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Vanessa Witherell, the Technology/Library Teacher at United North Elementary School, wanted the students to have an updated, flexible area that could accommodate their needs. She wanted to improve the space by incorporating fun, bright colors and use mobile furniture so the room could be a multipurpose space.

Elementary School Library Makeover

The School Library

United North Elementary School is one of two elementary schools within the United School District in Alexis, Illinois. The school contains Kindergarten through Grade 5 and enrolls approximately 200 students. Each elementary school in the district has a Library-Media Center staffed with a librarian. On a regular basis, students are scheduled into the center but they are also encouraged to make use of the facility at other times.

Vanessa Witherell joined the United North Elementary School staff in 2016 as the Technology/Library Teacher. She works with the 200+ students in the Library-Media Center and maintains the 6,500-book collection, among other duties.

The Challenge

The furniture within the Library-Media Center at United North Elementary School was outdated and couldn’t be reconfigured. The walls were lined with dark wooden shelves, the large wooden circulation desk took up a whole corner of the small room, and mismatched tables and chairs were placed throughout the middle of the room. The floor was carpeted which caused various issues with using robotics and other MakerSpace items.

Vanessa, the Technology/Library Teacher, wanted the students to have an updated, flexible area that could accommodate their needs. She wanted to improve the space by incorporating fun, bright colors and use mobile furniture so the room could be a multipurpose space. She wanted to have integrated reading spaces, the ability to display picture books face-out, add a Smart Panel, and replace the carpet with tile floors to allow for MakerSpace activities. Books needed to be displayed at an appropriate height for the students and merchandised better. Vanessa also needed a smaller circulation desk to maximize the use of the space. New tables and chairs were required so that students could meet and collaborate within the library.

The Connection

A colleague recommended that Vanessa look into Opening the Book products for the Library-Media Center. Vanessa was pleased to learn that the furniture options were bright in color, mobile, and the right height for elementary students. Opening the Book offered the versatile shelving that she was looking for and their options displayed books well. Vanessa also liked that she could get reconfigurable tables and a small circulation desk. Opening the Book furniture was an ideal match for what was needed at United North Elementary School!

Vanessa contacted Opening the Book to inquire about their design service and learn more about the products. She said that “(Opening the Book) Team members were easy to communicate with and could easily answer all of my questions.”

The Design

The Opening the Book design team worked with Vanessa to understand the goals of her school library renovation project. They were able to provide several layout options for consideration. The options included mobile bookcases, wall shelving, soft seating options, 3-tier picture book units, and a small circulation desk. All products would be color coordinated and the right height for elementary school students.

Vanessa commented that “(The design team) provided a variety of options from the get go and had no problem making changes to the designs as requested. Seeing the options in 3D was great for visualizing what it would really look like.”

The Furniture

Opening the Book recommended a combination of 60” high and 48” high BookSpace wall shelving for United North’s school library-media center.  The shelves would be at the appropriate height for the school’s age groups so the books would be easy to see and reach. A face-out shelf would be used at the top of each unit to create face-out book displays. Reversible shelves would complete the units and allow for small or large format books to be shelved.

Straight and curved mobile bookcases were incorporated mid-floor to create a discovery layout and increase book capacity. The mobile units could easily be moved so other activities and meetings could take place within the room. Bucket seats, hub seats, and storage seats were included so students would have soft-seating options throughout the room where they could sit and read. 3-tier picture book units were placed adjacent to the storage seats so younger students could see and browse face-out picture books.

Orbit and cluster tables could be reconfigured within the room to create student collaboration areas. A small circulation desk was placed on one end of the room so that the teacher/librarian could oversee all activity within the room.

Vanessa said that “The design team took all of my notes and suggestions and made it happen while also working in elements they believed would work well in our space. They did a great job customizing our space.”

Due to budget constraints, Vanessa decided to purchase half of the needed furniture items in 2019 and the remaining items in 2020. Her first order consisted of tables and the circulation desk. The wall shelving, mobile bookcases, and soft seating options would be delivered and installed later once the room had been remodeled with new flooring and freshly painted walls.

Vanessa stated that “Everything was communicated clearly, all of my questions were fully answered (and I had a lot of them!), and the install went very smoothly with an excellent installation team!”

The Outcome


“From the design to the final installation, I am extremely pleased with the company. We love how the space turned out and are so glad we were able to work with Opening the Book to turn our dreams into reality!”

Vanessa Witherell, Technology/Library Teacher at United North Elementary School

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