In the 2016 – 2017 we saw lots of changes as we transitioned from a traditional high school media center to the BHS Library Learning Commons.

Here is a jam-packed countdown of some of our most exciting changes.

11. Transitioning an interior teacher office into a studio workspace.

Seeing a need for students to have a quiet and separate (but central and visible) space to work alone, in small collaborative study groups, and/or to conduct interviews for projects we transformed a private office space into a student/staff work studio.

Meanwhile, I challenged myself to spend a minimal amount of money (to stay under $1000) and to outfit the space with modern and welcoming furniture.

There are a few things I’d like to add to the space for the 2017 – 2018 school year, including white board surfaces, vinyl signage, and a digital/analog reservation system.

So far this space has been well received by students and used for a variety of projects throughout the day.

10. Interactive Book Displays



September & October – Banned Books:

This was the first display that I created. Colleagues gave me grief that I had “Sparkified” the library, students wondered how could anyone say you couldn’t read a book?!?

As a staff, we had to explain to students that these books weren’t banned in our school, but that other schools and public libraries had decided that these books were dangerous for students.

Students were surprised at the variety of books that were on the banned list, including The Diary of Anne Frank (because it’s too depressing) and The Hunger Games (too violent for kids).

I loved watching students peel back the “dangerous” wrapping and decide that their banned book of choice was a “must read.” It was awesome to read what students were saying about whether or not reading should be censored in school.

November – Books to Movies:

I have to admit that this display, although eye-catching, was a dud when it comes to actually getting students to check out books.


March – Women’s History Month:

I stumbled upon an amazing graphic artist Rori de Reina, a St. Louis graphic designer and freelance illustrator. Although originally a personal project started with no press or fanfare, “100 Days 100 Women” has turned into a bit of a phenomenon seen all over Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook with many online magazines covering Rori’s collection of feminist icons.

Students and staff had many positive things to say about this display and it was fun watching students pose under the Rosie inspired poster (okay we as a staff had fun with it too).


9. Moving Furniture & Creating Intentional Spaces





A lot of changes had been made in the space well before I began working in the Library.

In the short three years that I have worked at BHS – fixed desktop computer tables have been removed and new furniture (popular chairs on wheels) have been ordered.

Meanwhile, the space still had issues as it felt like a big open room of rows upon rows of tables, and it appeared that much of the furniture had been tested and approved by adults, was very institutional, and didn’t have much input from the students.

Under budget restraints, we couldn’t just completely remodel. Meanwhile, we began to experiment with rearranging furniture and watching how students used the furniture. We noted if they were sitting with their feet up on a coffee table. We asked ourselves where were they were positioning their devices or notebooks (on their laps, on a table)? How was their behavior level – where they on task during a class? How were they using the space to socialize? Did a certain space encourage discussion? Did a certain furniture piece or part of the room encourage independent reading?

We continued to observe students, to experiment with moving the furniture and creating different areas that encouraged different types of activities. We moved a couch and separated it from the rest of the space with book shelves to create a sort of cozy nook for reading, working independently or having a more private conversation. We positioned round tables in a space together near our circulation desk – students used these to collaborate on small group work, and to take tests where they could have easy access to library learning commons staff. We moved the computers from their awkward back-turned-to-the-front-door-way-far-away-from-the-printer spot, and created computer pods near the printer. We moved a barely used Smartboard to an empty corner of the space and created a staging area for direct instruction. We experimented with high top tables and bar stools.

Almost every week we would rearranged the furniture and see what happened. Did the students seem happier? Did they appear more comfortable? Was the space more productive?

Next year we have more ideas and experiment with how to use the space and the furniture we have – and we are hoping to invest in some furniture that will be more flexible, inviting, and modern.

We are sick of dusty rose and cumbersome chairs…

8. Marketing 101 – Full Shelves & Window Displays





Every successful merchandise business knows that people will only buy from a well-stocked shelf. I don’t know exactly what part of our human psyche decides this – but if the shelf is empty, the items are sparse, they do not say “come take me home.”

For the past few years, the library has seen a significant decrease in book circulation and there are many complex reasons for this. Meanwhile, we know that when students read worlds of opportunity open up to them through stories. Students who read simply do better in life – according to research it is the number one thing students can do to close the opportunity gap.

So, getting our reading numbers up is something we take very seriously and last year we looked at the library more as a business (bookstore/coffee house) than an institution. We asked ourselves how could we grab student and staff attention as they walked by our windows? Once in the door, how do we get students to pick up a book, how do we help them find a book?

Some of these questions I’ll talk about later, but one of the biggest changes was visually making the books easier to see – organizing them by color, setting books face first toward the consumer so they can see the cover more easily, and constantly checking to make sure that the shelves are full of quality books that students and staff want to read.

We also looked at how we could organize our posters to get maximum visual impact. Instead of spacing them all around the room, we would group like posters creating a theme or area and a more powerful visual for staff and students. Think billboard vs. posters…

Lastly, I did a lot of editing in Photoshop this year…creating posters hoping students and staff would get my humor.


7. Creating Community by Giving Together


This past year we partnered with a variety of school organizations -AVID Leadership Team, Student Council, B Team, National Honor Society, Students Stepping Up, and the Class Cabinets to house and market different initiatives that wanted to give back to the BHS and greater community.

In the LLC we encouraged students to write on ribbons people or things they were grateful for, to fold origami cranes symbolizing a wish for peace, to drop off shoes they weren’t using, and to write thank you letters to people.

The impact was powerful.

Next year I hope we can continue to build upon these ideas and come together with more organizations.

6. Taking Books Out of Glass Cases


Glass cases usually have things we are not supposed to touch behind them. So we asked ourselves if it made sense to put books behind them?

We didn’t think so, however, we currently have 5 glass display cases located in the LLC. Could these be used for student work displays? To display artwork? Can we put bowls of fish in there?

These were just some of the questions we asked. Meanwhile, we were able to use them to display shoes collected for a shoe drive, Day of the Dead student projects from Ms. Nickelsen’s Spanish classes, and Arts Magnet Foundation class artwork.

Next year we hope to expand the use of these to showcase work students are doing all over the school….but books, will never be put back in them.

5.  Student-Centric Themes & Organizing by Essential Questions

Sexual Awareness Month

What would you stand up for? How do you define mental health? What limits forgiveness? How do you heal? What makes you American? How is gender defined by the culture you live in?

These are just some of the questions we posted around the library – then we would put together non-fiction and fiction books around those essential questions and themes.We asked students what they were talking about – sex, drugs, politics, racism, mental health, addiction, gender, suicide.

Scary. Real. Relevant.

4. Getting Rid of Irrelevant Books

This year we purged our shelves of hundreds of irrelevant books that were simply taking up space.

Many of these books had not been checked out in over 20 years and had misinformation.

As a book lover, this was a difficult job and I took a lot of books home…as did many staff and students.

Meanwhile, we hope to reorganize our stack area and provide another space for active learning.

Stay tuned.

3. Activities at the Library Learning Commons

  • Speed Dating for Books
  • Movies That Matter
  • Literature Circle Book Kits
  • Films on Fridays
  • Fur (Free Uninterrupted Reading) Time on Wednesdays
  • Collaborative Study Groups
  • B Team Meetings
  • Photography Club
  • Coffee in the Library

These were just some of the activities that went on in the LLC and we hope to have much more happening here in the future and to get better at marketing these activities.

2. Setting up a Peer Coaching Center


This was the biggest, most daunting change that we took on this year in the Library Learning Commons.

We began the transformation of an-adults-only-behind-the-desk-storage-space into a space where students can work together to have conversations about their writing, math, and projects. When we began there were shelves upon shelves of items that were no longer useful or relevant. There were broken computers. There were antiquated issues of MADD Magazine (fun, but really?), piles of newspapers, Sports Illustrated magazines. There were three full sized teacher desks. There were piles of papers. The space was cramped, messy, and stressed me out.

The goal was to create a friendly and inviting space that did not feel like a classroom, did not feel punitive, did not feel intimidating.

Students used this space to work together and independently. Students scheduled appointments with trained peer coaches to work on problem solving. Students took tests in this less stressful space.

We’ve encountered challenges with the space – the ventilation system is not working, the space is near servers and it is HOT! We don’t have enough outlets for students. We still have shelves to move. We have walls to paint, artwork to hang, and a rug to finish.

However, we plan on continuing the hard work and continuing to make this a space where students can come together to solve problems.

Many thanks to the people who came together to make this happen. We had great students volunteering as coaches and it made a huge impact on our school community and on authentic learning.

Special thanks to retired English teacher and Media Generalist Denise Wahlin-Fiskum and English teacher Vicki Cary for making this dream a reality.


Peer Coaching Library Learning Commons

1. Taking Down the Security Sensor


For us, this was the most exciting and one of the most important changes we made in LLC during the 2016-2017 school year. It symbolized the change in philosophy, in mind set that we wanted to express to the Buffalo High School Community.

This change spoke loudly. It said:

We trust you.

We welcome you.

We want you here.

Buffalo High School – this is your space.


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