Tricks of the Trade - Reinvent your Youth Spaces
It's not news to you! If you want to grow your Library, you've gotta capture the attention of the Youth. And I know you already know this because everyday you and your team are working relentlessly to improve your existing Youth programs and are constantly on the lookout for what's currently trending and how to keep them engaged and coming back for more. Great content is critical of course. Whether it's the most popular books they're reading, their favorite video games, or the latest app. But don't overlook the physical spaces they like to inhabit. And don't forget to create design elements that appeal to the different age groups as well. Read on to see some of the tricks of the trade that I've used time and again to improve the Youth foot traffic and keep them engaged longer.
ACROSS THE HORMONAL DIVIDE
So I like to divide my Youth areas into three spaces. You've got what I like to refer to as "The Littles" which are my 0 to 5 year-olds, and then your "Kids" which I group from 6 to 11 and then of course your Teens; which is roughly 11 and up. I realize the 11 and 12's aren't quite teens yet, but they're in that awkward stage where they feel like the younger groups are too young for them and are ready to start mingling with the teens that they are in middle school with. Naturally they can linger between the two sections with ease and however it best suits them. But for design purposes, I create my spaces to cater to those age groups.
SMALL BUT MIGHTY
As Whitney Houston once said, I believe the children are our future. I'm sorry. I'm an 80's kid. They played it at my pre-k graduation and it popped into my head and I just could not help myself. But I digress. The reality is they are at a very critical and impressionable age. The 0 to 11 year-olds require stronger reading programs and better reading environments if they are going to grow into successful life-long readers. The Literacy Project Foundation states that "Children's academic successes at ages 9 and 10 can be attributed to the amount of talk they hear from birth through age 3, and that Young children who are exposed to certain early language and literacy experiences also prove to be good readers later on in life." But you already know this. Reading is an important part of a child's life or you wouldn't be working as hard as you are to create such dynamic children's reading programs.
ENVIRONMENT IS KEY
But did you also know that WHERE a child reads is just as important? The Literacy Project Foundation goes on to say that "students who choose what they read and have an informal environment in which to read tend to be more motivated, read more and show greater language and literacy development." And that's where I come in. I've been designing Youth spaces for over a decade now. And out of all the different design work I've done, Youth spaces are my absolute favorite! They are a natural breeding ground for creative ideas and colorful spaces. Adults are boring by far in comparison because with Youth spaces, the more fun you have and the freer your thinking, the more it draws them in. The typical rules of design just don't apply here. And who doesn't love to break the rules a little now and then?!
KEEP 'EM SEPARATED
The trickiest part of designing the Littles and Kids spaces are maintaining a distinct point of separation while also keeping them in the same basic location of your Library. They are often thrown together. Now if you happen to have the somewhat rare luxury of space and can literally rope off three unique and separate Youth spaces for all three age groups, then congratulations and call me! I'll would LOVE to get my hands on your Library!
But for most of my Library clients, you've got to make do with what you have and that is typically NOT a ton of space. So what I generally do is create division using furniture and shelving. The types of books are a no brainer here. You know you'll have sections of books with your EZ Readers and picture books. These won't appeal to your older kids at all most likely. And then for the Kid's area, your shelves will be filled with the age-appropriate chapter books and graphic novels. So naturally, most of your Littles are going to shy away from that section because the reading is not on their level. But here's where your furniture plays a HUGE role in keeping these spaces divided. Check out my tricks of the trade below:
1) Make sure the Littles have their own designated computer and/or device tables with chairs to play games and use some of the educational programs without having to compete with the Kids for space. This can be achieved by using colorful computer carrels with cutouts to bring some life to that space. A couple of my favorite go-tos are the TMC Working Habitat Tables CLICK HERE and the HON Empower Height Adjustable Benching CLICK HERE
2) Keep this area away from the entry/exit areas of the building if at all possible. This reduces the risk of Littles running out into the parking lot (something my littlest thought was super funny when she was 3).
3) Another thing to be mindful of is reducing nooks and crannies to a bare minimum if at all. Littles need to be in plain sight for parents and staff at all times. One might argue that the entire section could be somewhat visually blocked off from the public eye if possible, but make sure that the people who NEED to be supervising them effortlessly, can.
4) Create some really fun 1 and a Half seats for parents to be able to curl up with their Littles to read to them. I have TONS of favorites here but I'll leave you with my top two. I use the 1 1/2 Spot Tablet Arm Chair by Worden CLICK HERE or an oversized cozy chair like this Olympian 2 Seater by JSI CLICK HERE if I need a more cost-effective option. Anything similar will suffice.
5) Add some fun and charm with unique benches, stools and chairs and scatter them throughout to encourage comfy reading so they'll stay a little longer. These are fantastic options:
Zetty Perimeter Benches by TMC
Little Marquette by Leland
Solit Sit Chair by Gressco
Handy Stool by Leland
Finn Nu Bench by JSI (scroll down a bit and click on "benches"
BeSPACE Bench by JSI (Scroll down - It is absolutely stunning and you can specify it with two tones of color)
6) And speaking of color, make sure you spice up your Children's spaces with plenty of texture and color but don't overdo it on the super bold saturated colors. They will only increase hyperactivity and don't lend themselves to a relaxed reading environment.
THE CURE FOR TEEN ANGST - TEMPORARILY ANYWAY
Teens should be their OWN category of design. They require private space but without too much privacy. They want spaces to group with their friends sometimes and then sometimes they just want to bask in isolation. Not unlike cats, you want to give them good design but totally make them think it was their idea in the first place. Here are a few of my tricks of the trade:
1) Naturally you'll shelve books that they're currently reading and again, this will keep the younger patrons to their own domain.
2) Use your shelving and your furniture to create a very clearly defined space for Teens but without any hidey-holes that might lend themselves to unwanted mischief. And I'm pretty confident that "hidey-holes" is a technical Library term as one of my Library clients uses it frequently (I love her for it!). Teens need accountability but also covet their privacy.
3) I realize we're living in a Covid world right this minute, but make sure you have some gather spaces for groups that need or want to work together. These can work great for any homeschool learners anyway. Plus you'll be glad you have them when we're all snuggling and cuddling again. Well maybe no snuggling and cuddling for the teens.
4) Make sure you have creative seating that appeals to your Teen patrons. I'm currently using two types of somewhat unique seating that gets more attention than anything else we've ever used before aside from computer tables. One is the single-seater bench. The one I typically use is the Falcon Bench by Dunhill but I make sure they size it down to a single 36" seat on each side of the bench CLICK HERE. The other piece I use is sort of a custom-built systems piece that has three individual seats with desktop tables. They are all connected to form one unit while providing privacy. This image can be found at the top of this blog post.
5) Color and textures that appeal to Teens but also coordinate with your design concept are another great option. Learn more about concept design by visiting my blog on that topic HERE.
Youth design is so much fun. I really do enjoy it most out of all the designs I am blessed to work on. The best advice I can give to you is to tell you to tap into your inner creative soul. Start with some crazy and wild ideas just to get them on paper and out in the air. You can always tamp them down if need be. It's easier to tone down a little bit of crazy than it is to work your way up. And if you have any questions in the meantime, let me know. I'm here to help in any way that I can.
READY TO TAKE A CLOSER LOOK AT YOUR LIBRARY?
If you've read this and want to know where your Library's strengths and weaknesses are, then you'll definitely want to check out this FREE Library Design Assessment Worksheet and FREE Bonus Mini Course. What are you waiting for?!