We live in an age of super-sizing and upgrading, but in our profession, it perpetually seems as if less is more . . . or at least less is the reality. We must constantly review our priorities when serving our youngest patrons as we’re faced with shrinking library budgets, multitasking to the extreme, and building limitations. If you’re not able to expand your current facility, how do you maximize the space you’ve got? A little creative planning and flexibility goes a long way.
At the Hope Mills Branch Library of the Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center (a busy community facility in close proximity to Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, NC), we’re experiencing a growth spurt. Lots of families are stationed nearby, and our community neighborhoods expand accordingly. Our branch, next door to a park and a hot spot on a very popular walking trail, serves as a natural destination for education and entertainment. The increased clientele (and of course, that’s a good thing!) still brings with it a very legitimate concern as we see the reality of too many people in a building without room to grow. With three easy and inexpensive tips, we’ve addressed our space limitations.
Define it. Our older tweens and teens (with no room or formal department to call their own) were served by a smaller area of shelving placed immediately after our adult fiction section. Though we utilized displays and featured standard seating nearby, we lacked the space and resources (or so we initially thought) to design a specialized seating area for those middle- schoolers and older teens no longer interested in hanging out in our Children’s Department. We took action by simply sliding a table down to centralize adult seating. This forced a small space to open up immediately behind teen fiction (we took it!) and added a few comfy contemporary rockers and an area rug. Posters of interest created a few pops of color to finalize the re-purposing. That’s all it took to create a ready-to-go Tween/Teen Space. Defining space, in our case, didn’t have to be expensive. It can even be the organization of existing furniture by forcing space to open up with a new purpose in mind.
Think Outside the Box. In this case, our box was our Children’s Department. Many children enter the building while out on an errand with their mom and dad to send a fax, never stepping foot past our Children’s neon sign or sitting and reading on one of our animal chairs. Don’t get me wrong, the fax machine serves its purpose — throngs of folks wait to send their legal documents. It just doesn’t encourage these customers (with their accompanying tots in tow) to browse our juvenile materials. Our Youth Services Librarian decided to meet them exactly where they are. She checked out some board books and put them in a basket near the fax machine (next to our most popular adult seating arrangement.) The kids naturally gravitated to the books, which led to an obvious conversation starter in itself. “Do you like that book? I could show you and your family where more of those are. Just follow me.”
Take it Outdoors. The most successful branch publicity campaign doesn’t need to be expensive or monstrous in size. Too much library advertising in cramped quarters will just overwhelm and clutter when location, location, location can really drive the message home. Our Youth Services Staff requested a yard sign highlighting our weekly story times from our Community Relations Department. We stuck the sign in the ground on our property right beside the walking trail. This single sign is viewed by hundreds of exercisers (many pushing strollers) each and every day. The word of our children’s programming has spread, and we’ve added an additional story time to meet our growing crowds.
These are just a few inexpensive ways we were able to re-envision the resources we’ve been given. Please share your suggestions on how your library system has been able to maximize your space, and watch how these ideas take flight!
Meg Smith is the Branch Manager for the Hope Mills Branch of the Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center, located in Fayetteville, NC. Meg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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