by Tina Manzer
People were feeling isolated long before COVID-19 sent us into isolation, but many felt welcome, comfortable, and connected within their local public libraries. Recognizing the emotional support they provided, libraries became community hubs that also offered a long list of free and open-access services. Along the way, they grew their resource repertoire to include everything from computer classes for senior citizens to literacy programs for preschoolers. Computer labs gave patrons free access to helpful databases like Academic OneFile and America’s GeneologyBank, plus many options on career choices and job hunting. Meeting rooms large and small, computer labs, and even gift stores and coffee shops encouraged patrons to use their services, linger and socialize.
Similarly, a school library is often the beating heart of a building. “From enriching classroom curriculum by collaborating with teachers to directly supporting individual student learning, libraries foster a school-wide culture of literacy and teach literacy skills,” proclaims New Visions for Public Schools. “School libraries bring communities together beyond their role of providing support to teachers,” says a post on elementarylibrarian.com. “The high school library is a gathering place, a safe house, a refuge, a hiding place, a place of answers, a social center and the list goes on,” posted a school librarian from Canada.
COVID-19 may have shut down these sanctuaries in the spring, but many school libraries are back in business this fall. They look different with less furniture and more barriers but librarians continue to look for safe ways to make visitors feel connected. It hasn’t been easy, so it’s a good thing this situation is only temporary, right?
“This will not last forever, but there’s a possibility that it will happen again,” said architect Amanda Markovic in American Libraries Magazine. An associate principal at GBBN Architects, which has built multiple libraries and community centers around the country, Amanda believes that designing a library today must meet the needs of where we are now, and where we expect to be in the long run. It’s time for some creative solutions.
Tesco Learning Environments has provided innovative library furniture solutions for professionals like Amanda since 1954. “In fact, we encourage our customers’ creativity and give them the ability to customize every product we manufacture,” explains Sidney Youngblood, the company’s vice president of sales. “We work daily with designers and architects to make certain our products meet the intent of the project. We often say, ‘If you can draw it, we can build it!’ Good ideas have evolved into entire series’ of furniture so that we can bring our customers a wide array of options.”
Designers at the Bellville, Texas-based company are trained and equipped with the latest software to produce accurate and realistic renderings, layouts and custom products. Perhaps equally important is the tracking software used in the production areas to pinpoint each part of a project any time in the manufacturing process. It has allowed Tesco to consistently meet their customers’ delivery requirements, even during the busiest back-to-school months.
“We don’t believe any learning environment should be limited to standard dimensions or basic designs,” Sidney added. “We understand the need for flexible spaces, and the importance of furnishings that can be rearranged and reinterpreted, especially in light of the issues we’re dealing with right now.”
The ability to move furniture around has created additional safe-distancing options for school libraries. Stacks outfitted with casters at one library in Pittsburgh come together to form smaller private study pods. Moving the stacks to close off specific areas and open up others lets libraries create much-needed extra classroom space. At the same time, they can still provide resources, media, and technical expertise to students and teachers. Arranging the stacks to form pathways helps librarians safely manage the way students move through the space. Acrylic shields and mobile desk barriers separate more students at long tables, and study carrels are highly prized.
Looking forward, school libraries are ideal spaces for innovative design solutions. Beyond the goal of safety, they solve issues that include creative storage, outdoor-space programming, and providing more access to more resources for more people – wherever they are.