Way before COVID-19 made its presence known, it had often been said that working parents have more than one full-time job—the pandemic only crammed these jobs together. It’s a problem that the Henrico County Public Library considered when its Fairfield branch was due for a US$29 million revival back in 2019.
In hopes to make the community feel welcome at the new building, the facility asked the public to describe the library they wanted. It noticed a rising trend: Visitors weren’t just at the library to pick up a book anymore; they were also using it as a place for family bonding.
The library in this predominantly-Black suburban neighborhood also happens to see “the highest usage of computers of any other facility in the county,” said Shannon Wray, interior designer at architecture firm Quinn Evans, via Curbed. Accessibility to computers is one thing, but the library also observed too often that patrons would have their young children sat on their knee as they fumbled to work.
“We kept seeing this problem,” noted Patty Conway, the branch’s community relations coordinator.
“If they have a small child, they’d have to hold them on their knee and really struggle to balance their child-care needs with their needs to use the computer.”
So when the library’s staff brainstormed with Wray—along with husband-and-wife furniture design duo TMC—and came up with workstations that would support both the schedules of parents and the short attention spans of their little ones, guests “made a beeline” for the desks as soon as they were installed in October 2019, the library’s director Barbara Weedman recounted to the Washington Post.
The four child-friendly carrels, strategically set up near the kid’s section on the second floor, each comprise a desk with a computer on one side and a playpen with a soft, healthcare-grade vinyl mat on the other. Within the line of sight of the caregiver, an infant or toddler can fiddle around with the space’s mirror, swappable interactive panels, and peek-a-boo holes. A latch keeps the young user from escaping from the pen.
Image via TMC Furniture
The desks feature a maple veneer plywood finish and a nontoxic sealant that can withstand frequent disinfecting sessions.
Janelle Witcher, a single mother of four and a once-regular of the library, had stopped visiting so often as she struggled with keeping an eye on her children while working on the computers. The addition of a second computer lab surprised her when she returned for the first time in 2020.
“It was so beautiful. It just made my heart melt,” she told the Post. “Even if it was only for 15 minutes, I knew I could still get on a computer to do something.” She said that the gesture for parents made her feel “empowered” and “supported.”
Thankfully, the design is available for homes too, and TMC has released two main versions of it—with configurations possible—on its website. Apparently, the furniture firm is receiving requests from clients spanning all sorts of industries.
Public spaces available and accessible to all are so important. This is how we strengthen families and create a culture and community that values children.
— Ali Faruk (@FamiliesFwdVA) January 22, 2022
Even though the workstations were introduced before the pandemic, their accessible design particularly speaks volumes in the era of remote work, where parents are made to deal with two types of bosses at the same time.
“We are at a time where, more than ever, people are juggling lots of things,” Weedman posited. “Everyone understands the challenge even better now after the pandemic. How do you balance working on your computer if you have a toddler who can’t go to daycare that day?”
This content was originally published here.