As libraries position themselves less as a place just for books and more as community centers, designers are beginning to get creative in how to make spaces as inclusive and family friendly as possible.
The 44,803-sf, Quinn Evans-designed Fairfield Area Library in Henrico County, Va., has a simple new feature that the firm says is the first of its kind in the country and hopes it will go a long way in creating a family-friendly library space.
Quinn Evans collaborated with TMC Furniture to create four custom workstations meant for library patrons and their children. The workstations feature an adult-sized desk for the parent or caregiver attached to a play space outfitted with activities to support early learning.
The four workstations, dubbed The Fairfield, are located in the children’s area on the second floor so parents and caregivers can also watch any older children they may have reading and playing nearby. As parents or caregivers sit at the desk and use the computer, small children can be placed in the attached play space (think a motorcycle with a sidecar), which is easily observable from the desk area. The play spaces, which have been designed for infants and toddlers up to two years of age, feature a mirror at the lowest level and a series of interactive learning panels above. A durable vinyl mat, which can be easily wiped down, cushions the bottom of the play space.
The four custom workstations feature attached play spaces designed for infants and toddlers, with a mirror at the lowest level and a series of interactive learning panels above. Photo: Chris Cunningham, courtesy of Quinn Evans.
Library staff can switch out the panels as desired to provide a variety of content from day to day.
The play space’s exterior panels are designed with a woodland scene, and the materials and colors of The Fairfield complement the aesthetics of the library interior, integrating them into the overall design scheme. Perforated circles in varying shapes allow babies to peek out of the play space while also echoing the curvilinear, organic shapes prevalent throughout the children’s area. Wooden panels separate the workstations, giving each user privacy, but still allowing them to see the child in the attached play area.
The vinyl mat and the maple finish on the workstations are non-toxic and can stand up to frequent cleanings while a gate on the play area further simplifies access and cleaning efforts.
When the library opened in October 2019, The Fairfield immediately became a hit among patrons with children. “One woman, who came to the reception with an infant and young child, said ‘I’m going to be in the library all the time because you’ve got a place for me.’ We were excited to be able to create something that supports the library’s goals while also complementing the overall design vision for the space,” said Shannon Wray, CID, LEED AP, Senior Associate with Quinn Evans.