published Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Library stigma on way out at Central High

Central High School librarian Melinda Martin looks over a photograph of Central in the early 1900s Friday in the Central library. Martin is working to obtaining funding through grants to redo the school's library.
Central High School librarian Melinda Martin looks over a photograph of Central in the early 1900s Friday in the Central library. Martin is working to obtaining funding through grants to redo the school's library.
Photo by Allison Love.
SHOP THIS WEEKEND

Central High School students and parents will wrap gifts for donations at the Hamilton Place Barnes and Noble store from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday. Through Nov. 30, the store will donate 10 percent of sales from customers who mention Central High at the register. Customers also can participate online through Dec. 5. Visit BN.com/bookfairs and enter the bookfair ID 10944270 when ordering.

Melinda Martin has big plans for the Central High School library.

First on her list is changing the stigma that libraries are ultraquiet places where no fun is allowed.

"Libraries are scary. Libraries are stuffy," said Martin, Central's librarian. "I studied library science in college, and I hated going to the library."

Martin is working to infuse a little life into Central's library during her first year there. She wants to create an inviting space where kids will want to spend time writing, reading or sharing ideas. Already, her attitude seems to be making a difference. Last week, dozens of students marched in and out during their lunch breaks, finding a spot on the couch or at a computer.

The librarian envisions the large circular room being redesigned to resemble a bookstore or coffee shop with comfy chairs and cafe tables. She wants to open a self-sustaining coffee shop -- called "Central Perk" -- for students and teachers, like she did a few years ago at Bradley Central High School.

To do all that, she's looking for outside funding. And Martin is convinced that groups and individuals will fund school library projects.

"There's money out there," she said. "You've just got to hunt it down."

She already received $10,000 from Dollar General's Beyond Words school library disaster relief fund. That money will help replace books and computers recently lost when the school's roof failed and classrooms were flooded.

Another $5,000 grant proposal she wrote to the local UNFoundation couldn't be funded because the group only gives smaller monthly microgrants. But one of the foundation's trustees, Kelly Fitzgerald, was so impressed with Martin's passion she decided to get involved and help get the library rehab under way.

Now the two hope to repair water damage as well as reimagine the library.

HOW TO HELP

To give cash, visit causeway.org and click on "central perk coffee shop." To get involved with the library makeover, call librarian Melinda Martin at 344-1447 ext. 234.

"I think it's about a response to the roof, but I also think it's a response to this librarian and her passion," Fitzgerald said. "These are the kind of teachers that should be everywhere."

The two still are exploring funding options, so few details about the makeover have been hashed out. But Martin hopes to replace carpeting and furniture and redesign the library's bookcases, among other improvements.

And to her, it's about more than just creating an aesthetic place.

"If I can get a kid in here, then maybe I can get him to pick up a book," she said.

Because the school is about 25 minutes from the nearest public library, Martin hopes to create a space that could open its doors to the community on weekends or evenings.

She also hopes the project will help put some of the school's history on display. While going through boxes, Martin discovered artifacts such as a 1963 telegram from President John F. Kennedy to Central students. The library also houses old Central memorabilia like printed and bound school newspapers, a handwritten play book from legendary football coach E.B. "Red" Etter and a yearbook collection dating back more than a century.

"We're trying to find a way to get this stuff preserved," Martin said. "Because it's not just Central's history. It's Chattanooga's history."

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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