28 May 2024

In January of 2020 our library was given a brand-new space. The idea was for our library’s physical space to be a more sophisticated college-like space for our young adult high school students. We weeded our collection heavily and got rid of the old. However, our library was still traditionally organized and our efforts to focus on our typical young adult students meant that while we had diversified our collection in terms of different voices and perspectives, we were fairly one-note in terms of access. All students were struggling to find what they wanted, and books we had to support student literacy growth was integrated and not easy to find. We set goals to make the collection more browsable and accessible for all students.  

Our first effort in accessibility was to genrify our fiction section. Students generally come in and ask for a fantasy, mystery, horror, etc. However, there are so many books that can fit into multiple categories that the thought of separating books into different physical sections by genre did not seem to make sense either. We compromised by using transparent colored labels over the spine labels to represent specific genres but leaving the books organized by author. Students really appreciated the browsability, but if a student came in with an author and title to see if we had the book, we could still go right to the shelf without having to figure out which genre we assigned to the book. This project gave us valuable lessons in planning and making sure we were focusing on the desired outcome when making decisions about our approach. Shortly after we completed this project the My Library Is… Grant application came up.  

To decide how to focus our project for the grant we thought about which users struggled to find things in our collection. Our EL population does a great deal of independent reading, and the curriculum ties their reading to their Lexile scores. They also needed shorter, quicker books in order to complete their assignments. While we can search our collection by Lexile, finding a quick appealing book in the right Lexile level for the reader took time and assistance when our kids wanted it to be quick and independent. We also recognized that certain populations of students were not using the library at all. Our picture book section was tired and out of date, fun quick nonfiction was integrated with general nonfiction and not very browsable, and our Spanish collection needed to be made more current.  

These ideas coalesced to become our Inclusion Overhaul project. Our goal was to create a new section called Quick Picks which would include shorter, lower level fiction, lower level nonfiction, easier graphic novels (no manga) and picture books. This section would be browsable with clear signage and lots of shelf markers. The fiction would maintain our genre color coding. One of our target groups was our EL population, which is heavily Spanish-speaking, so we also included freshening up our Spanish section as part of the project.  

We began the project by combing through our existing collections and pulling items that fit our criteria for this new section. We looked at circulation figures and publication dates and determined where there might be holes in the collection and where it needed refreshing. We did the same analysis with our Spanish collection. We also reached out to our EL and Special Ed departments and asked what they would like to see in our new section and included this in our decision-making process. This gave us a list of materials to include in our new Quick Picks section and pointed out books from our existing Spanish Collection that were both appealing and extensive enough to meet our needs.  

It was then time for the finishing touches on our project. We gave careful thought to organizing our new Quick Picks section. We used some of our grant funding for bright shelf dividers as well as signage so that it was both visible and browsable. For promotion, we reached out to teachers individually as well as departments, added information in our Staff Newsletter, and waylaid teachers and students as they made their way to the printer next to our circulation desk. Our final event was a grand opening with 23 of our transition students where we played book bingo.  

Overall, this was a great experience. We built relationships with staff and students who previously felt that the library was not their space. We now have special education classes visiting us regularly for book checkout and other activities. We also have a new program for transition students to work in the library to gain job skills. Both our Spanish and EL teachers consult our collection when searching for new materials and send students for book check out. I am grateful to RAILS for giving us this opportunity.  

Today's blog post was written by Carol Naughton, LRC Director at West Chicago Community High School. 

This project was made possible by the My Library Is... Grant.