Yesterday, I visited Albany Park branch library, the last stop on my tour of Chicago Public Library. Completed in 2014, it is a relatively new building. Its layout is different from the other branch libraries – providing a new prototype.
‘We reduced the shelving by 10-20% … we wanted robust collections but 20-30% is circulating anyway … and with online resources. We don’t have to have shelving in our libraries for our collections to grow. There is very little growth these days’, explains the assistant commissioner for branch libraries and services.
‘We broke up the circulation desk so it didn’t take up a huge space in the library. There is now more space for seating’, she continues. The desk is now part of the entrance of the library – patrons pass through it on their way into the library.
There are study rooms incorporated into the layout in additional the usual community room. These are somewhere people can work in a quiet space. Patrons like to use the meeting rooms to conduct interviews. They want to come in and have a reader’s circle. They even want to conduct their own business in the branch libraries.
The children’s area is the first one to incorporate the five early learning practices ‘read, write, sing, talk, play’. The layout of the area was changed at the last minute to accommodate these priorities in its design – which is evident in the playful seating and white board. The only missing feature, which children like to do, but they can’t here, is crawl over and under the furniture’, explains the librarian, responsible for children’s services at Albany Park. (So, this has been incorporated into the next prototype, the redesign of Thomas Hughes Children’s Library at the Harold Washington Library.)
The back of house of areas for staff have been reduced in size, creating space for an enclosed area for teenagers, known as ‘YouMedia’. It is a recent Chicago Public Library initiative designed to attract teenagers to the library. YouMedia is a space for ‘hanging out, messing around, and geeking out’, explains the Albany Park children’s services librarian. It has a makerspace where teenagers can be creative – they can use the laser-cutters, the 3D printers, the computers and software… The teenagers are protective of their privacy – they do not like adults entering their enclosure. They regard this as their space.
School children from the surrounding schools now drop into the library after school to do their homework. ‘We get about 50 teens a day, sometimes all at the same time, so it’s busy in here’, explains the librarian.
The new layout at Albany Park attracts an entirely new group of patrons - teenagers. They regard it as an ‘in-between’ space that is neither school nor home. It is their space to have fun.