A Library Refresh Supports New Ways of Learning

Hawthorne Elementary School
“What a profound impact and difference the library is already making, enhancing our school’s atmosphere and learning community ten fold.” – Beth Lehman, Principal of Hawthorne Elementary School, Madison, WI.

Evolving teaching methods and learning tools are placing new demands on libraries. Students gather and interpret information, and demonstrate their understanding in projects that are often produced using multiple technologies and resources. Hawthorne Elementary’s library was only 10 years old when they realized that if they wanted to stay relevant amidst rapid change, they needed to take a good look at their space, resources and what their students and faculty needed. It was time to refresh their space.

Early on, a shared vision and respect between Hawthorne’s staff and the Demco design team became evident. This led to a rich understanding of the library’s needs and an open exchange of ideas. A recommendation was made to zone the library for improved space utilization and flow that effectively accommodates the diverse needs and uses of the Kindergarten through 5th grade student population. Starting with a fresh perspective, zoning also enabled us to develop new spaces while selecting furnishings that were flexible to support other needs.

Traditional wood tables and chairs were replaced with mobile, lighter-scale tables and ergonomic seating.

Reclaiming Space & Getting in the Zone

Over time, as often happens, the library at Hawthorne Elementary became the keeper for extra materials and furnishings that no longer had a home within the school. Beth Lehman, Hawthorne Elementary Principal, and librarian Pam Hoadley, made a commitment to set aside time to weed the collection and to assess the usefulness and necessity of everything in the space. The refresh was the motivation for the seemingly simple, yet daunting task of de-cluttering. This exercise freed them to imagine the library in new ways and to focus on how it supports the needs of students and staff as a 21st century learning environment.

This undefined area was given a purpose when it was transformed from a booktruck “parking lot” to a collaborative teaching space used on a daily basis.

Zoning for Clarity

A busy space needs to remain flexible and accessible for classes, read-alouds, research — and as a meeting space for tutors and students. It also hosts staff and parent group meetings and after school programs. Fortunately, the library is a generous space that can accommodate multiple activities simultaneously. Color and furnishings were used to guide students and serve as indicators of use, and behavior, within the library space.

Librarian Work Zone

A new circulation desk was designed to serve as the primary work space for three staff members, only one of whom was the full-time librarian. A main requirement was to have visibility to all areas of the library, along with ample storage and work space for material processing. It was important to retain a central location near the entrance as students are always popping in to borrow and return materials, and teachers need quick access to the printer.

The Circulation Desk was removed and replaced with two work stations, along with a third “touch down” spot and ample storage.

Teaching Zone

An existing installation of an interactive whiteboard anchored this area. This in-demand space is used to teach classes, as well as tutoring sessions, and host school-wide staff meetings and family events such as math night and the art show. The traditional, heavy wood tables were often reconfigured. Challenging to move, the stability of the legs had become compromised over time as tables were dragged rather than lifted. Staff liked the rectangular shape, which was retained in the new tables, but we shifted to mobile tables with locking casters and a brighter color scheme throughout the space. Flexible, yet ergonomic seating allows kids to move gently and easily, helping them stay engaged.

Years of accumulation was traded in for a more welcoming entrance, café-height gaming tables and the library reclaimed its teaching space.

Youth Zone

This is one area that received the most striking updates. No pun intended, but the Youth Zone looked old. Prior to the refresh, the entire picture book collection was housed spine-out on bookshelves that lined the perimeter of the space. Pictures and color are important elements in book selection for developing readers, and our goal was to draw young readers into the space.

ColorScape® shelving was selected because it easily integrates color within the shelving. It also uses face-out display shelves and floor level browser boxes. The integrated seating serves as a landing pad that invites kids to explore their selections. A bright carpet was added to identify the storytime space for the younger grades.

This area transformed from uninspired to energized by incorporating colorful face-out display shelves, as well as places to browse and interact.

Computer Zone

The computers were moved into a new, tidier space with all screens visible from the circulation desk. Once again utilizing ColorScape® shelving, the youth space was divided into two areas and computer tables took advantage of the newly opened wall space. Printed acrylic panels were placed in the window panels, creating a visual buffer between the library and the computer lab.

Computers were clustered around a power pole creating congestion near the circulation desk. The new space and furnishings offer complete visibility and wire management!

Creating New Spaces

After the de-cluttering effort, space was found that allowed us to incorporate new features into this traditional library. By moving a flat file that was used for storage, a corner of the library opened up to create a technology collaboration space. A TechnoLink™ Media Table now occupies this corner. It features a 42″ TV and the ability to connect up to four laptops or tablets for collaboration among teachers, or small group teacher/student sessions. A cleaned up corner just inside the main entrance is now home to casual seating and gaming tables featuring checkers, chess and backgammon.

Tying it Together with Details

The book collection for older students was left intact with the exception of integrated seating along the wall and new acrylic end panels. These “float” off the wood end panels with the intent of showcasing student artwork behind the panels. In the interim, since the school’s mascot is a dolphin, an underwater theme was printed on graphics panels. The theme was also incorporated into the storytime carpet in the Youth Zone, and the wave patterns on the acrylic panels separating the library from the computer lab.

A Fresh First Impression Welcomes Staff & Students Back!

By shifting placement of furnishings and adding color throughout, the library is immediately welcoming and open. The changes, combined with newly painted accent walls, have renewed the excitement and appreciation among staff and students for their library. Proud students have even brought their parents in for tours!


Angie Schoeneck

Angie Schoeneck

Growth Strategy Manager at Demco, Inc.
Angie is the Growth Strategy Manager at Demco. She focuses on the evolving needs and trends in education and library environments, their patrons and communities, and translating these into relevant products and services. She has an extensive background in new product development, product management and business process improvement.