From tired to terrific – Glen Ellyn Public Library (IL, US) youth space update
The Glen Ellyn Public Library serves a community of approximately 27,000, in the western suburbs of Chicago, Illinois USA. Recently the library went through a remodel, changing the entire look and feel from dated, drab, and worn to colorful, open, and bright. While we didn't change the library's footprint, many members comment on how the department feels much bigger after the transformation. Sightlines have been improved for increased visibility throughout the whole department. Several book collections were reorganized to better suit browsability. Picture books were categorized into genres, and shelved face out. Staff and community members' suggestions were both taken into account when updating the space. Amenities were added, and high profile services like the 3D printer were moved to make members increase member's awareness of what the library has to offer.
The Glen Ellyn Public Library’s original youth space had become very dated. The play area had obstructed sightlines, a portion of the walls were carpeted, and the furniture was a miniature version of the adult furniture, sharp corners and all. The library director had organized the budget to include a building fund, so we were able to save for a remodel project without raising taxes or depending on a passing referendum.
In our early planning phase, we asked the local school district for input. They have added problem based learning (PBL) to their curriculum, which allows the students to gain common core knowledge through real life learning. Wanting older kids to visit the library more often, we asked them what would they like to see from their library, and what would they change. Their answers changed a lot of our plans. They didn’t like how they had to walk by the babies “fighting over the train table” to get to their designated area and books. While they had a designated “tween” area, it was an open space that wasn’t regulated and younger kids frequented the area and played. They didn’t feel welcome, and they stopped coming to the library, or tried to sneak into the high school room.
In 2015, our library went forward with our plan to remodel the space. We didn’t just change the paint and light fixtures, but did a full transformation from tired to terrific. We wanted to listen to the feedback received from the PBL, but also incorporate the needs of the other age groups. We expanded the play area, adding new toys and interactive wall fixtures, and moved it to the back of the department. Our library believes in the importance of learning by playing, and wanted to reflect that in our new space. The play area is surrounded by our picture book collection, which changed to a face-out collection sorted by categories. The play area moving to the back and surrounded by face-out picture books allows for easier browsing by adults and children, less “runaways” out of the department, and more sound insulation allowing for other areas to be quieter for studying. Shelves were shortened, allowing for more effective sightlines, too.
The picture books aren’t the only thing we labeled and shelved differently. Next to the play area is our early reader nook. We relabeled the early readers to allow for a consistent leveling with all the books, and sorted by level first, then author. The furniture in the early reader area invites big and small readers to sit together for guided learning.
Staff noticed some other issues that needed to be addressed in the remodel. Before the renovation, members had to go to the library entrance to get drinking water. Now, not only is their thirst quenched, but they can also see how much plastic has been saved with the digital counter within the new water fountain. The old version of the youth department had eight display cases for members to show off their impressive collections for a month. It’s incredibly popular, more than you can imagine. The wait time is approximately three years. Staff have gone over every option to reduce the waiting list, and adding more display cases was a huge priority in the remodel plans. There are now fifteen separate areas for members to show their treasures. These cases are more eye level for our younger members who show the greatest appreciation for the new items that change each month, and waiting time has been reduced by half. Speaking of visibility, our 3D printers moved from a poorly lit corner display to a custom-made display in a highly visible area.
The youth program room grew and we added a second door to deal with previous capacity issues with our very popular programs. We also added a sink and tiled a portion of the floor to add the possibility of versatility to our expansive program offerings.
Last, but not least, we added a middle school room, located right by the new middle school book collection. This room is exclusively for grades six, seven, and eight. Guidelines are posted outside of the door explaining who the room is meant for and expected conduct. As you enter the room, the first thing you see are yellow letters that proudly spell “Be Yourself,” followed by an art display showcasing art from local schools. The room also features a fully stocked art cart, charging station, video games, and a television streaming live web cams. Before the remodel was unveiled, the library hosted an open call for room name suggestions from local middle school students. The student who suggested the winning name would win a gift certificate to the local bookstore, as well as be featured in a blog on the library’s website. The students responded, and “The Middle” was chosen.
While our library footprint never changed, the youth space seems much bigger. This can be attributed to the more efficient, member friendly use of space. The Glen Ellyn Public Library strives to stay in tune with the community’s changing needs. We heard the call, and we delivered with inspiring results.
Christina Keasler, Middle School Librarian
Glen Ellyn Public Library
400 Duane St., Glen Ellyn, IL 60137 630-469-0879, www.gepl.org