Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Children's library spaces for not-so-little kids

Last March, I wrote this post about the changing nature of children's library areas. Heavy, dark tables and chairs have often given way, at least in the picture book section, to cozy and comfortable areas where very young children and their families can read and play together. The emphasis on early literacy in libraries has meant that families with young kids are much more likely to find a welcoming corner where they feel at home.

But what about spaces for older kids? Even if a library is lucky enough to have a spot for toddlers and preschoolers, usually all that's left in the children's area are rows of shelving and some tables with chairs around them - very similar to what a child 75 years ago might have found in her library! Is this the best way to meet the needs of kids ages 5 to 12?

Kids do need tables and chairs for homework, projects, and reading. However, when it comes to recreational reading, most kids would rather flop onto a big cushion or lounge on a comfortable armchair or couch than sit upright at a table. Wouldn't you? Perhaps it's time to look at our children's areas with an eye toward creating a space, even a very small one, for school-age kids to feel comfortable and welcome, a place where they might even hang out a while.

Check out what Adrienne, of What Adrienne Thinks About That, has done in her children's area. She has taken what is basically one wall at the end of some rows of shelving and has put in an attractive shelving unit, some comfy informal seating, a diner booth, and made some great books and magazines easily accessible. Presto magico - a place for slightly older kids (the ones who either come to the library on their own or do NOT want to hang out with mom while they're there) to kick back, read, and maybe even chat a bit without disturbing anyone.

What I like about Adrienne's tween area is that it's quite simple and doesn't use much space. Granted, some children's areas have basically NO space - but surely there might be a corner where a couple of child-sized comfy chairs might be placed. Put a small table with a box of kid mags and some cool books on it between the chairs and you've got your own mini tween area. Perhaps the Friends group might be willing to pay - or start a little mini-fundraiser.

It's appealing to try to use our library space to welcome kids and to invite them to stay and read awhile, rather than just rolling our eyes at the noisy gaggle of tweens around the computer stations and hoping they'll go home to dinner soon!

1 comment:

  1. I've been thinking about this issue a lot lately. We have done some good work redesigning library spaces for preschoolers and their families and for teens, not so much for school age kids. THere was a program on library spaces for children at the IFLA conference in Milan last August, and I was impressed with the ideas coming from some of the northern European libraries. THe Arhus library in Denmark is famous for its child-friendly use of cutting-edge technology, and many other Scandinavian libraries use design to incorporate a sense of play into their children's areas. Many of these libraries will be in on view at the IFLA conference next summer in Sweden. I'm planning to attend and bring my camera!