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2017 Kane County Chronicle Best of the Fox

Library creates zones for collaboration, middle schoolers

Flexible space

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016 9:30 a.m. CDT
(Sandy Bressner - sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Lily McConnell, 9, works with her tutor, Ann Janson of Geneva, in the new collaborative area of the Geneva Public Library, called the Collaboration Zone.
(Sandy Bressner - sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Aaron Allen, 7, and his sister, Charlotte, 5, listen to a story read by their babysitter, Sue Olszowski, in The Middle Ground area in the youth services area of the Geneva Public Library.
(Sandy Bressner - sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Greta Prange, 12, (far right) and her sister, Reenie, 8, (second from right) work on homework in the new collaborative area of the Geneva Public Library. Greta and Reenie's sister, Rosie Prange, 10, and mother, Nancy Prange are at far left.

GENEVA – Lily McConnell sat with her tutor, Ann Janson, working on her math and spelling skills after school in the Geneva Public Library.

At another table sat third-grader Joe DeLorier and fourth-grader Dominic Savarese, working with their math tutor, Jeannette Smith.

Children working with tutors in the library is nothing new, but where they’ve started working – the Collaboration Zone – is brand new.

The Collaboration Zone, the library’s formal name for its collaborative space, is an area where members of the public can work on projects either alone or in a group, library spokeswoman Paula Krapf said.

The new Collaboration Zone area barely had the new furniture installed last week when it was immediately being used, Krapf said.

“I like it,” said Janson of Geneva. “It creates an environment where you are able to socialize and ... study.”

Geneva resident Smith also praised the new area.

“This is wonderful,” Smith said. “The library isn’t static anymore.”

The Collaboration Zone is 22 feet by 41 feet and was created on the second floor near the reference area by moving stacks and tables and installing new flooring, wiring and furniture, Library director Christine Lazaris said.

On the lower level where youth services are located, a new space was created for middle school-age students behind the fiction section – an area apart from early and younger readers, Lazaris said.

Called The Middle Ground, it has a separate entrance and features colorful, cushy blocks of furniture so students in sixth, seventh and eighth grade can sit together, socialize or plug in their computers and devices and work on projects.

“It’s really exciting to see the reaction to this,” Krapf said. “We were responding to the needs the community expressed to us in terms of how they wanted to use the library and what they need from us. So to be able to offer these spaces is a huge step forward for us. And it’s really gratifying to see the excitement.”

No sooner did the furniture go into the Collaboration Zone, Krapf said, she sent a photo out on Twitter and people began using it.

Looking somewhat like a restaurant, it features booths and tables. It also has a raised bar like a lunch counter – which the library calls the Genius Bar – Krapf said, similar to a coffee shop or what Apple offers where people can plug in their devices and work.

“There are younger people here and older people here,” Krapf said. “During the day, we get a lot of business-type people working, and later in the day we get younger people. That Twitter picture I sent out, teachers started retweeting it, and some of the teachers were saying, ‘Hey, kids, here’s a space you can work on your collaborative projects.’ It’s a great space for that.”

The library paid Driessen Construction $10,500 to renovate the area for The Middle Ground and $17,700 to create the collaborative space, Lazaris said. The total cost is not complete as library officials don’t have all the invoices yet, Krapf stated in an email.

While The Middle Ground is complete, the Collaboration Zone still needs installation of large-screen monitors, baseboards and noise reduction units to allow patrons to focus on their work and projects, Krapf stated in an email.

Work began on the Collaboration Zone and The Middle Ground the week of Aug. 29. The Middle Ground was open Sept. 19, and the Collaboration Zone – still minus its finishing touches – was ready for patrons Sept. 26.

“We’re responding to community feedback where you asked us for flexible space for students in grades sixth through eighth with comfortable areas to study, work and collaborate,” Krapf stated in an email.

“We will offer comfortable seating, movable tables and spaces for those who want to work alone or in a group. This flexible space can be used for programs and events, as well as for studying or just hanging out,” Krapf’s email stated. “One boy was so excited about The Middle Ground space, he made his mom cover her eyes so he could ‘surprise her’ with our new look.”

Even though library officials are planning a building referendum on the April ballot for a new library on the former Sixth Street School property, going forward with the collaborative space and middle school area were important steps to meet the public’s needs now, Lazaris said.

“We planned carefully for this, and we are investing in the community’s future now – responding to needs members of the community have shared with us,” Krapf stated in an email. “Everything can come with us if we move to a new building. The Collaboration Zone and The Middle Ground use our space more efficiently, and in a flexible, easy-to-move format.”

Smith said library officials can count on her support to build a new facility.

“I’m in,” Smith said. “... Because I use the library. I bring my tutoring students here. And I think that it reminds them of all the library has to offer. And each time I bring a new family in, they are like, ‘Wow. I didn’t know they had that.’”

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