NAHS’ Library Receives $65K Grant to Upgrade


Christina Wong

Robert Schmalbach is leading the library’s first big renovation in his 17 year career here at NAHS.

Christina Wong, Associate Editor

Although Robert Schmalbach seems rarely to take much time to relax, often prepping test materials, compiling research carts, organizing and handing out replacement Chromebooks, not to mention teaching students and building the school’s yearbook every year, nobody would accuse him of not loving where he works.

“I just like libraries. I’m a huge reader, and I love books,” Schmalbach, NAHS’ current librarian of 17 years, explained. “There’s just something awe-inspiring about all of those books and knowledge, and as amazing as this little device is [referring to phone], I don’t think it is ever quite as awe-inspiring as walking into a room filled with hundreds and thousands of books.”

NAHS’ Library received $65,000, which was donated by the Norristown Area Education Foundation, a group that raises money for schools in the district. The group donated the money in the name of Janice Pearce, the predecessor of Schmalbach.

Pearce worked many years as a board member of the school district and librarian for NAHS. “She ran a tight ship, but she always did everything she could with the money she had to keep the facility nice,” Schmalbach explained. “The fact that you can say 45 years later that most of these things are still original and are still in good shape, you have to have a good steward, someone who cares about the place and wants to take care of it.”

Most people notice that at 2:45, Schmalbach is not walking out of the door. Instead, he stays at the library a little longer to clean, make sure the book collections are in order, and fix things that are broken. He recently expanded the fiction section, updated collections, and put comfortable seating to make the library more “usable for the students and staff.”

Aside from the addition of computers and Chromebooks, there hasn’t been a significant change to the library over the course of 17 years.

With the $65,000, Schmalbach is able to renovate the library space, but it also puts him in an “interesting dilemma,” as renovations are typically expensive. “I’ve seen other school library renovations, and typically to do an entire renovation of a school library this size would probably run to at least half a million dollars or more,” Schmalbach explained. “$65,000 is a great number, but it is not what I would call gut the room money. It makes it challenge in a sense because we have to figure out what stays and what goes, what things can we update or add, but knowing that we can’t just get rid of everything and start from scratch.”

No renovation in any kind of building is cheap. When the high school was first built in 1973, the school spent good money and bought high-quality furniture. Most of the tables and bookcases are 45 years old and don’t need to be replaced as they are still in good shape and are made from high-quality solid wood.

As NAHS’ library is still in the early plans of renovation, there isn’t a set plan for the library yet. Schmalbach and Principal Ed Roth are meeting regularly alongside other important members to figure out what they would like to use the new money to revamp the library.

Schmalbach does have certain ideas that he would like to see happen to the new library, like getting doors. Right now, the library has two roll cages as entrances to the library due to how the school was designed originally. When the school was built, there was a popular educational concept called “open classroom,” in which classes were big open spaces that students were able to group and regroup with others. “It becomes problematic to students if they are testing or presenting, and notes from the hall during class changes can be picked up. People walk in the wrong entrances or jump over the ropes,” Schmalbach revealed. “We would like to get rid of all that and have actual doors, a nice welcoming entrance with comfortable benches.”

There also is a possibility of the library having a cafe. “We are still looking how it would function, how much space it would take up, who would get to use it, what is it that they will be serving, introducing new food into a space that is not the cafeteria, running water, electricity, all of that sort of that criteria,” Schmalbach said.

Although these renovations would be a lot of work, Schmalbach expects them to take place sooner rather than later.

“I believe the plan is to have whatever is going to happen over the summer so it is ready when we start back in the fall next school year,” Schmalbach said. This is, however, not a guarantee, as things might change in future plans.

The 21st-century school library functions differently from how the original school library was designed to do. “We are still trying to figure out how the library and Chromebooks coexist,” Schmalbach noted. “There are things we can do and offer in terms of instructions and resources and a place for students and teachers to do collaborative work.”

“Having this space makes a statement, it says that libraries are important, that reading is important, and that knowledge-gathering, writing, researching, all of those things are important,” Schmalbach believed. “Even if the tools have changed, it doesn’t mean the methods are any different.”

“I just want students to know nothing more than what I ever wanted them to know about this place,” Schmalbach said. “We have a lot of things to offer if you want to take us up on it.”