Research shows that when children have access to warm and inviting libraries with modern technology and plenty of good books, they read and learn more.
Thanks to a collaborative project involving Eastern Kentucky University Libraries and Berea College, students at Oneida Elementary School in Clay County now have even more incentive to develop good learning habits. The two institutions worked together to revitalize the school’s library facilities and collections. The year-long project included fresh paint and new furniture, along with a new floorplan, thousands of new books, artwork sprinkled throughout the library inspired by students’ favorite picture books, and improved technology, and has brought a renewed energy to the small, rural school for students and staff alike.
Tennant Kirk, associate director of early childhood at Berea College Promise Neighborhood, saw an opportunity to improve the library and submitted a proposal for renovations. She then asked EKU Libraries to assist in the design. Leah Banks, library specialist; Trenia Napier, associate director for programs and outreach with EKU’s Noel Studio; Amy Taylor, library associate for the Learning Resources Center (LRC); Ashley Cole, research and instruction librarian, visited Oneida Elementary and created a design that included:
· removing the old computers and the desks that dominated the center of the room and replacing them with Chromebooks to be stored in a secure cart.
· adding more tables and moveable chairs to create furniture that changes with the curriculum for the day.
· painting the space an inviting and inspiring color.
· adding colorful murals that reflect the adventures and whimsical worlds found between the covers of children’s books.
· adding shades to the current windows.
· replacing old shelves with shorter, more student-friendly shelves arranged to divide the larger space into inviting reading areas.
· replacing worn books and adding new, award-winning literature.
· organizing books in a meaningful way.
· reconfiguring the layout to create reading nooks.
· new office and desk chair for the librarian.
Jenna Marie Lawson, service coordinator-elementary services with Berea College Promise Neighborhood, inherited the project from Tennant. Supported by the Promise Neighborhood renovations budget, grants, donations and volunteers, Lawson and Dr. Brandon Hibbard, former Oneida principal, were able to fulfill all the suggestions.
Cole assisted with the design of the space and coordinated meetings with staff from Oneida Elementary and Promise Neighborhood. Cole said Taylor “went above and beyond our original call to action. First, the existing collection needed to be weeded. Irrelevant, outdated and damaged materials were removed to make space for new items. Due to a coinciding weed of the collection in the LRC and through the generous support of several EKU faculty, she was able to secure more than 1,000 gently used books to enhance the collection. She completed all physical processing of these items, preparing them for delivery to the school. She also compiled a list of materials based on suggestions from Laura Combs (library media specialist at Oneida Elementary) for Promise Neighborhood to purchase.”
Rural communities, including their elementary schools, “are often underserved and overlooked,” Cole said. “Creating a warm and inviting library space that encourages creativity and imagination through reading within elementary schools of rural communities like Oneida is crucial, in that school libraries typically provide the only accessible and viable source of diverse reading material.”
Berea College was one of five institutions nationally to receive Promise Neighborhood implementation grants. The cradle-to-career initiative has funded projects in Clay, Jackson and Owsley counties in Kentucky.