I’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming lately about library spaces for children and using space, as opposed to rules and policies, to keep children, grownups, and staff happy. Keeping the 10 Commandments in mind, I think great children’s libraries should be engaging, stimulating, and empowering. They should encourage exploration and be continually evolving- and surprising!- spaces.
There should be distinct pockets and “nooks” for both quiet and noisy activities. Babies and toddlers should have soft, carpeted areas with manipulatives and objects to investigate. Older children should have access to computers for both homework help and fun stuff like gaming, social networking, podcasting, and video production. Ideally there would be areas for parents and caregivers to curl up with their children to read a book together as well as spaces for children to work in groups on special projects.
I’m in the process now of trying to create such zones in my library. As more and more babies, toddlers, and preschoolers begin sharing the library with schoolaged children and tweens, it’s hard and sometimes unreasonable to maintain blanket rules. And difficult to have 21st-century activities integrate seamlessly into 18th-century buildings. Should a 2-year-old be expected to use the library as quietly as a 12-year-old? Should tweens only be able to use the computers one at a time- even if they are working on group projects? Such policies do not reflect the changing needs of today’s young users and the ways in which different age groups use the library.
As I begin the process of scouting out possible “nooks” in my own library, I’m trying to keep in mind not only what will work today for our users, but how this space can evolve and adapt to the community of users as they grow, as technology changes, and as populations shift.
Although, at this point, I’d be happy to start off with a rug and some cushions! Baby steps.