LIVINGSTON, NJ — After renovations made to the media centers at Mt. Pleasant Elementary, Burnet Hill Elementary and Heritage Middle School were received with overwhelmingly positive feedback, the Livingston Board of Education (LBOE) expressed confidence in its decision to provide funding for the projects.

As he officially entered the district over the summer, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Matthew Block said he was impressed to see the district investing in “not only holding onto the great libraries that we have” but also investing in the future of those libraries.

“I believe that that libraries are the heart of a school, and I think that if we’re looking to do 21st century education, collaborative learning and inquiry-based research, those are the places where that happens,” said Block. “We know that our libraries have changed over time; they’re also places for innovation and maker spaces and, back to the basics, they are also a place where literacy is promoted…

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“I want to compliment our media specialists who, this summer, were packing and unpacking and moving boxes in addition to all the things that they do to get the libraries ready for our students. There was a lot of hard work put into getting this done.”

Erin Borino, Director of Instructional Technology for Livingston Public Schools, was also on hand during Monday's LBOE meeting to praise the district’s media specialists.   

“If you were like me, the school library was probably one of your favorite places as a kid,” she said. “It was the center of the building; it was the place where you went to escape into a good book, to find whatever was the latest to come out and to talk to your friends; and your constant was the school librarian. The media specialist was your friend. In K-5, they were there for all of your years, they knew you every year, they knew the books that you loved; in middle school, they developed a relationship with you and they worked with your teachers; and in high school they got to know you over four years.”

Among the media specialists in attendance on Monday to thank the board for the renovations was Heritage Middle School media specialists Sue Tanler, who noted that because departments from other schools use the media center at Heritage in addition to the students and teachers, the new library will benefit the entire Livingston Public Schools community.

“When we were planning the library, one of the things was to really think about the ‘Future Ready’–what do libraries look like in the future—and making sure that it was meaningful space for everybody,” said Tanler. “We wanted to have flexible seating so that the students could collaborate and work together in different-sized groups; we wanted to have teachers be able to do that; and then we also wanted to have some space for the students to shut down and be screen-free for a little bit.”

At Heritage, one of the new features includes a section of lounge seating that has been designated as “screen-free space” so that students can speak with each other, read quietly or play games.

Another favorite new feature of hers is a handful of mobile bookshelves that will beneficial for various purposes, such as housing newly purchased books for new curriculums.

In addition to charging towers that are accessible to the kids, Tanler said there are also other technological upgrades that are considered major components of the renovation.

“In their media center orientation, [students are] being introduced to things that are on the media center’s webpage, which includes but is not limited to sources they can use when they site information, online databases and how to locate books that they might be interested in and then finding out if they are in the Livingston library,” she said. “Another important piece that we are going to be doing is collaboration of the tech coaches. We’ll be doing some digital citizenship lessons to make sure that they are being responsible citizens in the digital age.”

Accompanying Tanler at Monday’s meeting were Michael Diamond, Kalyani Gollamudi, Cat Powers and Dasara Kurti—four eighth graders who shared their thoughts about the facelift and expressed gratitude toward the board for making the effort on their behalf.

“I love that the media center has become more than just a place to get books,” said Powers, who said the library is now the perfect place for studying, reading, working on school assignments and having group discussions. 

She also said the new space is not only “much more cohesive,” making it much easier to study, but is also environmentally friendly due to the use of recyclable paper in the printers and a “mistake basket” she Powers finds particularly useful. Now, she said, students don’t have to feel guilty about re-printing their assignments after making a mistake on the first copy.

All four students agreed that the screen-free space was an excellent addition to the media center and the “perfect place to de-stress.”

Kurti said she also enjoys the new “Take A Break,” where she can color and create seasonal sticker mosaics that are then hung on the wall.

As one of the few students who help out in the media center during lunch and enrichment periods, Kurti also had a different take on the new setup of the library. Now that the sections are more clearly marked, the eighth grader said she has been significantly more productive because she is asked fewer questions about where to find books.

Gollamudi mentioned that she has seen a lot more people in the library so far this year, many of whom are reading in the “Take A Break” lounge, where “the environment is much more reader-friendly.”

Diamond, who began by thanking the board for putting money into the media center, said one of his favorite things to do at school is to hang out in the media center before school with his friends. As the media center is where many students go to study for tests, finish homework or talk about the upcoming day, Diamond said that “with better furniture like the new chairs and tables, it’s more comfortable to spend time there and it’s just a better environment.”

“Another favorite change of mine is how easy it is to find books,” he said. “With a more open environment, it takes me less time to find books because I see all books in one place with nothing blocking my view. Sometimes, I actually find a better book than the one I was looking for. These new changes will definitely help seventh and eighth graders for years to come.”

LBOE Vice President Ronnie Konner, who served on the district technology committee that recommended the 1:1 initiative, said that she visited some schools as part of the committee and that “it was very obvious to the committee that media center seating and set up needed to change.”

When renovations were made to the Riker Hill Elementary School media center, Konner said she was honored to have representatives from Millburn Public Schools ask for a tour so that they could decide what renovations they would make at their own schools.

As she praised the many people who worked hard on this project, Konner specifically acknowledged the district’s media specialists, telling them that “the furniture is wonderful, the students are fabulous, but you are the spark that makes that media center a special place.”

The video below, provided by Livingston Public School, highlights some of the changes made to the three media centers over the summer.