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Opinion: This library is a safe space

This librarian’s library is more than book shelves; it is a place to connect, play, learn and recharge

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A school library can be a warm community of students, parents, staff and teachers.

A school library can be a warm community of students, parents, staff and teachers.

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I walk into the quiet darkness each morning. As I flip the light switch, my eyes focus on the chess tables, Keva plank structures and the puzzle almost finished on the table. I switch on the scrolling announcements on the centrally located monitor and fluff the pillows on the couch. I browse my shelves to see what books I need to update or straighten. I turn on the computer and choose a Pandora station; the music drifts to the students just walking in. They head to the couch or chess table, chatting about the day ahead.

This is my morning routine. Each day begins with a smile of anticipation for the “joy in the journey” at Uintah High School’s library. How different this space is from the libraries of my childhood.

The library of my youth was quiet, full of tall bookshelves stuffed full of books. It was bright with light, as tables and chairs for “serious study” were arranged in an organized manner on a tile floor. There was no music or soft, comfy places to read, just some floor space with thin gray carpet by the periodicals. The librarian did know my name, and would say hello as I entered, but it was understood, I was to get what I needed and then move on. Nevertheless, I found the books and the adventure therein to be a haven, a place of respite and community.

Six years ago, I left my English language arts classroom to start a new journey as a high school librarian. I knew I would miss teaching students in a classroom setting, but I had also dreamed of a space where books and students explored together. As I planned for my library, I knew I wanted it to be a place of safety, growth and joy. This space is more than a room with books; this library is a community. I am grateful for the deep connections I have made with students, parents, staff and teachers.  

In the six years since I walked in, our school library has grown and changed. Not because of me, but because of students and teachers. The library ebbs and flows with the needs of our community. I find joy in spending each day with students as they explore new activities, discuss the next dance, laugh about getting their driver’s license and, of course, share insights from books they are reading. We created spaces within the library for STEAM, debate and discussions, gaming, reading, listening to music and just chatting with friends. 

Our library is about acceptance, ALL are welcome, and we have various levels of books and games to be inclusive of all students, faculty and school community members. I open the doors to the library early so students who are dropped off have a warm place to be and a person who sees and speaks to them.

At lunch, students stream through the doors with food in hand. They find tables and gather with friends to discuss their days. Some students find the single chair, plug into a phone and listen to music to unwind from the “noise” of high school. Groups of students circulate all during lunch, playing a game, visiting or working on assignments. The buzz and noise are that of life.

The library is open late for those who are waiting on a ride, need a quiet place to do homework or need space for a group project. It’s a joy to work with students from freshman to senior year. I watch them grow, date, struggle and I celebrate their success. 

The library of my childhood still drifts into my mind, but as I walk though my library space, I see so much more than books. I have watched in dismay with the conflicts of recent months over book content and mistrust by some parents. I take great care and effort to not only find books for this community, but I dedicate myself to creating a space of kindness, opportunity and individual learning for all who enter. This librarian’s heart finds joy in the journey.

Machelle Maxwell is the librarian at Uintah High School.