A library went viral for having baby cribs attached to its desks. The single mom behind it says she wanted the library to serve entire families.
Barbara F. Weedman is the library director of Henrico County Public Library in Virginia.
She wanted work-play stations that kept kids entertained while parents used computers.
She said the idea immediately took off.
When Barbara Weedman was a single mom to her now grown son, she noticed how difficult it was to parent in public spaces that weren't designed with families in mind.
"I know how challenging it can be for caregivers to access things that are welcoming for them, much less intentionally designed for them, in public places," Weedman told Insider.
At the Henrico County Public Library, where Weedman is the director, she saw the same issue. Parents and caregivers would come to the library and struggle to use the computers while balancing a baby on their lap or keeping track of a busy toddler.
In 2017, when the library started building a new location, Weedman had an idea for work-play stations that would give parents computer access and a safe place to contain their baby or child. She worked with the community and a design group to bring the idea to life, and when the Fairfield Area Library opened in 2019, the Computer Work and Play Stations were ready.
"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 said. "It was gratifying to see that the design was immediately intuitive."
For Matt Hansen, a local dad with a 2-year-old daughter, the Work and Play Stations are the perfect solution for when he needs to do some work but not enough to call in a babysitter or other caregiver.
"A couple of times a week, I need to hold some office hours to knock out some emails, place inventory orders, and take care of the many other things that require me to sit down at a computer to accomplish," Hansen said. "It's amazing to have access to something like that."
The stations give caregivers a chance to access the internet
For Hansen, whose mom watches his daughter often, the Work and Play Stations are a convenient option. But for other caregivers, they're critical. The Fairfield Area Library serves a predominantly Black neighborhood with many intergenerational homes, Weedman says.
"These caregivers may not have internet access at home, or they may just need a quiet place away from home to get a little work done," she said. "People with all different kinds of needs use these workstations, just like how people with all different kinds of needs use the library."
Hansen says that the stations make it easier to accomplish tasks that can seem impossible when you're caring for a child.
"Whether you're answering emails and placing quick orders like me, or just need access to a computer to job hunt, pay bills or whatever you need, having the ability to put your kid in a safe place at arms reach where they can be occupied and not be strapped to your side for free is an amazing thing," he said.
In January 2022, Ali Faruk, the policy director for Families Forward Virginia, tweeted a picture of the workstations. The message went viral and led to national press attention.
"At first, we were surprised to see them go viral and some of the impassioned responses online," Weedman said. "But then we understood that people with small children were happy to feel seen and considered in a public space."
Since then, Weedman and the library have heard from many other organizations and individuals who want to install similar Work and Play Stations, including libraries, universities, and even parents who work from home.
Still, Hansen would like to see greater awareness about the stations. They are rarely full on the days he uses them, he said.
"I wish more people knew about them. I feel like libraries would need sign-up sheets with time slots and have time limits on how much you could use them if they were more well known," he said.
The stations allow the library to support whole families, not just kids
For Weedman, the function of the Work and Play Stations are in line with the greater mission of the library: to allow people to access information and learning.
"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 said.
Children's rooms at the library often focus on literacy, which is important, she said. But these stations add to that by serving not only children, but their parents and caregivers.
"Parents and caregivers of children have information needs of their own," she said. "The public library can be a crucial source of computer access to caregivers who don't have internet or computers at home. For anyone seeking a career change, reentering the workforce, or starting a small business, computer access can be critical to their lives and livelihoods."
The reality is that many families with children need to complete those tasks with their kids in tow.
"We believe people shouldn't need to arrange childcare just to visit us and use the computers," she said. "We want intergenerational groups to visit us all together, and we want the library to meet all their needs at once."
As for Hansen, he's eager to help raise awareness about the Work and Play Stations.
"I can't emphasize enough how amazing it is to have access to something like these as a public service," he said.
Read the original article on Insider