Dana Bjerke, Adele Murray, Amy Kennedy Fosseen, and Liz Veaderkpo from Hennepin County Library presented “Collaborating to Create Welcoming Spaces for Children, Youth, and Families.” This was great for me- I survived one library renovation several years ago where the architects never spoke with youth services staff; we made the new space “work,” but it wasn’t designed in a way that was ideal for actual use by the patrons and staff. My county is currently discussing construction of a new building for my current library. The presenters discussed their own renovation experiences, and how they worked on keeping everyone connected, collaborating, and taking into account multiple perspectives.
Architects need to talk with library staff to understand how the space works for playful learning in libraries, and how families use spaces. Try to get a liaison to help you communicate with them! Administration answers to the community, county, and board; it really helps to get them on board with you to be collaborators and support the design. The children’s area should be a space for work, play, and togetherness. You can advocate for youth by offering training about designs that support healthy brain development and spaces that work well for children.
The panelists also discussed great ideas for design and furniture, and offered ideas for reusing (and getting rid of) items you already have. They created an “Afterschool Spaces Team” who worked on places for children to be, and kits for patrons to use. And, they invited youth to participate in the decision-making process; it showed them that they are valued and trusted, and made them more excited about the library. Engaging the community was key.
Programming, workshops, and kits were also discussed, including ideas for kits to distribute during COVID-19. Community engagement can be formal and informal, both inside and outside the library. “The end result is making great neighborhood connections.”
The panelists strived more than anything to create an inviting place where patrons and staff all felt welcome as soon as they walked into the building. “Keeping your space welcoming is a big hug to your community… create a space that meets their needs.”