Posted by: bluesyemre | March 30, 2022

#AcademicLibraries add space for student parents

McKeldin Library’s Family Study Room at the McKeldin Library, University of Maryland, College Park
Courtesy of University of Maryland University Libraries/Antonya Huntenburg da Silva

Most public libraries feature family-friendly spaces: rooms where young children can play or read quietly, stocked with toys, digital media, or books. Recently, some academic libraries have been inspired to model similar spaces on their college campuses. Seeking to support students who are parents or caregivers, many college libraries are working to create more inclusive spaces with child-friendly resources. The needs of full-time caregivers are different from those of other students, as they require spaces conducive to studying and doing research while watching their children.

Not all libraries have taken the same approach to creating family-friendly study rooms. Library Journal interviewed the library deans from University of Maryland (UMD), Iowa State University (ISU), and Portland Community College (PCC), OR, to learn about their innovative and unique approaches for meeting the needs of students who are full-time caregivers.

Rachel Gammons, head of teaching and learning services at UMD Libraries, was personally inspired to create the family study room. “I walked by a patron with two small children in our main campus library. She was typing with one hand while holding a baby with the other and trying to wrangle a toddler into playing quietly under a computer desk and I just realized, ‘We can fix this,’” she said. “For years, I had seen patrons who brought small children with them to the library. The caregivers were always visibly stressed from trying to keep their children quiet and contained in a space that was not built for them or their families. We had the facilities, resources, and the need to create a special space that would honor the unique needs and experiences of caregivers. Once we identified the problem, it was an easy decision to move forward.”

Other schools were more formalized in their approach. Iowa State University’s dean of library services Hilary Seo told LJ, “In the fall of 2019, President Wendy Wintersteen formed a University Childcare Taskforce to study the issue and draft recommendations. As part of the study, a student survey identified a need for spaces on campus where students can bring their children without feeling out of place or disruptive.”

At Portland, the concept came from a student leader who represented the Associated Students of PCC. Dean Michelle Bagley explained that student input was solicited when the library campus was undergoing a remodel.

To remodel academic spaces to be more child-friendly, libraries rearranged furniture and added resources such as child-sized furniture, colorful rugs, throw pillows, art easels, other drawing surfaces, and books. All family-friendly rooms kept the traditional elements of group study rooms—tables, comfortable furniture, and computer workstations—but some required more extensive renovation. Several libraries child-proofed their spaces, covering outlets, adding adjustable height workstations, removing indoor blinds, and adding vinyl window coverings to limit visibility into the space. Both UMD and ISU made more structural changes to their physical spaces, including relocating lactation rooms and adding changing tables to the bathrooms on the floors that held family-friendly spaces.

To finance these changes, most libraries had to move beyond the limitations of their own budgets and explore alternate funding. Gammons explained that, at UMD, the library staff applied to the UMD Student Facilities Fund, a campus-wide initiative to provide funding for student-supported facilities projects and improvements that will positively impact and enhance the student experience. At ISU, the library, in partnership with the University WorkLife & Family Services, has been funded through a four-year Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Since 2001, ISU has received a total of 5 four-year CCAMPIS grants, totaling nearly $3,3 million. 80% of their current grant of $996,216, goes toward child care tuition subsidies for ISU student parents with children enrolled at their campus centers; the remaining 20% goes to salaries, benefits, supplies, and indirect costs.

Most libraries spent around $200 to $400 to purchase family-friendly materials that can be checked out. At ISU, one campus offers a family-friendly room, and the three other campuses simply offer these resources for circulation. UMD provides “family kits,” which are children’s backpacks filled with books and toys. PCC offers room kits that include more digital technology, including a Leapfrog tablet with power cord, a bag with memory card game pieces, a bag with puzzle pieces, a whiteboard lapboard with dry erase markers and eraser, and family-friendly books.

Although the pandemic has impacted the use of these spaces, most campuses hope to further develop them and provide more programming in the future. Expansion is on the horizon at ISU, as the Family Friendly Room was seen as a pilot project; tracking usage has Seo hopeful that the library will get data to support expanding the program.

As for UMD, Gammons commented, “Right now, it exists as a passive resource (which is wonderful!), but there are so many opportunities to involve campus partners and help to build community for our campus caregivers. I am hoping that when vaccinations become available for children under five, and we slowly start returning to more normal social engagement, that we will be able to curate more education, community, and outreach opportunities for our parent students.”

Other campuses that currently have family friendly study rooms include the University of Utah, Salt Lake City; Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau; University of North Carolina Charlotte; Youngstown State University, OH; and Portland State University, OR.

These libraries and librarians at UMD, PCC, and ISU are demonstrating what it looks like to support and meet the needs of non-traditional students.

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