Looking to enhance student learning and maximize existing space, administrators and school board in Brookfield-LaGrange Park School District 95 are seeking ways to modernize the library at S.E. Gross Middle School in Brookfield.

Board members had an open discussion with the superintendent and other district administrators at their district technology meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 25 at a meeting held in the library at S.E. Gross. 

While board members and administrators are not entirely sure on how to best implement upgrades, they all agree the middle school library needs to be fundamentally changed over the next few years.

S.E. Gross Middle School does not have a full-time librarian on staff, but Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski told the board that the library functions similar to the way it did when there was a full-time librarian.

“The only difference between the operations of the library today and when there was a full-time librarian is that it is not open 15 minutes prior to the start of the school day,” Kuzniewski said. “It is still functional and we are still checking out books, but we just have it staffed with a paraprofessional versus a librarian.”

Cathy Cannon, the district’s director of teaching and learning, agreed with Kuzniewski, adding that while not a perfect space, the library is still serving its purpose.

“Currently the way the space is, it’s meeting the needs of small groups and whole groups, and it’s meeting the needs of what the intent was for right now,” Cannon said. “We’re not using the space for individual student needs, because we don’t have the supervision for that. But from what I’ve heard, teachers like having the additional space to take their groups.”

Along with being used for group learning, the library remains an area for students to find research materials and work with school-provided technology. Still, the district is looking to eventually upgrade the space as a whole.

Over the last few years, administrators and board members have offered various ideas, from making the library a more technical, production-based space with green screens and cameras, to simply making the library more welcoming for students before and after school, and even as a space that community families could come and use. 

Several administrators and board members have visited libraries in districts across the area in order to gather ideas, but District 95 has yet to define a concrete plan.

Board member Michelle Maggos thinks the best way to implement change is in small, progressive steps and not by an entire overhaul of the space.

“Couldn’t we do it in steps where it’s more useful for our students?” Maggos asked. “It kind of looks like storage right now.”

Board member Brian Conroy agreed with Maggos, adding that the library is not just a poorly defined space, but also one that looks terribly outdated.

“In some of the pictures we saw [of other school libraries], there’s a lot of appealing things that if we wanted, would have to be part of a larger renovation,” he said. “But, I think there are things we can do with this existing space. It could be a more dynamic space. It looks a little 1960s. I don’t know how often those old Encyclopedia Britannica books are used.”

While board member John LaBarbera agreed that the space needed a new look. But, he said he wanted to ensure that the district truly had a distinct vision for what it wants the library to look like.

“Initially, we were all gaga about green screens, and then the most important thing was that,” LaBarbera said. “I don’t know that making rash decisions to throw things in here to make it prettier is in line with the vision that the administrators have for use of the space. What I’d like to hear is a committed vision.”

Kuzniewski said a major change to the way the library serves students would inevitably lead to a complete remodel, not just cosmetic updates. 

“If we’re talking about fundamentally changing the way the library operates, I don’t think we can do that without a renovation if you’re really talking about a significant change,” Kuzniewski said.

School board members and administrators will work closely over the next few months to better draft a vision for library improvement and work on creating a project timeline.