A library is the staple of any educational institution; that is a fact that has endured and continues to endure throughout time. However, as time passes, a library’s function and presentation changes with it.
Librarian Nancy Solomon first began working at KO in 1996, after being hired by history teacher Ted Levine who, at the time, was the head of the Middle School. At that point, there was no actual library, just a big empty room, unassembled shelves, and a giant pile of books in the middle of the room. “He told me that I could do whatever I wanted, to just go for it,” Mrs. Solomon said.
Two years later, the library director of the Upper School left during the summer, so, in a desperate situation, they called on someone they knew could prepare the library for the upcoming school year. Mrs. Solomon accepted the job on the condition that she would be granted full leeway to do whatever she wanted with the library, which the headmaster accepted.
Rallying together her husband, children, her children’s friends, her husband’s friends, and her friends, the group worked on the library for 42 days straight. Wanting to move the shelves around, they emptied all of the books onto every service available, organized by the Dewey Decimal System. Bolted across many of the walls were magazines which, with the beginnings of the internet, Mrs. Solomon decided to completely get rid of. The team painted some of the walls, and Buildings and Grounds members aided by moving around the empty shelves.
When the headmaster returned from a three-week vacation, he was quite shocked by what he saw. “When he came in and saw it all, you could slowly see the color drain out of his face,” Mrs. Solomon said. “He literally had to sit down, but I had piles of books on every chair; he couldn’t even sit!” A week later, when school started back up, everything had been moved around and the books all put back in their rightful places. However, many books were thrown out, particularly from the science section, due to their outdated content. “Counting the Middle School, I have redone the library seven times, and it’s to reflect the now, what we have and need in the now,” Mrs. Solomon said. For example, there was a time when owning a personal laptop was incredibly rare, so the library was home to 32 desktops, but in this day and age, that is no longer necessary.
Despite all of the changes over the course of many years, the library is once again up for renovation. This idea was first brought up many years ago when the Board of Trustees did an assessment evaluating which areas on campus might be priority candidates for renovations. As it’s such a high-impact location on campus, the library was at the top of the list. “A library is for research, reading, studying, and supporting the learning of students, but it also extends beyond just a place where we go to research,” Head of School Tom Dillow said. “It’s a place for the community to come together.”
Following the evaluation, Mr. Dillow asked Former Head of the Upper School and English teacher Dan Gleason to get feedback from a committee of faculty members about the possibility of a library renovation. There were 10 members of the committee made up of faculty from both the Upper and Middle School, from all different departments. Together, the committee looked over resources about different functions and appearances of modern-day libraries and created a list of items and ideas that they would want in a future library. From there, they chose the top few ideas, which were then shared with Mr. Dillow and the board in a presentation given by Dr. Gleason in October of 2021.
Following the presentation, a subcommittee was formed to work on the library renovations in a more concrete format. The committee requested proposals from multiple architecture firms after which the firms put in bids which were then narrowed down to the top three proposals. Then, a committee looked at each proposal and voted on who they believed would be the best fit to bring to life the vision for the library, finally choosing an architecture firm called Centerbrook Architects and Planners. “You really want a group that you trust and that you can tell that you would have a good relationship with and that’s going to listen to you,” Mr. Dillow said. Though not the impetus for the decision, in a weird coincidence, the project manager happens to be a KO alum!
Already an expert in library renovations, Mrs. Solomon still sought to prepare herself as best as possible for her newest project by taking a summer class at Taft School called “Planning Your Library For The Twenty-First Century.” In addition to the course, she interviewed the librarians at multiple schools such as Taft, Dana Hall, Hamden High School, and Quinnipiac University of School of Law, asking them about their renovations. A common complaint amongst them was that their architects did not discuss with them what would and would not work within a library, which led to very basic and avoidable mistakes. Luckily, it seems that that is not the case for KO. “I am so optimistic because the architects met with me and took notes,” Mrs. Solomon said. “They came back and thanked me for all my insight and reassured me they would remember what I had said!”
The goal in mind while making plans for the library was to create a space where the community could come together while keeping in mind the need for areas to study. Before the pandemic, students would often reserve the space that has now become Mrs. Solomon’s office to study, as there aren’t many other places on campus that serve that purpose; the room would be reserved all day. Because of this, Mrs. Solomon knew that the library needed several small study rooms. Additionally, when she teaches a class, she does so at a large table, but it’s rather inconvenient as it sits in the middle of the room. Thus, when brainstorming what she wanted, she also knew she wanted a designated classroom. One of the largest upcoming changes, however, is not inside the library, but outside of it: an outdoor patio. “I think we learned a lot during the pandemic when we put everyone outdoors and noticed how much students enjoyed being outside and how long they would stay through the fall and how early they were out in the spring,” Mr. Dillow said. The patio would be a place where students could eat outside, sit and study, host a barbecue, and more.
Another objective in planning is to make sure that the spaces are as flexible as possible. For example, there will be a section of the library with tables and chairs that could be converted into a presentation space for meetings, classes, or lectures, and could once again be converted into an entertainment space for events such as a dance or a board reception. Another goal is to better connect the three different spaces within the building: the library, the dining room, and the lobby area in between. Currently, the lobby serves no purpose, but after the renovations, there might be student seating, a collaborative room or two, and possibly even an atrium.
A survey among students revealed that what students want most out of a library is conference rooms to study in, comfier areas to sit, a mix of larger and smaller tables for collaborative work and independent study, and similarly a loud level where collaborative work can happen and a quiet level for those who are working independently.
While the renovation plans are not concrete as of yet, if all goes according to plan, the renovations should begin in June of 2024 and will last a full year, opening in the fall of 2025, meaning the whole building will be closed for an entire school year. With this timeline comes two major concerns: where will the students and faculty eat, and where will they access library resources? Unfortunately, those questions do not have answers as of yet, but the current goal is to maintain hot lunches throughout the entire school year.
Another thing that must be kept in mind as plans begin to come to fruition is the cost. According to Mrs. Solomon, one of the reasons that this renovation didn’t happen sooner is because the pandemic drove up the cost of building supplies. Additionally, there is the question of what the school can afford, even when using a combination of school funds and raised donations. “You could spend any amount on a new library,” Mr. Dillow said. “Knocking down the whole thing and starting all over again has its advantages, but it would be very expensive. However, a really thorough and thoughtful renovation is a smarter way for us to go about it.”
Looking ahead toward the bright future of the KO library, while we may not yet know exactly what it will look like, it is sure to be a library for the ages and we are so excited for it!