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West Jordan Journal

Upgraded library welcoming for all students

Aug 23, 2021 10:23AM ● By Jet Burnham

Sensory tiles created pathways in the library to help students with special needs remain focused when navigating through the library. (Ash Thompson/JPJMS)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

The selection of Spanish books used to be tucked away in the back corner of the library media center at Joel P. Jensen Middle School. They are now the first display students see when they enter.

“We have such a large Spanish-speaking population,” said school librarian Ash Thompson. “I think those kids feel a lot more seen. The circulation for that section has gone up quite a bit, about a 560% increase.”

Jose Farias, a language arts/reading teacher at JPJ, said the school library emphasizes diversity, with sections dedicated to LGBTQ stories, Black authors and other underrepresented minority groups.

“This has impacted student attitudes because it shows how representation truly matters, especially in reading,” he said. “They feel validated in their experiences through the material they are given to consume. They are proud to see themselves in this literature, which leads to higher engagement in the library.”

Over the two years Thompson has been librarian at JPJ, she has transformed the library into a more welcoming, energetic and user-friendly space for students to spend time in before and after school, during lunch and during class. Gone are the dreary colors, complex cataloguing systems and outdated furniture. Instead, there is a welcoming color palette, strings of lights, decorative tabletops, beanbags and yoga-ball seats.

Thompson reorganized all the books in the library into genre sections, the most popular genres toward the front and in high-traffic areas. She said it made it easier for a student to find the kind of book they were looking for, which is especially helpful for students who don’t have accessibility to books outside of school or have not been raised in a culture of literacy.

Thompson has created other improvements specifically for students with special needs, such as brightly colored, tactilely stimulating sensory tiles that form a pathway they can focus on to make their way to the speech therapy offices in the back of the library. 

Last year, the library got new carpet and new furniture. Future improvement plans include new window coverings, modern wall colors and updated insulating wall coverings.

“We're just hoping that these new improvements will liven up the library even more and make it an even more inviting safe place for the kids,” Thompson said.

Thompson said aesthetics is important for making a comfortable place where students want to spend time.

“If you create a culture of literacy where students, teachers and administrators all feel welcome to come in, then it gets students in the library and they see it as a safe place,” she said. “They're more inclined to check out materials. If you have a rigid cold space with no color and it's not welcoming, then kids are very hesitant to come in.”

She said once kids are in the library, it’s easier for her to talk with them about what they are reading and to suggest books they might enjoy.

JPJ Principal Bryan Leggat said the library media center provides a variety of activities that bring teachers and students together.

“Libraries aren't just for books anymore,” he said. “At any given time, you will find students in our JPJ media center playing board games, socializing, building things in our Maker Space room, celebrating cultural holidays, holding book clubs, making cards and crafts, challenging each other in foosball or just quietly listening to their music or an e-book. It's not always like this in other media centers, but it is the type of space our middle school students need. Our theme this year is ‘I Belong Here!’ and Ash Thompson has created a space that screams (or whispers) that our students belong at this school.”