Library Creates New Space

The old fiction room becomes a communal computer room


Liz Lyons

Social studies students use the new library room. In addition to the tables circling the room, the tables in the center of the room are whiteboard tables that students can write on and flip over. “All of the changes have to do with us trying to be responsive to the pandemic and to the different safety protocols,” Watson said. “As everything has unfolded, we’re working with our administration to try to keep everybody as safe as possible, while also trying to provide the best educational experiences possible, and so this year we’ve been able to reopen the libraries.”

Emma Li, Features Editor

Crisp pages, soft covers, worn tables, tall shelves, infinite possibilities. As the riddle goes, the tallest building in the world is a library, with the most stories and most potential. The hardworking librarians at PCH have been working for quite some time on a similarly tall task to make many students’ return to a safe space a kind welcome home.

“We haven’t had students in here using the library for a long time,” library media specialist Liz Lyons said. “It’s been rough for us as librarians not to be able to let kids come in and find books. It’s our favorite part of the job.”

When students first began to return to in person learning in the winter and spring of 2021, the library was necessary for virtual classes with teachers in different schools or quarantined teachers. 

“It’s not that unusual for libraries to fill in for the needs of their communities, and to be used in all kinds of different ways,” librarian Angie Watson said. “Now, we are really pushing to try to keep our students in school five days a week and as safely as possible. It’s become possible for us to reopen the library again, but we have to rethink how we can do this safely, while also conducting classes, and giving kids a good educational experience.”

In May and June of 2020, renovators placed new carpeting into the library, so all of the books in the old fiction room were taken out, along with the other 20,000 books. That fall in August and September, all of the fiction books were moved to the front of the library. Meanwhile, it had always been a plan to redo the fiction room. 

In preparation, Lyons, Watson, and library secretary Jennifer Fee toured libraries throughout the St. Louis area for inspiration. They looked at high schools such as Principia and Francis Howell, and Ladue recently had a new building addition with a whole new library with two stories. Additionally, the three saw Washington University’s library, along with St. Louis University’s, which had just been redone and recognized as one of the nation’s best libraries in the American Library Association Journal.

“In every school that we went to that had recently gone through a library redesign, one of the things we noticed was they all had these tech pod areas,” Lyons said. “It would be another way of using the library space since we don’t really need the desktop computers anymore. We can start to think about how we can use our library differently.”

The many possibilities for a library are only achievable through preplanning and thinking ahead. 

“One of the advantages that we have is that we are always trained to be flexible,” Watson said. “We could never have foreseen what has happened over the last couple of years, but libraries as a whole are trying to evolve and respond to the changing needs of communities. So, anytime we’re making a furniture purchase, or renovation decisions, we always have flexibility as one of our top goals.”

The old fiction room turned tech collaboration room was repainted this past summer, and wall mounts for the TVs to connect to Chromebooks were added within the first two weeks of school. The room was finished around Labor Day weekend.

“Each student technology pod has a TV screen mounted on the wall above a table, where they can plug in a Chromebook to,” Lyons said. “So, this would work well if a group of students were working on something together that they all need to see a larger view of.”

Students agree that the change was needed.

“The cooperative space that the room will provide is a great function that the library was missing,” Luke Kaiser (11) said. “I love the upgrade the room has gotten. I am sad that the fiction room is gone because it was my favorite place in the school, but the amazing space that replaced it is well worth the loss.” 

With so many changes from a new collaborative computer room to a broadcast room for individual students to evolving furniture layouts, the librarians are always thinking ahead. Education in recent years has only become more digital, and libraries are still a primary source for resources, both on paper and in technology.

“Students are expected to do more production, so not just to create term papers and research papers, but also to create video and audio,” Watson said. “That’s why we wanted to create our recording studio. That’s another one of the new spaces that’s more of a response to overall education and academic trends vs being responsive to the pandemic.”

Students tend to forget that the library is a resource for new technology.

“I think being able to hook your computer up to the tvs is a really good idea and a cool concept,” Grace Bauer (11) said. “I think it could really work well for group presentations and it makes teachers look at your work easier, but I wish the new computer room had more rolling chairs because the chairs in there now are hard to move around on the carpet.”

New computers and furniture aside, the meaning in a library resides within its inhabitants. 

“I’m always excited to hear what you all are reading, or what you’re watching on TV, or just the things that are important to you right now,” Watson said. “I always want the library to be responsive to that. There’s no way to really know all that without really talking to your students and getting to know your students. I feel like this space belongs to the students. It’s a little bit more of a home to students.”

Students appreciate the care that the librarians put into the public space, and it does not go unnoticed.

“Before the pandemic, I always came into the library every day during my lunchtime,” Kaiser said. “It had comfy chairs and was an amazing and cozy place where I felt at home and comfortable. Then the pandemic happened, and for a long time, I was not able to come back to my favorite place in school. When we came back this year, a lot of changes had taken place. The library was all spread out to follow social distancing and was very different from what I knew. The changes were numerous but eventually, I got used to them, and because of its books, people, and tranquility, the library is still my favorite place in the school.”