Parents know how difficult it can be to get work done while keeping an eye on a little one. Wrangling a toddler or infant and shooting off a few emails is already difficult at home, but it’s next to impossible in a public space. In fact, the staff at Fairfield Area Library in Herico County, Virginia, often saw parents of young children struggling to use the computer stations in their adult reading room. Feeling that creating an inclusive environment for the entire family was important, the library's director Barbara Weedman reached out to TMC Furniture to solve the problem.
Finding a way to allow parents of infants and toddlers to work peacefully without having to pay for childcare is an issue particularly close to Weedman's heart. As a single parent of a now-grown son, she has firsthand experience of what it's like to parent in a public space that isn't designed for families.
So Michigan-based design firm TMC Furniture stepped in, working with an architect and interior designer to create a desk with an attached play area for children. The enclosed space is filled with didactic panels that help keep children engaged so parents can focus on their work while knowing their child is within arm's reach.
The Fairfield Parent + Child Carrels have been in use since the new library opened in 2019 and are greatly appreciated by the community. “On opening day, a mother with an infant and a small child sat down at a Work and Play Station to use the computer and placed her children in the carrel—without having received any direction from staff,” Weedman shared. “It was gratifying to see that the design was immediately intuitive.”
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For many caregivers in the neighborhood, the workstations are a critical part of allowing them to work or study. Weedman is quick to point out that many in the area don't have access to the internet at home, making the public library essential. Now, more people are catching on to the idea, especially since a 2022 tweet by the policy director for Families Forward Virginia went viral.
Since the original design in 2019, TMC Furniture has continued to improve the workstation. It now offers a second family workstation with a more open sight line in addition to the original model. Other institutions, including the University of Michigan, have begun installing the workstation. The university included a family workstation in their Shapiro Student Parent and Caregiver Study Room, which is designed to help student parents focus on their studies while keeping their children close.
For Weedman, she takes joy in seeing this simple idea to make parents' lives easier take off. And she hopes that it will encourage other libraries to think of creative ways to serve their communities.
“These Work and Play Stations are just another way libraries can be supportive, a piece of infrastructure that helps meet information needs and makes our spaces more accessible and inclusive for caregivers of small children,” she shared, noting that computer access can be a critical part of many people's lives and livelihoods.
“We believe people shouldn't need to arrange childcare just to visit us and use the computers,” she continued. “We want intergenerational groups to visit us all together, and we want the library to meet all their needs at once.”
A library in Virginia asked TMC Furniture to create a desk that would make it easier for parents and caregivers to use the internet while looking after their small children.