Thomas Johnson Library RenovationX
Baltimore schools are so aged, dilapidated, underused and underfunded that they struggle to meet the minimum needs of the student population, much less inspire them to overcome the social and environmental challenges that weigh them down. Limited available funding has to be focused on areas of greatest need and leveraged through public private partnerships. One of the most interesting of these partnerships is the Baltimore Library Project, a multi-year, public/private interdisciplinary collaborative effort by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and Baltimore City Public Schools to design, build, equip, and staff school libraries in high-poverty neighborhoods. Based on the Robin Hood Foundation L!brary Projects in New York City Public Schools, the aim of the initiative is to create welcoming and engaging libraries full of new books and technology that encourage students to read.
Thomas Johnson Elementary (1977) is of the vintage of schools built virtually without windows. The lack of daylight and low ceilings were a major affliction to the library, where the designers compensated by installing borrowed light windows to even darker corridors. The library entries were undifferentiated doors on a long dark corridor. The project was to create a new, welcoming, library, an oasis of calm conducive to settling back with a book, including new fixtures, furniture, equipment, and reading materials:
- Informal reading areas with soft, comfortable chairs or other seating that would encourage students and their parents/guardians to read together.
- A flexible floor plan with separate areas for study and research, instruction, and group discussion.
- An administrative area with a circulation counter and librarian’s desk.
- Book shelving to house a collection of more than 7,500 books.
- E-readers (Nooks) including training and a content management system.
- A bank of computers and other technological instructional devices.
- A “Parenting Corner” for parents/guardians
The library glows with warm wood and bright colors. Even the book cart was painted an accent color. The entry was created at the intersection of two corridors by clipping the corner and asserting the hierarchy of the library with colorful giant books, signage, color, lighting, changes in floor and ceiling geometry and materials. The “Rotunda” greets the kids on arrival, offering a bright and cheerful refuge with bench seating and wooden risers that double as seating for children during story time and provide a stage platform for activities such as puppet shows. Benches and niches provide opportunities for small group learning or just to be alone with a book. A parent-child reading area with casual seating provides a place where adults can work one-on-one with students. Graphics and bright colors further enhance the experience and strengthen the concept that there is a world beyond waiting within the books on the shelves.