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I raced to finish nailing up my new lettering for my library renovation this afternoon, so I could take a photo for the blog, as promised. At 5.55pm, there were still some adjustments to be made but the school cleaners were ready to depart. And then… a reprieve! The Principal was still on site for the monthly P&C meeting, so I had plenty of time to be a perfectionist. (I can’t tell you how many times I was up and down that ladder today.)

So, here’s the grand unveiling:

Again, Kaisercraft MDF (wooden) letters, from Spotlight, feature. I’d been planning to create several words, perhaps our school’s four core values, from small individual letters; I really wasn’t expecting to find whole words in flowing script (@ $4.99 each). I bought all the words they had in stock. I wonder if they usually stock others? My local Lincraft stocks the individual letters, too, but not the whole words.

I’d failed to consider buying a 250 ml jar of white Derivan “Matisse” while I was there – actually, I assumed these were going to be burgundy, too, until I thought of doing the wall that colour, so a quick trip to a bargain shop in the CBD on Sunday provided me with a $2.50 tube of while acrylic paint instead.

I’m quite thrilled with the result! The library suddenly now has a sleek, yet fun, clean and corporate feel to it. Well, at least when you look in one direction.

Total cost of this renovation: $43.40.

And speaking of a sleek, clean and corporate feel, here’s the first two examples of some new signage created by my library clerical assistant, Louise. Taking to her new assignment with gusto, Louise had heard me talking about Kevin Hennah’s advice on what to do when one simply had to put up some of those ubiquitous laminated signs in the library!

We created a standardised template in Word. Two fonts, as reminiscent of the new MDF lettering on the wall as possible, and with a consistent watermark in the bottom corner of our school logo.

Now any sign, even if only a very temporary “Photocopier out of order”, “Please use other door” or “Meeting in progress” sign, can be made in a matter of seconds and printed out, instead of using a hideous, handwritten scrap of paper, taped or Blu-Tacked to a wall, where it often stays for weeks or months beyond its intended “use by” date.

There’s really no comparison: wrinkly, ugly, yellow, A3 laminated sign (left) vs fresh and new (right)!


There’s really no comparison: wrinkly, ugly, yellow laminated sign vs fresh and new!

There’s no comparison here, either: boring A3 set of “Library Rules” (left) vs fresh and new A4 laminated sign (right)!

Total cost to library of template renovation: Nil (using school laminator).

Thanks again, Kevin, for the inspiration and guidance, and thanks Louise for a great job on the template, which will probably get quite a workout over future years. Well, maybe not too much of a workout, eh Kevin?

Check it out!

Taking my anticipation and motivation to the next level, I spent my weekend painting and varnishing some trimmings to finish off Stage 1 of my library-renovation-on-a-shoestring. Up until now, I had not spent any money. My budget for 2008 is exhausted, so if I can’t get this amount approved next year, I guess I’ll consider it a donation to the school, but I’m sure I’ll have a dedicated “renovations” dissection in my 2009 budget.

Firstly, I need to show you what a few Kaisercraft MDF (wooden) letters from Spotlight, a 250 ml jar of burgundy Derivan “Matisse” paint @ $11.99, polymer matt varnish ($12.99) and a tube of wood glue can do for the circulation desk I worked on last week. (By the way, large MDF letters were $3.99 each, smaller ones were $1.49 each.)

I chose the burgundy colour as we have bright green fraying carpet, and there’s always a possibility that some future carpet will turn out to be vibrant blue, and at least then it’ll be reminiscent of our school uniform colours. In a flash of brilliance, I painted the previous teacher-librarian’s terracotta pot to match the lettering. The pot used to hold an indoor aloe vera plant – but I’d brought the pot home after I managed to kill it off through neglect. (I had intended to repot it with some of my own aloe veras, which do extremely well in my garden.)

While I had the counter tilted over today, I suddenly realised that I could use more burgundy on its wooden base! Here’s the final result:
Circulation finished
Well, it beats spelling out something obvious, like “Circulation desk”!

Total cost of this renovation: $60.30.

Remember when it looked like this?
circulation reno

Next up, I’ve been working on replacing the dusty, fading, teacher-made paper frieze, illustrating the children’s picture book, “Fox”, that dominates the area over the photocopier, a storeroom and my offce door. Since the frieze was specially commissioned by the previous TL to fit an unusually-shaped strip of bare wooden panelling, it’s not ever been replaced by other annual Book Week artwork. (I checked tonight: “Fox”, by Margaret Wild & Ron Brooks, was the CBCA Picture Book of the Year way back in 2001. Definitely time for a change.)

I’ll reveal the details of the final stage of this project tomorrow, but here are the first few stages:
Wall - mural and copier
I can’t believe the library was plastered with so many random bits of paper…!

Wall - mural of Fox
Dusty old “Fox” mural…

Wall - mural gone
A blank slate…

Burgundy paint: it’s claimed to be waterproof, flexible and lightfast – and the brush washes out in water. The paint also requires no undercoat, and dries to a satin finish.

And the promised preview of tomorrow’s entry:
Preview: The final result! More details here!

Note that, after seeing the sequence online, I realised at the last minute that the little photo frame (on the right) could be painted burgundy, too, so I did that today. And that we had other pencil holders, already covered in burgundy hessian, so why was I putting up with one covered in white and 70s print “Contact” adhesive? An easy swap.

Finally more fables

This time last year, I was conducting an exciting online project with a group of Kindergarten (Early Stage One) students during which we constructed a wiki, and used it to jointly-construct four core values fables.

This year, I’m repeating the unit with a new cohort. While last year’s project included an annotation page in which I recorded the progress of our learning, this time I’m also preserving notes from our Circle Time brainstorms and hot seat activities.

For example, in Week 3 – Favourite animals suggested for possible use in fables were: cats (allergic?), giraffe (who has his own special space), fox (sneaky), dolphin (helping people to water ski – going “Forward with Pride” – our school motto), sharks (sharp teeth, show off, brushes her teeth), panda (nice, look like bears, on TV; all black?), poodles (pink! – like to lick people), dog (that lets me go anywhere), kangaroo (with a joey inside her pouch – and a little bed), rhinoceros (go riding on it), dinosaurs (in a police uniform and a ballerina’s tutu), a lion (pride).

Week 4 – Circle time: shark has gills; lions go forward with their pride (of lions) and can run faster than a car; kangaroos and emus can’t walk backwards, always go forward (with pride); giraffe likes eating toast for breakfast; magical fox turned the poodle pink, turns into a dragon, always buys strawberry (pink) ice cream.

Week 5 – Investigate more of Aesop’s fables; Who was Aesop?; discuss morals in fables. Circle time: “Forward with pride” – our school motto. Makes us think of forward, four (number), 4 (numeral), fore (golf – “Look out in front!”), going for wood (forward), we would go for wood. Woodpeckers and beavers like wood. Fences, branches, sticks, treehouses, cubby houses, tables and chairs are made of wood. Fire needs wood. Trees need bark. Pride of lions. Things that make us proud: playing on my bike; Mum buying me stuff; parties; using my own money to buy a Slushy at 7-11; my doctor was proud of me at the hospital when I got stitches and he gave me a toy; winning at my DS game; my teacher is proud when I read well; winning lollies, stickers and Good Ones at school.

Week 6 – “Recent visitors” to the wiki include locales of: Soul-t’ukpyolsi, Hlavni Mesto Praha, and the exotic French location, Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur. Circle time: Bringing the pink poodle and the shark (favourite characters) into the same fable as the giraffe. Note that a giraffe now also appears in the “Kangaroo and Emu” fable, according to artwork. Inspiration from French locale discovered from “Recent visitors”. Perhaps also need to investigate the art of feng shui? The colour red? Eiffel Tower?

See the four drafts of our, as yet, unfinished school motto fables at the new wiki page. If you’re finding this blog entry at some time in the future, the fables may not resemble their early versions by much.

“It’s jolly!”

Well, less than 24 hours of posting the “Before” and “After” shots of Day #1 and #2 of my shoestring renovations to the school library, and I’ve received many emails, and yesterday’s blog entry has had over ten responses already! Very exciting!

Today, more of the rest of the students caught their first glimpse of my changes. The most bizarre comment was a Stage 2 male student who pronounced the library to be “jolly” – and that’s before he noticed that I’d put up the huge second hand Christmas tree, and dragged out the ol’ trusty prop snowman. Actually, in the corner of the pictures from yesterday, you can see the huge, clumsy, white cardboard box of the tree, that I’ve spent almost twelve months trying to hide somewhere. (I must admit, I found the boxed tree abandoned on the footpath across the road when a neighbour’s tenants moved out, but I regret lumbering myself with such a white elephant that is impossible to store at school for 45 or so weeks of every year.)

Library at Christmas

Most adults who’ve wandered in to the new-look library assume I’ve bought new furniture. So far, I haven’t spent anything, or brought in anything for the revamp from outside the library.

I wanted to add that, last night, while uploading the first batch of photographs, I realised that in our haste we’d overlooked ergonomic issues. Two chairs at the bank of computers were wedged in front of wide table legs, at least four computers had no room to move a mouse, and there was a wasted side to the grey table that just begged to be used.

This morning, after asking our general assistant to wheel away the five unwanted 70s-era student desks, I realised how to add some much-needed keyboard space to the grey table. I used the handle to raise the ergonomic table a few centimetres, pushed the best quality double desk underneath, almost completely, and then lowered the grey table again. Perfect. Turning two monitors by 90 degrees, I created two new spaces (including one permanent mouse area for my fellow left handers). As you can see:
Ergonomic reno
Above: Making a table a little more ergonomic. And comfortable.

Of course, brand new computer furniture would be preferred, but I can’t see that being an option any time soon.

As I emailed to Kevin Hennah today, I’m hoping to do a whole series of “Before” and “After” pics as I complete the reno! And wait till you see what the outside of the library building looks like. It’s really quite hideous, now that I’ve seen it through the viewfinder: a rusting tin box with two little signs near the front gate that say “No smoking” – and that’s it. Oh, and a teacher-painted mural along the front, from 1998. Something to mull over, yes?

Shoestrings vs pursestrings

At this time of year, most school library budgets have reached rock bottom. But let’s see how much renovating I can do before I submit a proposal for actual funds to keep transforming the library environment.

Last week, on the Monday, I spent a few minutes racing around the library with a digital camera. Although I’d previously been quite happy with our very colourful, but often unruly, library environment, aiming a camera at it, inside and out, really showed up the library’s numerous inadequacies, many of which could no doubt be rectified quite quickly. My “Spidey senses” sharpened due to a recent professional development day focusing on improving design and functionality in the library, I was eager to get started.

Using the principles of Kevin Hennah‘s “Transforming Your Library on a Shoestring Budget” presentation of two weeks ago, my clerical assistant, Louise, and I spent part of last Tuesday removing every random piece of dusty, homemade, laminated and unlaminated signage, plus many deteriorating old commercial examples, from the walls and windows.

One day, one of us will have to take to all the stale tape and Blu-Tack marks that remain. Hopefully. But it’s already a huge improvement!

Total cost of that renovation: Nil.
Before: The circulation desk – and a mess of exposed paper and wires.

circulation reno
After: The new “old” circulation desk – a work in progress.

Today (oops, yesterday already!), my clerical assistant was back and, together with a parent helper, we pulled out an existing, old, wood-veneered, circulation desk – from its previous position along a partition wall (with its ugly open shelves on public display, badly overloaded with paper and junk – stuff which no library patron ever needs to see). We turned the unit around 180 degrees, to show its plain, clean front, and hid the computer’s hard drive unit under the counter top.

Behind desk - old
Before: The old grey circulation desk – a mess.

Behind desk
After: The new “old” circulation desk – a work in progress.

We then dragged the adjustable, grey, 80s, ergonomic table, which has supported the library’s main OASIS computer for many years, to the other end of our small bank of networked computers. We used that to replace five small, wobbly student desks (of the 70s) that had been added, over recent years, a few at a time, as the library acquired extra network computers from around the school – usually cast-offs after a computer roll-out. At the same time, we removed one non-functional computer from the network.
Before: The bank of computers – note gaping crevice between carrels.

computers reno
After: The relocated ergonomic grey desk, formerly our circulation desk.

Not long after, my next class – of Stage 3 students – came into the library. “Wow!” they exclaimed, admiring our hasty transformation, “More computers!”


Well, what do you know? Reducing the spaces between the desks, removing one faulty computer, and switching to one big table instead of five littler ones, made it look like we had more computers, not less! Unfortunately, I only just realised that none of my “Before” photos properly showcase the five old school desks which held up four of our network computers and a printer. You can see one in the foreground of the “Before” shot.

By the way, I’ve since tweaked the new ergonomics somewhat:
Ergonomic reno
Above: Making a table a little more ergonomic. And comfortable.

Total cost of this renovation: Nil.

Please stay tuned! There’s so much more work to be done. You know, this would make a great TV show. We could call it… “Renovation Rescue”. (Nah, I think that’s been taken.)

And thank you again Kevin!

Cassandra Golds – author visit

I’ve reported on my school’s very successful reading picnics before: eg. here and here, and today we scored another home run!

Recently, I happened upon a revelation that children’s author, and former member of The School Magazine‘s editorial team, Cassandra Golds, had been a former student of our school, so I went about inviting her to be our special guest at today’s reading picnic. Theme: Teddy bears. Dress: Pyjamas. What fun!
Cassandra Golds

Cassandra was an excellent speaker, and comes with my highest recommendation. The students were abuzz for weeks before her visit. I fired up the kids quite a bit and they were very excited to meet a successful ex-student.

The Stage 1 students had plenty of questions about “where the library used to be” and Cassandra’s time at the school.

Our Stage 2 students are midway through “The mostly true story of Matthew & Trim”, a graphic novel illustrated by Stephen Axelson, originally serialised over two years when Cassandra was still at The School Magazine. Our students are working on the HSIE unit on Australia in class, so the graphic novel is working so well in library lessons. I’m practically doing Geoffrey McSkimming-style stand-up orations while reading them the story! (I do exaggerate, but it’s been fun.) I had the students enthralled with Trim “the demon cat” when explorer Matthew Flinders and Trim were in England. I’m looking forward to the arrival of the dodos myself. (Yes, Mauritian dodos. It’s complicated.)

The Stage 3 students were fortunate to be the very first audience to hear a rather spooky chapter from Cassandra’s new book, “The museum of Mary Child”. They were already familiar with Cassandra’s other novel titles, “Michael and the secret war” and “Clair-de-lune”.

Our now-traditional reading picnics are usually in that last hour of the day, after the lunch break. We usually gather at the podium, talk about the theme. In the past we’ve had a recipe theme, building anniversary trivia, spring, multicultural, etc – then we break up into smaller groups, or students take their parents to shady spots around the grounds, until we again gather to sum up.

At last year’s September picnic, I brought out a graph to record our Premier’s Reading Challenge results. This year we added a new annual tally and Cassandra presented certificates to the school from MSN Readathon, and another celebrating the students’ success with the PRC – up 2% on last year’s results to 80%.

We cycled groups through the hall to meet Cassandra in more intimate groups, and the afternoon was over before we knew it. A fabulous whole-community focus on literacy and the love of reading!

A big thank you to Cassandra Golds! And to teacher Kerrie Mead, who organises the picnics and does a great job promoting them in innovative ways.

An aside:
Cassandra and I realised that the whole of our planning for her visit had been conducted online via Facebook. Welcome to Web 2.0!

Matching antennae

Professional learning with Kevin Hennah

Teacher-librarians and associates in the Penrith, Mount Druitt, Blacktown, Windsor and Parramatta areas attended today’s stimulating conference at the Rooty Hill RSL Club’s function centre. Guest speaker was Kevin Hennah, who presented fascinating sessions on Library Design and Space Management, and Transforming Your Library on a Shoestring Budget.

What was most exciting to me was that Kevin took care to relate the visual improvements to the physical library space to improved outcomes for student learning. He encouraged us to consider how renewed and improved design and furniture layout could increase the appeal of the library’s holdings, and hence borrowering stats can provide measurable proof that the design changes work.

And since a lot of public school libraries are lucky to get he budget they want/need to keep the library running, we were all grateful to the section of Kevin’s presentation dedicated to “Transforming Your Library on a Shoestring Budget”.

I certainly can’t wait to get back into the library on Monday, to start ripping down all those ugly, useless bits of multi-coloured paper that are affixed with sticky tape and Blu-tac to the furniture, walls and windows… (How did Kevin know they were there?)