Building Community through Student Ownership

In a conversation with a teacher the other day, she remarked how much she enjoyed seeing “student stuff” around the library. I kind of laughed and wasn’t really sure what she was talking about; of course we have the forgotten agenda, an occasional lunchbox, and the renegade pencil case, but she mentioned things I didn’t notice. Looking around, though, there really were a whole bunch of ways to tell it wasn’t a completely “store bought” library.

Framed Art

I am close with my school’s art teacher, as I frequently teach lessons in her class and stop by her room just to see what the students are doing. At the beginning of this year, I was hanging frames of famous paintings on the wall and realized I was tired of them, so I went to see her for some inspiration. She was fully on board with bringing student art into the library, and I told her I didn’t want it to interfere with her lessons; it could be work that students could progress on when they were finished with their assignments. We decided that the “prompt” would be that they had to represent what the library meant to them – however they wanted to interpret that. I left her with the concept of tiling student creations together in large frames (and gave her the measurements) that had been sitting in my storage room. Several weeks later, she presented me with a large envelope of student creations. I immediately hung it all up!

All the framed art together! Students worked on squares of paper and we taped them together to fill the frame.
Framed Student Art
Two frames close up – some students created multiple pieces.

Makerspace Creations

I always despised our glass display case. My philosophy is that books shouldn’t be behind glass, so I constantly felt at a loss for what to display in it….that is, until we got a makerspace. I now love this glass display case! Here we feature the best of the best from challenges and independent student creations. Located near the entrance of the library, students and teachers alike stop to look at the creations, and sometimes students will ask if they can make something like what they see in the case. I love this because the glass case provides a place for student work to be shown off in a safe but accessible place.

Glass display case showing marble runs, bridges, Ozobot paths, aluminum foil sculptures, duct tape catapults, and more!

Student-Created Bookmarks

It has become a yearly tradition to host a bookmark contest for students, whose only prompt is to create something that has to do somehow with reading and include either our school name or mascot in it. They can create by hand or submit digital entries. We always get so many good ones! My co-librarian and I (and sometimes the art teacher) take a look at the entries on the day they are due (we give them about a week to two weeks to turn in submissions) and we narrow to the top 10 in each grade. Then, I scan them and create a Google Form with all the entries, numbered 1-10. I send the link to the staff, who have their students vote. The top 3 winners receive gift cards to Barnes & Noble donated by our PTA and we have our county print shop mass-produce the top 3 for our students and staff. Below is a display of all the bookmark contest submissions, as well as the top bookmarks available for students and staff at checkout!

Bookmark contest
All bookmark entries from last year – displayed in the hallway outside the library.
Student-created bookmarks accompany scratch & sniff and regular bookmarks at our checkout desk. Anyone is free to take any bookmark they would like!


While some of the signage in the library is librarian-created for consistency, one of the things I’m most proud of is the infusion of student-created signage over our sign-in computers, the new book cart, and our Manga section. I noticed that Manga needed its own signage (despite the graphic novel sticker – which is in process of being changed) so I asked a class that just happened to be in the library if anyone wanted to create some signage for the manga section – and a student volunteered! She sent it to me electronically, I printed it on fluorescent orange paper, and laminated it. The signage is gorgeous!

Manga signage – created by a student!

Overall, I’m so very pleased with the ways I have begun to include students’ ownership in the library. It is such a long road to travel from where we are now to where I would like to eventually be one day, but for now, when a student walks into my school’s library, they see student stuff – on the walls, in signage, in contests, and at checkout. This is their library, after all, and they need to see themselves here – not just as a class, but the places they own in the library. It’s a work in progress, but it’s coming along for sure. Stay tuned for a post coming soon on the efforts to expand diversity on our shelves, too!

What kinds of ways do students see themselves in your library?

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