When I first started at West Caldwell Public Library, my Teen Section was a disaster. It was so bad I didn’t even want to take pictures of it. All the Young Adult Fiction books had been shoved unceremoniously into DVD shelving that had been made available for it. The graphic novels were sitting on a broken cart. A wall of posters had been stuck onto one wall with gorilla glue tape, making it impossible to remove without taking most of the wall’s paint with it.
Exactly two chairs were stuck in a corner and they were not even soft seating. When I saw teens in the space, one of them had begun squatting on a miniature table for comfort.
It was horrible.
The teens in my Teen Advisory Group at the time were unanimously argumentative concerning the library’s forced move of their materials. Previously, the Teen Section had been a highlighted part of the library, with large signage and comfortable seating arrangement. Below is a picture of what it had looked like previously:
The books had been moved due to a need for more Adult display space. I actually like the reasoning behind why they had to move the materials. Adult materials were condemned to the back of the library where patrons had little access to them. By moving them to a highlighted area, it created an individual space where new materials could be accessed without difficulty.
However, what was done to the Young Adult collection needed to be fixed. My first plan of action was to get the Graphic Novels a decent shelf. I did this by condensing what had become the Young Adult magazine section into accessible folders and transforming the shelves there into space for the graphic novels. Once that was cleared, I searched through every cabinet and back door and closet for a bulletin board and table. Fortunately, there was a slightly wobbly table that fit perfectly without breaking any accessibility codes and a slightly bumped bulletin board.
I was a little further into my goal, but a paint-scored wall that had been filled with aging posters stared back at me.
While I pondered the problem of the paint-peeling wall, I assessed the needs of my teenagers with surveys and questionnaires. I found old documents from the former YA Services Librarian concerning a possible renovation. I asked my supervisors about the history of the collection’s location and how it has been used in the past. I started making diagrams.
I collected all of my resources and told my supervisors of my intent to do a small-scale renovation to resolve some of the more immediate needs of the area. These needs included computers, group-work areas, comfortable seating, and a paint job. My dream designs I thought of above required area changes that the library was not prepared for. So I needed to adapt.
I proposed my ideas to the Friends of the Library to receive necessary funds. They conceded, as long as my Teen Advisory Group would provide a fundraiser of their own. We negotiated a Junior Friends of the Library group that would enable the teens in my volunteer programs to raise money under the Friends of the Library banner. We had big dreams, but I had to resolve for only purchasing one big-ticket item and spending the rest of the money on items I could adapt using my own Maker skills.
First thing I did when everything was approved was paint the offending wall myself. With chalkboard paint and a magnetic primer.
The next challenge was finding a place for the study carrel that no one ever used. The director and I moved it ourselves into the study area. Since the move, it has been very popular with adults!
I did have to make another diagram.
I purchased memory foam bean bag chairs at a very cost-effective rate from Amazon. We had a large donation of durable red upholstery fabric that I sewed into beanbag covers for them to make up for the cheap cover fabric that they came in. I collected all the old monitors, mice, and keyboards in our storage area and tested them for use. Using Raspberry Pi 3’s, Chromium downloads, and some extra converter cables, I transformed them into homework machines.
Next, our white-board table arrived! In pieces.
With both beanbag covers completed, everything moved, the table in place, and an area rug on its way, we were almost back in business.
We had one extra bit, however. A piece of art needed to be installed as part of an agreement with our donors. I cannot say enough how beautiful and perfect this piece of art is. It completed the area in a way that cannot be expressed. What was even more beautiful was the story that arrived with it: the story of a girl who was raised in NYC and came to West Caldwell to raise a family. Her story, and her inspiration to young people, truly gave a purpose and meaning to the renovation that I could not have given to it myself.
Now, one year and three months after I first saw the horror that was the YA Section, we have some delightful leftovers. We had a successful video game tournament fundraiser with the Teen Advisory Group. Our volunteers grew. We had one of the most successful summer reading clubs of the past decade for grades 6-12. Thankfully, our Board of Trustees has committed itself to further improvements in this area and I hope to see more changes in the years to come.