New K-12 library to offer worlds of possibilities
“The library is inhabited by spirits that come out of the pages at night.”
Among the many wonderful visions around Keystone is that of students cradling a book or an electronic reading device as they walk from class to class. Similarly, I thoroughly enjoy observing a child deeply absorbed in their reading while they wait to be picked up at the end of the day or during a free moment. Whether the student is a three-year old captivated by the story their teacher reads aloud or they’re in high school debating the finer points of a piece of literature, the sights and sounds of children engaged in the world of books offers solace and inspiration in these frenetic times.
Perhaps this is one reason that our soon to open K-12 library provides so much excitement. I am an avowed bibliophile with a lifelong passion for libraries and consider them essential to a well-educated citizenry. So you can imagine my surprise when I came to Keystone with its well-deserved academic reputation and found that we did not have a library for students in grades 5-12.
For years, social commentators predicted that libraries were an anachronism whose time had come and gone. However, in this day and age, libraries may be more essential than ever. They offer much more than a repository of books. Libraries are a place to read, to study, to hang out with friends, to do research; the list of functions in today’s libraries can feel infinite. A dear friend often says that in his mind the word “library” should be a verb.
Last spring when we surveyed students and teachers on what they wished to see in a new library, they made comments like the following:
- “A quiet gathering space with spots to cozy up with your favorite (or newly found) book. No need to rush in or out–just be with books.”
- “Library for me, means a refuge filled with books, comfy chairs, and quiet study areas. It is always there, always dependable, and a place where one can detox and recharge in solitaire with the company of books.”
- “A place to see adventure or a way to enter another world.”
- “A place to celebrate books.”
Similarly, when students were asked “What does the library of the future look or feel like to you,” they provided profound answers:
- “Creative ways to facilitate group work.”
- “Not necessarily quiet! It can be a palace of connection over shared resources. A place to discover, provide access to materials (digital or print), and connect with others.”
- Space for collaboration and working in teams, quiet areas for reading and independent study, open areas outside to lounge, maker space, computer stations, books to checkout.”
- A place that allows [us] to relax as well as focus without interruption.”
- “The library of the future should still have physical books, but should also incorporate technological resources and physical study spaces (quiet and collaborative.)”
A fascinating finding was that students expressed different purposes for print and electronic books, with 66% of students saying they prefer electronic books when doing research or reading for school, and 83% favoring physical books when reading for pleasure. So the death knell that people sounded for tangible books may be just as premature as the obituary for libraries.
According to some studies, “Retail sales data for bookstores in the United States showed that the sales of U.S. book retailers amounted to $632 million in May 2021, marking an increase from the $275 million recorded in May of the previous year. Print books still count for the majority of book sales in the US, with hardback books alone pulling in $3.4 billion of the $8.6 billion total in 2020” compared to approximately $1.5 billion sales for electronic books. Perhaps one of the silver linings of the pandemic and the enforced lockdowns was an increase in people reading.
Of all the building projects in a school, constructing a library may be one of the most enjoyable and most meaningful. This can be even more true in a place like Keystone that is so devoted to the life of the mind. Keystone stands for academic excellence, and for intellectual inquiry. While the generation of ideas can occur anywhere, libraries for centuries have been catalysts of thought and knowledge. Although libraries of 2021 may look very different than those of Ancient Alexandria in Egypt, Islamic Spain in the 15th Century, or the Library of Congress in today’s Washington, D.C., our Keystone library will also join people and books in dialogue across time and space.
As Keystone librarian Jeanette Vilagi recently said in expressing her hopes for Keystone’s new library, “I believe that books and stories bring people together, and they can be powerful catalysts for connection. I’m excited to have a place where readers and listeners of all ages can experience this special kind of connection.”
Like building projects all over the world during the pandemic, we have been cursed by delays, and we hope to move into our new library soon. Once we do, our students, faculty, and staff will turn this space into their unique literary haven. Along the way, we will fill the rooms with our own tales. To quote Ms. Vilagi again, “Rather than describe the space as a two-story library, I tell students that the new library will be in a building with two floors and MANY stories.”