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Empty space to smarter place
Where once dozens of desktop computers greeted students inside Cocalico High School’s library, two rooms now stand nearly empty, tables holding nothing more than laptop charging stations and a tumble of cords.
Instead of loss, the school district’s coordinator of library sciences sees opportunity here.
By this fall, those defunct computer labs will be repurposed into makerspaces, designated areas meant to inspire research and collaboration on projects ranging from the arts to sciences.
“People ask: ‘Are libraries dead?’” says coordinator Beth Cerullo. “Absolutely not. We’re now the learning hub for the school. We have the luxury of having this big beautiful area with the library attached to it.”
The conversion of at least one room will launch a library-wide overhaul, a renovation that seeks to engage students in research, teach them about critical thinking and promote problem solving by modern means.
This is the first year in which each Cocalico High School student was assigned a laptop computer, making the former labs obsolete.
Students can now conduct research from anywhere. But they still need guidance on how to use and judge the information they have, and a place that allows them to test theories, innovate and create in a hands-on fashion.
That might mean fewer hardbound encyclopedias and more online database subscriptions; fewer in-house speakers and more virtual visits with university professors in other states; fewer desks and more small-group spaces for collaboration.
“Our goal is to make sure our students have access to what they need,” says high school librarian Ginger Mickey. “The role of the librarian is evolving from handing you the information to curating it.”
No final plans have been made for the renovation, but the makerspace will likely be at the core of the library’s redesign. Many middle and high schools across the nation are incorporating Makerspaces into their design; they often feature high-tech bonuses like 3D printers, electronics, software and low-tech components from Legos to hardware.
Mickey said she recently worked with a science class studying Rube Goldberg machines, inventions that complete a task through imaginative chain reactions. First, they researched the theories behind it, then they designed their own. Next year, students could head into the makerspace and choose from a designated cache of materials for their concepts.
Likewise, students who’ve completed a family and consumer sciences class could drop in during study hall or after school to further their skills on a library sewing machine.
“Some of it’s high-tech, some of it’s low-tech and some of it’s no-tech,” Cerullo says. “We’re not looking at technology for technology’s sake, but what’s the best tool for the job?”
The makerspace has large windows and a door, meaning librarians can see in but the students are free to talk as they work together on their ideas.
District officials met last week [Feb. 22] to review design plans and decided how to phase in the project, which also involves replacing 25-year-old furniture.
Superintendent Dr. Ella Musser said costs could range from $60,000 to more than $100,000, “depending on how elaborate we are.”
“Instead of simply replicating the design we already have, we are attempting to retool the space for many more purposes than the original design allows,” she wrote in an email. “Technology, furniture, makerspaces, white boards, and more are all part of the current considerations.”
Some of the project cost would be included in the 2017-18 budget. But the Cocalico Education Foundation has already offered to purchase some items and make the makeover’s STEM component a primary endeavor over the next few years.
While some shelving will likely be removed, Cerullo said 80 percent of the library’s print materials — more than 12,000 items in February — will remain available to students. Library staff members have already started the process of reviewing what’s less popular according to check-out records, as well as deciding whether some long-overlooked materials be in demand again with the advent of new classes, including military history.
“A lot of our kids still prefer to go to print,” Mickey said.
Both students and teachers were given a chance to weigh in on the library’s future. Students were excited about quiet reading zones envisioned near the entrance and a back corner.
Teachers, meanwhile, want help with teaching their students critical thinking, how to find reputable information and how to verify it. Mickey has prepared topic-specific guides for that wish and expects she’ll have more room to work with groups after the renovation.