking for shelter in any decimated classroom that I might be able to squeeze into, among the boxes and piles and hordes of sweaty children. (One good thing about my old library–it was one of the few places in the building that had A/C.)

So today, I sat at my circulation desk, looking around me at the ruins. And although I’ve been feeling excited about the change, I felt a stirring of real sadness. The old library wasn’t pretty–but it was home. And a lot of great things happened there. Hundreds of great stories, lots of learning and laughter, children loving books. Circle meetings and division meetings, mentors visiting with students, speech and language groups, pizza parties and Nature Club projects. Printing disasters and computer glitches. And then there was the little spot behind me, where staff often sat and chatted with me. If they moved back a little further, they could completely melt down with confidence that no one could see them. Every school needs a little melt-down corner for staff. What if there is no melt-down corner in the new library? What if the new library is too perfect? The nice thing about an imperfect spot is that, being imperfect yourself, you fit in there. Imperfection is so comfortable. And in spite of its many flaws, that old library was really comfortable.

So, it’s out with the old. And that’s good. The new library will be fantastic, without a doubt. But I hope that, even more than fantastic, our new library will be comfortable. If we can all help to make that happen, then we’ve carried the best part of the old library into the new one.

Here’s to new beginnings and taking the best of the past with us.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lucy
    Jun 24, 2011 @ 17:55:32

    the best part of any library…. old, new, dilapitated or renovated is YOU! You are the face of LIBRARY…. and how fortunate each child is to have an advocate like you!
    Cheers and a gi-normous thanks to YOU. The new library will be PERFECT if you are there!


  2. Nancy
    Jun 24, 2011 @ 20:57:04

    All those wonderful memories of meetings, children experiencing the joy of books, laughing, learning, pizza parties, club meetings, all of it will still go on in your new space. The students will love to be there for many reasons but mostly because you will make it a great place to be. So long to the shoe box and onto the ‘design perfectly aligned to the needs of elementary students’! Don’t worry about the ‘too perfect’ thing! Really, it will be filled with children just like before! That will make it better than perfect!! With windows!


  3. Tanya Beattie
    Jun 25, 2011 @ 11:10:42

    Thanks for the post, as an early riser in a silent house it was so unexpected (and welcome) to make such a deep connection in these wee hours. I know exactly how you feel, what a strange mixture of sadness and uneasiness along with hope and excitement! I have packed a few boxes but cringe at the thought of tearing down the brightly coloured bulletin boards that say welcome, you’re home. We are definitely saying good-bye to our school as we know it.


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