ALA Annual 2012

Thinking About Your Children’s Spaces #ala12

Think about the community where you live. How many spaces are there in the community for adults? I’d guess there are lots: Starbucks, shopping centers, restaurants, theaters… Now think about how many spaces there are specifically for children. Maybe the YMCA, the play place at the fast food establishment, a park or two. How awful is that, that kids don’t have more spaces in which they can really engage? Why not make the library one such destination?

The colorful, engaging entry to the children’s department at Monroe County Public Library in Bloomington, IN. Photo by Amy Koester.

Sunday morning at ALA started with a program titled “Where the Wild Things Are: Children’s Learning and Discovery Spaces.” The program featured some rock stars of library design, including Kimberly Bolan Cullin (who recently wrote a children’s space checklist for DEMCO) and Kim van der Veen of Burgeon Group, LLC. The panelists acknowledged that not all libraries can afford to completely revamp their children’s spaces, so they pointed out some simple, cost-effective strategies for redesigning the kids area right now. Tips I’m taking to heart:

  • You already have space in your library for toys, interactives, and reading areas. Can’t find it? Weed. Seriously. WEED! Weed everything that doesn’t circulate, everything that’s gross, everything that doesn’t fit the collection… If you weed discriminately and deliberately, you’ll end up with space for discovery and a more customer-friendly collection.
  • Make sure to include seating options for kids and adults. Without adult seating in the area, parents don’t always engage with their kids.
  • If you want to add toys and interactives (and you should!), think simple. The simpler the toy, the more complex the learning. Bring out blocks or play food, which can be used in a myriad of ways by all ages of children. More complex toys often take up more space and only have one mode of use, limiting the potential learning outcomes.
  • Observe your children’s space from a child’s perspective. Kneel or sit on the ground and see what a two- or three-year-old would see when visiting the library. Put age appropriate things at an age appropriate level. Add color and interest where children will see it.

There were so many great ideas at this session, but I want to hear from you. What works for creating engaging children’s spaces at your library, especially on a shoestring budget?


I am the Children’s Librarian at the Corporate Parkway Branch of the St. Charles City-County Library District in Missouri. I am active in ALSC, and I blog as the Show Me Librarian at You can find me on Twitter as @amyeileenk.

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