Eighth graders at Hart Middle School in southeast Washington eagerly came into the library, quickly picked a headset, a laptop and sat quietly at a table. The guidance counselor was teaching a class about developing ideas for careers.

“I love to do my work in this library,” said 13-year old, Niya Williams. “It’s beautiful.”

Although the entire school recently was renovated, the library has a special meaning with the students – it has very few books. Reading materials are online.

“This library makes me want to come inside, learn, study, and explore every day,” said Chrisdion Alston, another eighth grader.

Four years ago, the students weren’t so fortunate when the former principal at Hart dismantled the library due to budget reductions. Alston, who hopes to attend Banneker Senior High School next year, said for several years he rarely went to a library. Now he is a member of the library advisory committee.

The insistence for the library came with the new principal, Billy Kearney as one of his first goals was to re-establish a functioning media center.

Waiting in the wings was Mukhtar Raqib, 26, a native Washingtonian who graduated from Coolidge Senior High School and received his Bachelor’s and Master degrees from North Carolina Central University in library science. After two years at Leckie ES where he built up its media center, Raqib was excessed, in June. Just as the former leadership of Hart, Leckie’s new principal didn’t see the need for a school library. This summer he was called by the Hart principal to develop a new school library. Raqib accepted without reservation.

“It’s hard to imagine in this day and time how some school administrators don’t understand how school libraries help to improve literacy and expose students to learning activities outside the classroom environment,” said the young librarian.

According to the Nation Center for Education Statistics, of the 81,000 public schools in the US, more than 9,000 are without libraries, primarily in underserved communities.

Like Kearney, Raqib was on a mission to remove Hart from that list. He accepted the challenge to develop a state-of-the art media center at Hart. With the help of several partners, Heart of America, Capitol One and Target, it happened.

“I wanted something more than the traditional library. It had to be relevant to the students by using eBooks, audio books, laptops, kindles, apps and other forms of technology to keep their interests aroused and feed their curiosity,” said Raqib.

Raqib designed his concept of a café-style and interactive media center, presented the rough draft to the partners and watched it develop. “The design allows the teachers and staff the ability to multi-task, conduct meetings, or hold group study without interfering,” said Raqib

Heart of America has successfully completed over 100 READesign library makeovers and reading corner projects as well as 1.25 million books across the country. Its involvement helped steer the project.

“Capitol One was already a partner of the school. They were great partners to finance the project,” said Colleen Noland, vice president of programs for Heart of America.

Noland said the organization also added a special reading area for Ferebee Hope Elementary School for preschoolers and two books. At Ballou Senior High School a lounge with a more high school, collegiate-feel and books.

“There are common elements to our redesigns but we tailor it to the needs of the school,” Noland said.

As the support keeps coming, Raqib hopes to acquire SMART and promethean boards before the end of the school year. Partners believe there is no chance this library will be dismantled in the future.

“The library has become more valuable to the school. It’s like the brain of the institution,” Raqib said. “We couldn’t have done this without the help of our partners who believed in school libraries.”


Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO