Thacher’s Fiction Room Gets a Controversial Facelift

Annie Lefevre '14 crafts in the new maker space. The fiction room can now accommodate 16 people, up from 6 before its refurbishment. Furniture mobility and an increased maximum occupancy has allowed for “Makerspace Nights” to take place. (Photo credit: Ms. Finley-McGill)
Annie Lefevre ’14 crafts in the new maker space. The fiction room can now accommodate 16 people, up from 6 before its refurbishment. Furniture mobility and an increased maximum occupancy has allowed for “Makerspace Nights” to take place. (Photo credit: Ms. Finley-McGill)

By Hayton Oei, May 7th, 2014

OJAI- Shortly after Ms. Finley-McGill’s TOAD talk last month, students discovered a transformed fiction room with new furniture and amenities.

The room now houses new tables, chairs, lamps, magnetic whiteboards (with magnetic poetry), arts and craft supplies, and more accessible electrical outlets. Chairs and tables are easily moved, stacked, and folded—a stark contrast to what is found in a traditional library where mobility and commotion is often severely restricted.

“Our library is in need of some updates and I hoped this would be a way to bring awareness to it with a small incident of positive change,” explained Library Director Ms. Finley-McGill.

Ms. Finley-McGill has been planning the refurbishment of the fiction room for six months, beginning this past summer.

Originally only showcasing the Human Rights Coalition’s One Thousand Cranes project, the makerspace now includes games, knitting tools, rope tying exercises, origami and crafting supplies.

Ms. Finley-McGill has also hosted two Makerspace Nights: events where supplies for making Mother’s Day and birthday cards, as well as robot and paper bird construction, are provided to students.

When she first unveiled the room to students this spring, there was a mixed reaction amongst the Thacher community.

Faculty member and Chair of the English Department, Jake Jacobsen has taken advantage of the new space.

“I like it better now. I use it for at least two periods per day. It is more open, more inviting, fresher. The chairs are comfortable, and I like the way they roll. The room seems brighter.”

Some students, however, were skeptical of the abrupt change.

Auden Ehringer ’15 described her first impression of the room.

“When I first walked into the new fiction room it seemed a bit odd. I didn’t think the colors matched the old-fashioned style of the library, and I don’t believe in the ‘creative space’ mumbo-jumbo.”

Ehringer, along with other students, also cited practical problems that were not addressed in the refurbishment project, including poor Wi-Fi signal in the room.

“I would spend more time there, but the reason why I didn’t use it much before and I probably won’t continue to use it now is that my Internet connection never works there. I know many other people have the same problem and I think it is a bummer because the room is fun.”

Ms. Finley-McGill said that she did not realize the problem existed until more students used the fiction room after the refurbishment, an indicator that students are interacting more with the library. She added that this predicament only affects newer models of Macbooks and Mr. Bill Vickery will be laying out more routers in the room this summer.

A few incidents of offensive remarks left on the whiteboard were reported after the launch of the refurbished room, a time when student grievances were most widespread.

Some students have questioned the quality of the furniture, yet the newly added pieces were directly ordered from modern furniture designer Herman Miller, an award-winning design firm that specializes in innovative work environments, and a custom George Nelson designed saucer lamp. Thacher’s non-profit status provided a 50% discount on the new furniture pieces.

According to Ms. Finley-McGill, exposing students to different types of study environments and library workplaces is only part of her job, and she understands why students may have developed reactionary attitudes towards her refurbishment project.

“I don’t take it personally because I think that most people have difficulty with change. Thacher’s library holds very traditional values. When most of your life is centered in one place then that is all you know or are familiar with. However, there is a world outside of here with all different types of library spaces and designs, and I have seen them.”

Her visits to other independent school libraries include Harvard Westlake (Upper School), Polytechnic High School, Dana Hall in Massachusetts amongst many others.

Public libraries were also a source of inspiration for Thacher’s new fiction room. These include Cal State Channel Islands University, the Seattle Public Library, Princeton Public Library, and West Hollywood Public Library.

Ms. Finley-McGill said students can look forward to more changes in the library.

“I envision more flexibility [with] furniture that moves, more power sources, less shelving, more natural light, group study rooms, and [new] chairs. I also hope that the shelves will be removed, except the two on the sides of the circular table.”

The unchanged mahogany furniture and white plaster walls outside the fiction room juxtapose the innovations taking place in Thacher’s library. Though the makerspace may have received a controversial reaction at first, students have now grown comfortable enough to share their new feelings via magnetic poetry.

Wicked education which deceives

No sacred sanctuary curse’d

that sublime villain

Naked brain has dreamed.

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