Libraries: Beyond the Shelves

The library team has the absolute pleasure of visiting libraries of all sizes all around the country. Recently, we traveled to Richland Library in Columbia, SC. We visited with staff members and toured their wonderful Richland Library Main. As we often are when we visit our library partners, we were amazed at the busy environments and inviting spaces. If you haven’t been to your local library lately, get there soon! They’re definitely not just “buildings full of books.”

Richland Library, Columbia, SC

Just a few steps into the sun-dappled beauty coming from the huge glass windows, surrounded by the paintings of local artists, you know you are in for a wonderful experience. You can faintly smell the books as your eyes fall on the café area where up and coming chefs feature locally-sourced food. This space is different. It’s different from the library you remember from long ago where it was all books, all the time – all quiet, all the time. There is a buzz here. A buzz of productivity, community, family, and yes a buzz from electronic devices being used to job search, create resumes, learn computer programs, code and create. Today’s library: the welcoming space for all, and far more than just books.

Richland Library’s Business, Careers and Research Center is unique in that it provides career coaching from certified Career Development Facilitators along with a dedicated space housing all the tools you need to get the job done. Not only can you find assistance with the whole job search process here, but nearly every computer terminal is being used by patrons, and as we look closely we even spy “professional dress” mannequins posing proudly in the Career Classroom to offer guidance on outfit selection for work and interview prep.

Opposite of the Career Classroom and computer terminals, we find the Family Space, subtly enveloped by a half-height wall, where parents of young children can work on the computer while their children stay by their side, entertained by a variety of educational toys.

Riding the escalators down a level, we come upon studio spaces for hands-on, adult education classes, known in many libraries as “Makerspaces.” We find what looks to be a woodworking or cabinetry class taking place, a saw on the table with tools and materials lining the walls. In another room there was a whole lot of crafting happening. The participants were all very engaged in the tasks at hand. It was pretty amazing to see miter saw instruction taking place in a library! No, this isn’t just a building full of books.

As parents and educators, we started bouncing on the balls of our feet in anticipation of the bottom floor: the Children and Teen areas! Talk about a space to engage young minds!

When we stepped off the escalator, it felt like stepping into a story book. The bright, colorful walls open your eyes to so many possibilities: reading, studying, playing, hide-and-seek amongst the trees…yes, trees in the library! The amazing visuals complement the different sections of the area that include the Craft Area and computers, toy tables and a listening-center, Baby Space and books, all with a backdrop of “monsters.” Our host shared the story of an amazing mural taking right out of Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. Thanks to a great connection with this famous author, the back wall of the Children’s Room boasts the only Sendak-authorized mural of his work, produced by Michael Hagen, Mr. Sendak’s stage and set designer. The Children’s Room is a space that can’t really be described with words. You have to FEEL it to truly understand how magical it is.

On the other side of the lower level, in a space where kids can be kids, we enter the Teen Center. It’s a pretty sweet space that we were told fills up quickly on a daily basis. It’s easy to see why! In every area of the Teen Center, you will find something to capture the interest of growing minds. Books and beautiful murals on the left, an amazing Craft Room on the right that houses everything from popsicle sticks to a 3D printer. The gaming room for teens was second to none with its 72-inch flat screen, comfy chairs and gaming consoles. What a fantastic space for teens to socialize, stay out of trouble and engage in such a popular pastime!  Computers, chess boards, foosball, cornhole, a stage…the list of activities, learning and passive programs available seemed to go on forever. No shushing happening here.

While we visited the library, activity was found on all levels in each nook and cranny, along with smiling faces. There were no empty computers to be found and in fact, there was a “ticketing” system in place allowing for people to take a number for the next available computer!

Visit your library! See what has changed, find the magic spaces, find out what programs they offer for learning something new and don’t forget to look beyond the shelves.

Stay tuned for more stories from beyond the shelves as we visit other libraries! 

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