Margaux DelGuidice-Calemmo and Rose Luna are teacher librarians and kindred spirits. Calemmo is a teacher librarian at Garden City High School, in Garden City, N.Y., a 2017 National Blue Ribbon School. Luna is a teacher librarian at Freeport High School and a bilingual reference librarian at the Freeport Memorial Library, both in Freeport, N.Y. They met in 2004 at a monthly gathering for school district librarians in Freeport and quickly realized they shared a common vision for libraries. Their journey together began with a presentation to their local school board, which led to them coauthoring the book Make a Big Impact @ Your School Board Meeting, an advocacy guide for school librarians.

From 2013 to 2015, they cowrote the monthly “Cut to the Core” column for Publishers Weekly, which focused on how the Common Core State Standards for education affected libraries and publishers. In addition, Library Journal has recognized the pair as “movers and shakers” for their advocacy efforts, and PBS has featured them as American Graduate Day Champions for library advocacy.

Both Calemmo and Luna recently completed some major transformations of their library spaces, and we asked them to share their experiences.

Making Room for Makerspaces

MDC: This year has been an exciting one in the Garden City High School Library. Our library is not simply the hub of the school—it is the beating heart of our school community. Our enrollment hovers at around 1,160, and nearly half of those students sign in to use the school library on a daily basis.

New this year to the GCHS Library is an innovation lab, a makerspace made possible thanks to generous grants from the Garden City Parent Teacher Association and the Garden City Special Education Parent Teacher Association. A previous grant from the local Friends of STEM allowed for the procurement of some 3-D pens, which were wildly popular with the students. Creating a designated makerspace was an organic next step.

Managing such a large space, with a fire code maximum of 500 people, does present challenges, but it allowed for easily clearing an area within the library to designate a makerspace that can be supervised. This required moving some bookshelves and relocating books. We also painted one accent wall in the school color, maroon. Flexible seating and collaboration tables round out the space, which was decorated with input from the students on the Student Library Advisory Committee.

On a given day in the makerspace area, you might see a group of students learning the basics of sewing with the intent of giving back to the community, creating scarves for a local soup kitchen and shelter, and others creating holiday cards for those in need at the monthly Creation Station for Charity. There is a melding of students that happens naturally in the makerspace, with special education and general education students working side by side on different creative projects.

At lunchtime, roughly 150 students pour into the large library space to study and research, as well as to decompress and recharge. Some utilize the reference bar where iPads are mounted onto low bookshelves, allowing students to stand and release some energy after sitting all morning. Students challenge each other to games of chess on the iPads and on custom game tables from Demco designated for the makerspace. Others take advantage of the touchscreen Chromebooks available for students to check out and complete assignments posted in the stream of their Google Classroom.

Rose, I know you have done a lot of reorganization and designing in your library, especially since you were awarded a substantial library makeover grant. How has that helped with the organization and flow of your library?

RL: One of the challenges for me at Freeport High School is the limited size of our library, given its high usage. We are a school with a diverse population of 2,000 students, and being able to accommodate all those who use our library—whether for teaching classes, research, quiet study, a haven from lunch, video conferencing, professional development, administrative meetings, and now makerspace activities—requires high flexibility. In 2014, Freeport High School was fortunate enough to win the Capital One Heart of America Foundation READesign Library Makeover Grant. This Heart of America grant, combined with additional funds from our school district, ultimately made it possible to bring our library into the 21st century.

The renovation provided our library with a new tile floor, paint, and furniture. We received new books, including print books on careers and financial literacy, as well as Follett e-books to supplement our curriculum. New technology included 30 HP All-in-One desktop computers, a Bretford Teaming Table for collaboration, two Sharp Aquos Board interactive displays, four iPads for our reference bar, and a college and career access room.

Volunteers from Capital One assembled furniture, shelved books, and decorated alongside some of our high school students. They say it takes a village; it took a team consisting of Capital One, Heart of America, and Freeport Public Schools to get this done.

In order to have a successful makeover, many things needed to be considered, especially the traffic patterns in the library. I needed to be able to accommodate three classes at a time and still have the books be accessible. I purchased mobile shelving and desks that would provide flexibility in the arrangement of my library. This provided opportunities for performances, Socratic seminars, special events, and, now, the ability to accommodate more hands-on learning activities as part of the maker movement.

Makerspaces and Inquiry

RL: While I was hesitant to jump right into the makerspace trend, I do feel it ties in with a long-standing tradition of exposing others—especially our students—to new knowledge. It is our job as librarians to be equitable in providing access to a variety of diverse books and information, giving students various ways to explore lifelong reading and learning.

MDC: I am so glad you mentioned the importance of learning and academics in conjunction with the excitement of the maker movement. Librarians are change agents, and this is especially true now amid the epidemic of fake news that plagues our patrons and students.

The challenge for me right now is making sure that I am still providing a solid information and media literacy foundation for our students while encouraging them to tinker, create, and explore. It is all about balance and the importance of inquiry. Our students are encouraged to ask more questions about everything from learning a new knitting stitch to the validity of a piece on a blog or website.

Fortunately, we have a mandated research curriculum in place in our district for grades six through 12. This ensures that all students receive consistent instruction on authoritative sources, civic reasoning, and academic honesty. Our goal is to make research an innate experience for our students by the time they leave high school.

RL: Tying in to the curriculum is an integral part of supporting the school community and ensuring that you get “customers” into the space. During [YALSA’s] Teen Tech Week last spring, I invited teachers to sign up to bring their classes and invited students to stop by during free periods. The robotics advisor explained the science behind the technology and a math teacher related it to the curriculum. I also invited our technology department to highlight the 3-D printer and Zspace software.

Student Leadership Opportunities

RL: I think a common concern among those I have spoken with at presentations is who will manage all the other activities while we are teaching research.

Reading about what [Syracuse, N.Y. school librarian] Sue Kowalski had done with her volunteer student workforce, providing them authentic opportunities to lead the way with technology, inspired me. I already had library helpers and a book club, and have now expanded to include student tech helpers who manage the activities of our innovation lab. Our helpers are stationed at the circulation desk throughout the day and are available to assist students and staff.

If you are like most librarians, you have limited time and may worry about when you will figure out how to use coding robots and other devices; I just handed them to our students, and they figured out very quickly how to use everything. I gave them the responsibility of learning how to use our SnapCircuits, Sphero robots, Ozobots, our Spectra virtual reality goggles, and TouchCast green screen software. They also focus on marketing by creating flyers and promoting all the opportunities available to other students. This year has been particularly exciting, as they have also assisted with various tasks related to our 1:1 Chromebook rollout.

These types of makerspace and leadership opportunities help to support our students by allowing them to explore STEAM-related topics with hands-on activities. This also ties into our curriculum, particularly our P-Tech program, a six-year high-intensity program that enables students to earn a high school and associate’s degree in engineering through a partnership with SUNY Farmingdale.

Well-Being

RL: Margaux, I know that we are always discussing ideas for research and makerspaces, but now there is also a new focus on mindfulness, on looking out for the overall well-being of our students and staff. At Freeport we have local nursing students come in and discuss health topics with our students in the library. We also have set up a Zen Zone, which students can use to meditate or do yoga. Can you share what you have been doing at your library?

MDC: This year, there has been a schoolwide focus on brain health, stress reduction, and well-being. Partnering with a guidance counselor, we have plans in place for a lunchtime meditation club that would meet in the library makerspace, where students would take 20 minutes out of the day to do body scans, practice breathing, and participate in walking meditation.

Typically, when students are using our makerspace, there is a hint of the aromatherapy “scent of the day” that has been mixed according to student preferences. The mild aroma wafts out of the diffuser, flanked by Himalayan salt lamps, below one of several posters with QR codes that lead to guided meditations to help “de-stress before the test.” Along those same lines, during the 2016–2017 school year we created a stress-reduction station for students in the GCHS Library, a project that won a 2017 Pied Piper Award from the New York Library Association. This self-service area offered creation activities, including knitting, drawing, jewelry-making, and Spirographs that students accessed throughout the school day. It is now part of our makerspace.

RL: This has been a pivotal year in both of our libraries. There have been many changes that forced us to evaluate our library programs and make them even better for our students and school community. I am so happy that we have been able to embark on this journey together.

Margaux DelGuidice-Calemmo is a teacher librarian at Garden City High School, in Garden City, N.Y. Rose Luna is a teacher librarian at Freeport High School and a bilingual reference librarian at the Freeport Memorial Library, both in Freeport, N.Y. They have provided more before and after photos of Garden City High School Library and Freeport High School Library. They post frequently about library issues on Twitter: @metadatachick and @rosemluna respectively.

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