Sometimes, working in small rural libraries is difficult. Single-staffed branches have limited time for youth programming. There’s no room for large comfy chairs or crawl-through shelving. And yet, children swarm the place, coming in every day after school, for weekly storytime, or to play Minecraft on the public computers. When I visit large, urban libraries, and see amazing children’s rooms, I swoon at all that space, all those bright colours and beautiful furniture.
Many of the families we serve have been to the beautiful Halifax Central Library, and excitedly tell us about their experience there. They rave about how much their children loved it and want to go back. I’ve been there and I loved it, and I want to go back, too. So how do small libraries learn from large ones? What can we do to give our families those great experiences, and get them to swoon over our tiny spaces?
On a trip to Boston this past summer, I made my way to the gorgeous, recently renovated children’s room in the central library in Copley Square. The colours, the style, the space, oh my. And so many people enjoying themselves: families reading together, kids playing. Such a thrill to see this place in person. I loved the vibrant walls – the murals and the cityscape are perfect. The children’s room alone is probably three times the size of the entire library in my town. How can I take that home with me? One of our branches recently renovated to move the children’s area into the former meeting room. Aha! Why don’t we get a local artist to paint a mural on the wall? If Boston can make it work, why can’t we? From big to small. It worked.
We’ve taken other lessons for our branches, too. When I go to the Halifax library and see kids of all ages playing, reading, and working together, that is what I can take with me. I can’t make our libraries bigger or add a whole Light Bright wall, but we can create experiences and small nooks for children to enjoy. When creating spaces we must consider the child and family experience. I can be the voice that insists we include an element of play, especially when other voices wonder why we need that. I can insist on colors that will appeal to young people, and furniture that is fun and comfortable. I can dream of beautiful spaces that are full of books and children. Little lessons, indeed.