Versatile library spaces for children, Monte Alto Spain
The Monte Alto library is a municipal library that is located in a central neighbourhood of the city of La Coruña, Spain. It is situated on the 3rd floor of a civic centre, which is a handicap that we have had to overcome by improving the local signposting, however this also has the advantage of attracting users that may visit the centre for other purposes. The library is divided into two sections and separated by an entrance hall.
One could say that we started with a blank canvas on which we have painted brush-strokes of reality, to meet the needs that have arisen to ensure the successful running of a lively children’s library that doesn’t have the benefit of separate acoustic areas. The children’s library is a vital, multi-purpose space that is constantly changing to adapt to the varying needs of our users.
Our children’s section, an area of 244m2, is very dynamic and serves as a multifunctional area for a vast range of services and activities such as lending, information, storytelling, talks, animation activities, school visits and any activity associated with library promotion. It is for this reason that, the children’s library has evolved from its original conception (a diaphanous space planned and created by the architect in charge of the project) to the present day, in which the furniture, as well as the space, have progressively changed in response to the new challenges that have arisen over the years.
As we used the library we became aware of the need to continuously move chairs, tables, shelving, etc. to create open spaces where we could carry out activities therefore, it became necessary to fix wheels to the furniture, especially to heavy and bulky items such as tables in order to move them more easily. On some occasions we used clever lighting to visually separate certain areas, highlighting some and leaving others in the dark. This was a cheap option which only required separate lighting controls for different areas. The fact that we only have one space means that any activities that take place at the library are always surrounded by books.
Shortly after its opening, 17 years ago, we had the possibility of obtaining a grant to add a computer room with thirteen computers. After much planning and study we decided to sacrifice a section, previously used for 9 to 11 year olds’ books, and enclosed it with the aid of glass screens to create the computer room. This move obliged us to redefine the area for this category of books and to find a new location next to the screen and the raised seating area.
The raised seating area has proved to be a magnificent space for adolescents. Here they can chat, read and share experiences. This area is close to the computer room that is open to the public and is also very popular with young people. We also use this area for group activities with an audience. Over time, we also managed to have a ceiling-mounted screen installed for video projections.
Another thing that we observed in the daily running of the library was that the shelves were too high and this led to sections of books being difficult to reach easily, so we decided to change some of the original grey metallic shelves for other lower, more colourful ones that allowed users to browse through the books as if they were on a display stand. The original high shelves were then used to fix mirrors that were strategically placed to enable viewing of any blind spots from the library counter. In the same way, we added low wooden boxes or chests on wheels for the youngest users, 0-5 year olds, and others of medium height with display stands for parents’ information, magazines, etc. This type of furniture allowed the book covers to be presented in an attractive and accessible way (they were also lower which allowed easier access for children).
With use we also detected some faults regarding the safety within the library. For example, we had to seal some beautiful book boxes that had been built-in to the floor area which were so popular that children would get inside and play in them. We also had to do the same with the windows which proved to be too low and were a possible danger.
Later, we gradually acquired other types of new furniture, such as small animal-shaped seats, coloured mats and rugs to accommodate children during library activities, etc. We also added wall-mounted clear plastic display frames to make the most of the building’s columns and to show new items, as well as other larger wheel-mounted stands that had a dual functionality: they could be used as room dividers when we wanted to separate spaces or as exhibition stands for the display of photographs, posters or themed events.
With regards to decoration, we decided to add a more cheerful touch by changing the colour of the original grey wall to a yellow that made the place much brighter. A vinyl depicting a wonderful illustration of “Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf” was added to a window in the storytelling area.
For the decoration of the library we employed a wide selection of resources commonly used in DIY, but undoubtedly the collaboration with others was a fundamental factor in this matter, e.g. our collaboration with other areas of the Council, borrowing material that had previously been used for other events. On one occasion the councillorship for Equality lent us some laundry hangers that we used to put on an exhibition about the recycling of clothes.
Every August, our city holds a Comic fair and they temporarily lend us lightweight models of comic heroes and large cardboard posters with comic strip illustrations that still decorate our library. We also collaborate with other organizations such as ADCOR, a centre for the disabled located in the floor above the library. They were in charge of making newspaper hats for the children who participated in our “Biblioplaza” activity. Local shops and businesses have also contributed, like the pastry shop that made some delicious book-shaped biscuits decorated with the number 15 to celebrate our 15th anniversary.
The time spent at the library by Infant Education internship students was also used to create material and resources that would support our activities and decoration. This can be observed in a beautiful work of art hanging on the wall which was created in a graffiti workshop for adolescents.
In conclusion, we could say that the use of the library determines the space and the furniture. The library is a living entity that is constantly changing and we must respond to those changes by creating versatile spaces and seeking the collaboration of others.
Alicia Barral de Dios, Librarian
Public Library of Monte Alto, Biblioteca Municipal Monte Alto, La Coruña Spain