Take it Outside! - Benefits of Outdoor Library Spaces
With Spring just on the horizon, it's a great time to start focusing on the outdoor part of your Library. The one element often forgotten in Library design is the outdoor spaces. Unfortunately it's where the budget cuts happen. So much time and energy get put into the interior spaces that the natural outside element gets sidelined. And of course there is SO much that goes into the design of the Interiors. You have reading spaces, circulation, staff workrooms, shelving, shelving and more shelving and really the list goes on for days. But what if I could convince you that the outdoor spaces are the forgotten areas you didn't even know you needed?! And they've been right in plain sight all this time! Read on to learn just how valuable that bit of real estate is to your Library. And for those of you who are already mind-numbingly aware of this knowledge but can't get the support you need from your board or the powers that be, perhaps you can pass this little blog post along to them to help them get a clearer picture.
"NATURE AND BOOKS BELONG TO THE EYES THAT SEE THEM"
As Ralph Waldo Emerson so brilliantly put it, Nature and Books DO in fact belong to the eyes that see them. And that's not just to say they visually see them. But instead they really SEE nature and books. I don't think he put this sweet combination together by accident. People who truly get books, have a passion for the written word and the ideas that go into those words like others may not. Their ability to truly devour the written word, break it down and process it (sometimes over and over while in a dazed state of mind that no one else can break through) expresses their ability to see the true beauty in the world (fiction or otherwise) that surrounds them. So nature fits here, well, naturally. So why would the two NOT go hand in hand?
Taking a book outdoors into a shaded space with a tranquil atmosphere is one of the simplest pleasures of reading. It's typically already quiet with a natural muffling of distracting sounds due to the soft acoustics of the environment that is Earth. Throw in a soft breeze in the trees and some busy honey bees quietly working in their nearby flower beds and you've got the perfect recipe for a reading environment.
THROUGH THE EYES OF A CHILD
Another great reason to expand your Library to your outdoor areas is that it becomes a great working and teaching space for children. Outdoor areas lend themselves to some really fun and educational youth programs. You could show them how to pot seedlings and teach them the importance of giving back to the environment in the process. You can use these spaces for the messier programs that might involve water or paint. Observe animals and insects in their natural habitats and use fun and colorful signs to point out their different characteristics. The list is really endless. But the importance here is to get kids outside using their minds and working with their hands to learn more about the beauty that is nature. Plus it provides a great place for them to run around and let some of that extra energy out. And think of the memories they'll be making of their local Library that will stay with them for a lifetime!
MONEY MAKES THE WORLD GO 'ROUND
So we all know the value of a dollar and how those dollars can cause the rise and fall of any Library at any time. This of course is not the sexiest of topics when it comes to designing spaces in your Library. But it's very necessary. Why am I bringing this up smack dab in the middle of a blog post about using and enhancing your Library's outdoor space to it's maximum potential you ask? Well because it takes money to do those things of course!! And think of the money you could raise for your Library if you produced a beautiful image of your future outdoor Library space and presented all the wonderful ways your community could benefit from it! Donors need a dream to reach for. They need to see what kind of hope and life their money could produce. Plus who wouldn't love a local Library garden with their name on it in bright shiny letters? And with this new outdoor space, you've just encouraged an increase in community involvement as well as patron donations. So how do you get started?
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
You have two ways to go about this. The first one is the expensive version, but very worth it and HIGHLY recommended if you can pull it off. You'll want to put together what we call a capital campaign which will involve working with your top decision makers to hire a team of professionals to produce an overall plan and beautiful image or images of the future space that can be made public and used for raising the funds. These professionals could consist of Landscape Architects, Interior Designers and even Architects if you are going as far as new construction on your building to produce this type of space. It all just depends on how much space you currently have access to on the exterior of your Library, and of course what kind of funds you have access to.
Another way to pull this off is to work with what the good Lord gave you! In other words, what's already right in front of you that you could spruce up? Do you have a side yard that you could clean up and add some plants and bench seating to that would give you a designated outdoor space? Can you bring in some bird feeders and create gardening areas that children can plant for you to feel like they've actually contributed to their local Library? This doesn't have to be too costly to get kids involved. If you have some space, put on your Designer hat and figure out some creative ways to use it. Maybe you could pull up some shrubbery and open up an area for gardening and reading. Get online and look up inspirational images to see what others are doing and how they're going about accomplishing this. You can even try some of these links for more ideas on outdoor spaces and kids activities:
Do something with your outdoor spaces. Promise me that if nothing else, you will take 10 or 15 minutes this week (or maybe when the snow clears depending on where you happen to currently reside on the planet) and SEE the potential of what could be. Dream a little. See it through your reading eyes and imagine what you could do if you put a little imagination into your Outdoor Library. And if you can take it a few steps further and actually get some decent funding for a project like this, the possibilities increase even more. So don't just assume you can't. Take a closer look and see what you CAN do to make this space more inhabitable for your patrons; especially your younger patrons. It might just make all the difference in the world to them.
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