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Facility at high school gets a facelift this summer and the computer lab has a new function

When the former Newberg High School librarian retired last summer, the school district eliminated the position and handed its responsibilities to tech director Luke Neff. The first order of business for Neff in his newfound role was to hold a meeting to discuss the library's future.

At a brainstorming session that included school board members, interim superintendent Joe Morelock, parents, students and local librarians, Neff and his colleagues produced an ambitious plan to modernize and revamp the library. With the financial backing of the Austin Family Foundation — among other local donors — they made it happen.

"We really opened the space up and provided students a chance to collaborate and do more hands-on learning," Neff said. "There's a quote I really like that says, 'The library as a warehouse of information is an outdated concept. The library of the 21st century is a community workshop.'"

The old computer lab was replaced with a "makerspace," which includes a video production studio, audio recording studio and crafting space for hands-on crafting projects. In the main section of the library, dusty bookshelves were taken out to make room for furniture donated to the school by Nike.

Now, the library is a more open space for student clubs to meet and others to come work on homework or projects. The computer lab functions as a workshop for clubs and individuals as well.

Neff gave NHS students the opportunity to decide what will be in the makerspace and he said they have been actively involved in the process from the beginning.

"I met some students who had both a passion and a skill set in those fields and I turned the makerspace project over to them for the most part," Neff said. "The tag line for that space is, 'Make things to make us better.'"

Like many of his district colleagues, Neff has multiple roles to balance with his duties revamping the library. Chief among them is the technical aspect of instruction across the district, and he also oversees district partnerships and writes grants.

Neff monitored the changes to the main area of the library over the summer, which he called a "sweaty, stressful time" for all involved. But he said the elbow grease was worth the results.

Construction is still underway on the makerspace, which Neff hopes will be done by December. Overall, he said the changes NHS and its partners made will have lasting benefits for the students, allowing them to establish themselves as young professionals and harness creativity.

This is just the beginning, too. Neff said the Austin Family Foundation recently said it would fund another grant to improve the library even further in the near future.

"Having the library be rows and rows of books that never get checked out wasn't a great use for that space," Neff said. "I think this will be better for the professional development of our students."

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