Today’s Solutions: November 26, 2022

The staff at the Henrico County Public Library in Richmond, Virginia are paying close attention to the needs of their patrons, and thanks to them, a design weakness within their own walls has been identified and addressed.

What’s the problem?

The library catered to the surrounding community, which is comprised of predominantly Black suburban neighborhoods that are made up of a fair number of multigenerational households. “[The Henrico Country Public Library was] seeing the highest usage of computers of any other facility in the country,” interior designer Shannon Wray of Richmond-based Quinn Evans notes. “And in addition to that fact, they saw families from these multigenerational households all coming to the library together.”

“We kept seeing this problem with parents using the computer,” says Patty Conway, the community relations coordinator for the library. “If they have a small child, they’d have to hold them on their knee and really struggle to balance their child-care needs with their needs to use the computer.”

What’s the solution?

For the library’s renovation, which was planned back in 2019, the library staff and Wray came up with a simple and effective solution: a wooden workspace attached to a play space that can be secured to keep small children entertained, safe, and close to their guardian.

These special work carrels can be found on the second floor of the library’s Fairfield Area branch, conveniently located by the children’s section. Each carrel is lined with vinyl cushion and decorated with developmentally appropriate activities including a mirror set low to the ground for infants and interactive games for toddlers, along with a variety of holes for the timeless classic, peek-a-boo.

Wray presented the carrels during a library conference in March 2020, immediately before the widespread lockdowns of public spaces due to curb the rise of Covid-19 cases. However, now that we’re two years into the pandemic, and parents everywhere have struggled even more to balance childcare and the demands of work, the concept of kid-friendly work carrels resonates at an even deeper level.

Implementing these carrels in more public libraries will also send a message to visitors that parents and caregivers are welcome, and in its own way help unburden working parents mentally and emotionally, too. The hope is that more public spaces will recognize the needs of families everywhere, especially during this transition period where work, family, and life, in general, will have to be reconceptualized and reprioritized in this changing world.

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