When I came on board as Georgetown High School’s Media Specialist three years ago, the school was in the planning stages for a revamped media center. The existing library featured solid oak desks and shelves, which had served our school well when students generally only came to the media center to study or read. I wanted the new space to support the most modern and innovative learning and teaching strategies and technologies.
We wanted to make the space into a hub for our high school, of which I am a proud graduate. I stepped in at a great time because I was given a lot of latitude to make changes, even though I wasn’t really sure what I wanted or needed at the time.
Here’s what I did know: before the renovation, we had a giant circulation desk situated smack in the center of the space. Fixed in place, that desk dominated the space as soon as you walked into the media center. We also had some specific needs around having enough room for the entire faculty to meet in the library once a month, ensuring ample charging capabilities for students, and being able to quickly turn the space into an area where we could host cultural dances and performances.
Here’s how we accomplished these goals and turned an aging space into a student- and teacher-friendly building:
1. Use detailed visuals to plan the space. Right out of the gate, I was worried about spacing issues and sightlines. Sometimes you don’t bring enough things in, and it looks empty; or you bring too much in, and you can’t move around. I was really pleased with the 3D graphics that our design partner brought to the table. MiEN Company’s layouts came with both a 2D overhead view (where I could see things clearly), and 3D images that helped me envision how the space was going to be filled.
2. Start with a clean slate. Our school spent two years weeding books and removing furniture, shelving, and other structures that we didn’t want in our revamped media center. For example, we removed the giant circulation design and basically anything that wasn’t nailed to the wall (and then some). We also ripped up and replaced the carpeting. By the time we were finished, the media center was basically bare. Today, almost every single piece of furniture in the space is new.
3. Don’t overcomplicate the design process. When we started looking at colors and fabrics, things got pretty overwhelming. I’ve seen some pretty loud and outrageous colors used in media centers—and some of them look very cool—but I didn’t feel comfortable going with loud and proud colors for this project. I wanted to use school colors, but I also didn’t want the space to feel monotonous and boring. I felt really out of my element, but working with our design partner, it wound up being a great experience. For example, they helped me rule out the types of design, colors, and fabrics that we didn’t want, and to focus on colors that represented our school spirit while also going beyond just blue and gray.
4. Incorporate flexible furniture. When we started our renovation journey, we were thinking of creating small group areas for student-led collaborative activities. From an architectural standpoint, we were thinking of building three-quarter walls that would be made from a see-through material that would help retain the sight lines. We actually decided to scrap all of those room plans and use flexible furniture instead. Today, everything in our media center can be moved around and transformed as needed. We can quickly redesign the space to accommodate groups of any size, all while retaining the overall look and feel of our wonderful new space.
When the first group of students entered their new media center, many of them immediately gravitated over to the “less formal” side of the space, which features high-top tables, charging stations, and circular stools. They gradually started spreading out to other areas, but they clearly loved it right from the beginning. During lunch periods and both before and after school, our media center has become a popular, safe place to come and study, read, collaborate, or just hang out.