Recommended Reading: Check Out Gilman’s New Libraries
Hitting the books just got a lot more exciting at Gilman. With two newly transformed libraries offering fresh perspectives, browsing, borrowing, and researching have become real page-turners for students.
The Walter Lord Library in the Middle School got an update in summer 2019, and over the summer of 2023, the Edward R. Fenimore Jr. Memorial Library in the Upper School and the William Passano Library in the Lower School followed suit.
“The main objective of the redesign,” says Michael Stamberg, Interim Upper School Librarian, “was to make it a more welcoming space and have something for everyone.” The renovated library located in Carey Hall offers various seating options to accommodate different styles of collaboration, like sofas, high-top tables, and individual study carrels. It features floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing rays of sunlight to shine through, and, during milder times of the year, the adjacent doors open to the outdoor terrace. The division’s learning specialists now work in the library, giving students convenient access to the support services they offer. The Fisher Memorial Reading Room now showcases easily movable furniture, affording flexibility for an assortment of activities, from student testing to speaker events.
But the library doesn’t just look bright and modern — it feels shiny and new — and busy too. The high-tops and sofas are often filled with students studying, holding meetings, and socializing. Stamberg says he envisioned the library as “a destination, not an obligation.” And, according to him, “It’s becoming a hot spot. Everyone wants to use the space now.
Similarly, the Lower School library has undergone a major physical renovation — and also an intangible change that can be felt when you step through its doors. Lower School Librarian Melissa Da says the guiding question she asked as they were brainstorming ideas for the redesign: How do we create a space that will excite boys and also serve as a learning commons? “The architecture firm had an understanding of where libraries are going in the future, and they really took our voices into consideration,” she says.
Da was heavily involved in the planning, having renovated two other libraries in schools where she previously worked. She says this experience stood apart from the others though because of the positive collaboration and support among the members of the collective libraries team. She calls it a highlight of her career.
The major goals for the Lower School portion of the project were elevated functionality, increased and flexible seating, separate instructional areas for early childhood and upper elementary groups, and expanded access to books. The renovation not only accomplished all of those goals but also added a digital screen for rotating messages at the library entrance, a contemporary display of books to entice young readers as they enter, and sunlight beaming through windows that had previously been semi-blocked by bulky shelves.
“I think this is one of the greatest things we’ve done,” says Blair Exter, Lower School Assistant Librarian, who also took part in planning and decision-making for the space. “The boys already loved coming here to read. Now they can find things more easily. We can do a lot more than we could in the past. We can do more for the boys.”
Spearheading both renovations was Director of Strategic Innovation and Information Tye Campbell, whose role began overseeing the libraries in 2021. “When it came to the Upper School library, we needed to change the culture of the space,” he says. He began working in earnest during the 2022-2023 school year, visiting recently renovated school libraries, both locally and nationally. He says “timeless modernity,” a refrain of Head of School Henry P. A. Smyth, was the target when it came to decor for the Upper School library. “We wanted alumni to come back and still feel like it’s theirs, and for our current students to claim the space as their own.”
To make room for all the new furniture, both libraries had to lighten their loads — or rather, their bookshelves. While this notion initially received some pushback, the reduction was ultimately supported. “There used to be a number of books per student that school libraries were advised to carry, but that recommendation was several years old, before the popularity of e-readers,” Campbell says. “A lot has changed, and we now have more electronic resources than we do physical books,” he points out. “We are still a library providing a wealth of information for our community.”
The Lower School community has been busy getting acquainted with its new library. Students in prep-one through fifth grade participated in escape-room type activities whereby teams of boys navigated clues around the room in search of a “lost” mascot. “We’ve been celebrating the new space, and we’re not done,” says Da. “We want the kids to realize what we’ve done here, and that the way they use the library helped us determine how to design it.”
Several weeks into the school year, the feedback from teachers, students, and even alumni has been positive, Campbell says. “I’m really happy with how both projects turned out. With three fresh libraries at Gilman now, the sky’s the limit.”
article published October 27, 2023