FIRST THOUGHTS OF THE SWAMP
The first time I laid eyes on “The Swamp” *(Burge, 2001) was during my interview process, at that time I walked in to a light and airy spacious room – though the majority of the shelves were covered in dust cloths – the previous librarian was preparing for the mess which would come when the roof was repaired after six months of leaking. I was in love with all the possibilities. When I next entered, four weeks later, it was a different story. The dust cloths were removed and I had more time to take stock. This time, the rose coloured glasses were off, and I saw many features that weren’t so positive. However, this is more than likely due to the impact of water damage and a recent history of staff transitions, rather than a lack of potential. Looking for a metaphor to illustrate my response to the library is that it has been hibernating, submerged in the mud, mould and mire, and is now looking to emerge from its grey slumber and to re-emerge to bloom with light, colour and warmth, welcoming and nurturing a community of eager readers and learners.
Walking into the library you immediately notice a large printed artwork depicting “The Tribes of PNG”, it has nothing to do with reading or the purpose of the library, but was a gift from a long gone family. The red of the artwork is picked up by a pair of red two seater lounges which are seldom used by students. There are “Where’s Wally” books on a coffee table, but they are old and tattered, designated “not for borrowing”. This sunny nook could be such a cozy place for a quiet read.
The next area to take your attention is the mass of tables and chairs – red for primary sized children, blue for smaller children, enough seats for a class of each. This area has been used by previous librarians who wanted students to sit at desks, but is currently used by a plethora of Support Teachers and Aides to support small groups (often 4 groups at a time, which can become very noisy and distracting for already challenged students). The area is bordered by the Junior Picture book section which is housed in clean and bright red and blue browser bins under the louvered windows. The windows themselves are grimy and displays are are sun bleached and tattered. There are book display brackets, but no books displayed.
The formal shelving areas have seen better days. They are constructed of metal and are approximately thirty years old. The water leakage has exacerbated their aging. An attempt has been made to divide the younger readers section by using plastic containers, but many of these are now disintegrating and breaking. Many of the books (especially in the non-fiction section) are out of date and damaged, and it is apparent that students take little care or responsibility to return browsing books to the correct place. The paint on the shelf endings is grimy and chipped, with old blu-tack and sticky tape left from previous displays. In the furthest corner are abandoned teaching resources covered in grime and dust; poster holders filled to bursting with many posters on the floor; and several big book containers with the aged books in a state of disarray.
There is a wide open space containing a screen and a bohemian patchwork chair which is the chief teaching space for the teacher-librarian. It is also the favourite “hang out” area for reading, relaxing and chatting with friends at lunchtime due to its six large brightly coloured cushions. These cushions and the two seater lounge are the only soft furnishings that the students can access and they are in high demand. The cushions don’t have a storage space and are very heavy, which can cause conflict during pack up time. Shelving in this area is filled with old cardboard files containing unused teaching resources, including cassettes and DVDs, covered in grit, gecko and cockroach remnants.
The wall areas in this space better show the design aesthetic of the time of the library’s construction: bare brick, louvered windows, institution green and grey on the walls. Office areas have windows overlooking the library which are guarded by venetian blinds – reminding us of the “duty of care” aspect referred to by McWilliam, but also emphasising the custodial aspect of an institution which does not trust students to “hide” in cosy nooks. Whilst at lunchtime the library is supposed to be a quiet “chill out zone” for students (especially those who need a quiet place to recharge from the stimulation of the classroom), the lack of “cosy nooks” has resulted in all students congregating in the open space or the table areas, competing for space and to be heard.
Whilst the previous section seems very negative, there are so many positives and potentials for this library. It is situated very close to the centre of the school and has many paths leading towards it, leading, beckoning and welcoming visitors. The glorious atrium area in the centre of the space, and the many windows along the outside walls give a wonderful atmosphere of light and space. The social-emotional atmosphere has already begun to awaken, with a growing number of students visiting the library for reading and relaxing, or to participate in organised lunchtime activities. Other members of the school community, staff and parents have also begun to return. The dormancy is over, and springtime is coming to the STARR library.
Charette Process – Benefits and Disadvantages
A design charrette is a participatory process aimed at community stakeholders developing creative solutions to challenges that they themselves face. It is thought that involving those who utilise the space and experience the challenges personally will result in a design which best meets community needs. The charrette process involves a number of stages – identifying the problem, brainstorming ideas, collaborating and deciding on solutions, and then finally presenting and refining the prototype.
Using the charrette process to gather design ideas for this site had advantages and disadvantages. Involving students, parents, teachers and school executive did result in the development of some very useful ideas that I had not previously considered (one gave me such a different perspective it solved a problem I had been procrastinating on for weeks!). However, the process takes a great deal of time to accomplish in its ideal form, and very few participants are willing or able to devote this amount of time.
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