Redesigning the Public Library to create an active and vibrant library space for children
A space for children, brings to the mind a colourful place, shelves within easy reach of children and a lot of space to run around. A place where children can come and go in their own free time and have a lot of freedom, to learn, understand, read and experiment as per their need. This is possible, when a new Library building is being constructed from scratch and there are adequate financial resources to support such a venture. However, for Libraries which were constructed before the Internet era, with only print resources and a library designed to meet the knowledge needs of that time, the challenge is humungous to once again become an ideal “Libraries for All” or having something useful for all members of the community. So, many a times for such public libraries, carving out a children space would be accompanied by a demand from youth and adults for Computer & Internet section and other relevant services.
Hence any redesign of the public library would have to factor-in the creation or re location of these spaces as well. The biggest challenge that is encountered while redesigning these spaces is the huge book collection, which would have been accumulated over a period of 20-25 years, rendering 60-70% of the library as a storage space and effectively leaving only 30-40% for free movement of the public. And in absence of an effective weeding out policy, non-practicing of modern day analytics and archaic storage systems, the problem becomes acute.
From the little window of my experience, I realise that for the change to be effective and sustainable, multiple stakeholders need to come together. The most important part of the whole change is Buy-in and leadership of the librarian who needs to stitch the whole programme together. This is all the more important, when the whole objective has to be achieved with very limited resources.
The factors which would be critical in the success of redesigning of Library space, with special emphasis on children space are:
1. Leadership role of the librarian and buy-in of the library staff
2. Need assessment: Taking views from the community and conducting a recce of the area being served by the library.
3. Gauging the space requirement for the children, and identification of the space in the library which would be best suited for children. The factors like being on the ground floor, proper lighting, separate entry point, and distance from the silent zones need to be considered for narrowing down on the right location.
4. Finding out innovative and creative ways of to compress the storage space to free up the identified space for children. This might require even relocating some of the other services like reading room and book issue counters.
5. Creating a blue print for better visualisation by all stakeholders, with the right logical framework
6. Specifics for Implementation of the design:
* Painting and wall design,
* Flexible seating arrangement & easily accessible bookshelf and other resource material ensuring that they are within the reach of children
If the library cannot afford the new and smaller height book cases (Currently in the state there are similar height selves whose upper part cannot be accessed by the children) we can use the existing book case in the children section but the number should be smaller. Care should be taken that nothing obstructs the path of natural light. The books should be placed in the shelves in a way that they are within easy reach of the children. The inside space of the section should be keep open for children’s activity etc. The ideal situation for funding would be from the government side, in absence of which contribution from the community can be sought.
* Air ventilation and facilities like air conditioning etc
* Appropriate cushioning of the floor
7. Resources in the children space
Effort should be made that the section should not be overpacked with the reading and learning materials as this will limit the space for open activities available for children. Only good quality and content rich books should be kept in the section. Placing of the books in the shelves should be as per the appropriate age group. Efforts can be made to search the possibility that whether the funding agencies can support the library in sourcing other avenues of learning like computers, e-readers etc. Also contribution from the community can be accessed apart from the limited funds from the government to equip this section with the required reading and learning materials.
With the librarian playing the lead role, resolving the concerns of the members, making the libraries open and accessible and attracting the community participation and financial contribution, public libraries can be converted into active and vibrant spaces for children where children will love to come and spend their time and learn as per their convenience.
Anant Kumar Shukla
Uttar Pradesh, India