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Designing for Teens: What Should a Library Space Look Like?

By: Jennifer Seebauer, Librarian, Teays Valley Middle Schools

Designing a library space for preteens is definitely a challenge.  They are part child and part adult and these two sides fight for control of the brain and in turn their actions. A library space must support this transition from child to adult.  It also must function as a learning space that provides for student choice. These two aspects can sometimes be at odds.

My library is a highly trafficked area with each ELA class coming to the library at least one, if not 2 days a week.  The library must have spaces for small group, large group & individual work. This doesn’t include the traffic from the various groups & committees (both student & staff) that meet in the library before or after school.

After my second year in my brand new library, I realized that I needed to redesign the library.  It was impersonal and very institutional. Neither are very appealing, nor welcoming to preteens.  As I continued my plight to make all students readers, I needed to make the library a space they wanted to visit and felt like it was their space.  I also needed to not discourage teachers from using the library as a classroom as well.

Before talking about redesigning options, let’s talk about the non-negotiables of my space.  The wall configuration is a bit, well, wonky for lack of a quality construction term. The room is mostly a rectangle; mostly as the corners of the room are not 90 degrees.  It is wider at one end than the other. One wall is all exterior windows; two walls are bookshelves. The fourth wall is a mix of windows and shelves. There are also low shelves taking up nearly half the floor space.  The projector falls from the ceiling at the small end of the room. It’s not the ideal room.

Taking this all into consideration: the space physical limitations, the students’ needs & the demands of the space, I looked at the space and began slowly reconfiguring it.  If I wanted the library to feel like the teens’ space, it needed some work. It began small — two bean bag chairs and a carpet.   

This became one of the most popular spots in the library.  Students, no matter the age, wanted to sit there! They would sit or lay on the chairs and quietly work.  Truth be told, there were fewer disruptions from the students sitting here than at the conventional table & chairs.  This was the sign I needed to add more alternative seating options.

The next addition were the two recliners.  These were probably not my best purchases as they are not as durable as needed for pre-teens.  Nothing has broken but the fabric is definitely showing wear and the frame frequently needs the bolts tightened.  These recliners, like the bean bags & carpet, were purchased using my Scholastic Dollars. When taking this risk of changing the furniture, I needed to use monies I had earned.  This is why I was limited to Scholastic. The next few changes were thankfully free.

While students wanted to sit in these two areas, it was limited seating.  However, there was a bonus to the lack of alternative seating. It opened up the concept of sitting on the floor.  My students had previously been hesitant to sit on the floor — the library is fully carpeted — but with the space evolving to reflect them, the floor became an option. This was the best alternative seating option as it was free.

Some students struggled to work in these seats as there was not a desk surface.  An easy addition was the purchase of clipboards. The students all know where they are and help themselves if they would like one.  

The summer of 2016 was a big reconfiguration in the library.  With the addition of more Chromebooks, two of my computer tables were now tables, albeit tables with holes in them.  This provided an opportunity to remove some of the tables as the library now had too many tables. Thankfully my principal agreed to this (and thankfully a teacher wanted some of the tables I was removing).   I did add some traditional classroom desks when I removed the tables. If the goal was to give students a place they preferred, why not have traditional desks that some students prefer? Students group them but will also separate them to have an individual work area.  Again, this was wonderfully free options that made a huge difference in the space.  

Other furniture additions included a high top table, two rocking chairs and three tall stools and two short stools.  The library is now 50% traditional

seating (tables with chairs or student desks) and 50% non-traditional seating. These items were all purchased from Demco. While these items were costly, I knew they would be durable.  Funds were procured by sponsoring a school dance and grant writing to our Boosters and Educational Foundation.

The space is now open, inviting and cozy.  While the room is still a lopsided rectangle, the library has a spot for every student.  It has also increased student ownership of the library. They value this space and aren’t willing to have others make a mess of “their library”.  The biggest change has been the mind-shift for students and staff that the library seating is not permanent.  It can easily be moved and reconfigured. This was the hardest part of the remodel: nothing is permanently fixed and that was intentional. The space is meant to be lived in.