Libraries across US install 'cubicles' for parents who need to study but can't find childcare

Child-friendly library cubicle decorated with vibrant illustrations of anthropomorphic apples, featuring a desktop computer set on a wooden desk.

In the United States, formal childcare is unaffordable for the majority of parents and 14 million households don’t have internet access. For people positioned smack dab in the Venn diagram of both, public libraries can truly be a life-changing resource. 

But it can be difficult to study for an exam, look up an article, print off a recipe, and more when you have a baby on your hip or a stroller-straddling toddler to tend to. 

Fortunately, “family workstation” cubicles have been making their way to libraries across the nation. Each desk has a built in play area for an infant or toddler to sit in while their parent works beside them. 

Child-friendly library cubicle decorated with vibrant illustrations of anthropomorphic apples, featuring a desktop computer set on a wooden desk.
Photo courtesy of Plano Public Library/YouTube

One of those libraries includes the Mansfield Richland County Public Library in Ohio. For the librarians, installing the workstations was a no-brainer. 

“Anything that makes life simpler for caregivers is extremely important,” library director Chris May told the Richland Source. “We want them to not only feel welcome at the library, but to be able to use it.”  

“Having that computer access — whether it’s applying for jobs, whether it’s signing up for social services, checking email or even printing off boarding passes – if they can get it done easier than they could get it done before, I think that’s a win.”

Child-friendly library cubicle decorated with vibrant illustrations of anthropomorphic apples, featuring a desktop computer set on a wooden desk.
Photo courtesy of Plano Public Library/YouTube

In most libraries, the family workstation desks are located near the children’s play area, making it convenient for parents to keep an eye on their kids if they have to bring little ones and older kids along on the same library errand.

“The idea was having it near the play area,” said MRCPL children’s librarian Kinsey Landin. “That way if they have different-aged kids, maybe an older kid can be playing in the play area, they have their little one here beside them and then maybe even older kids on the computers.” 

At the MRCPL, the workstation play areas have a padded floor, a mirror, and flowery illustrations. Nearly identical cubicles can be found in four libraries across the country, with slight alterations. 

Child-friendly library cubicle decorated with vibrant illustrations of anthropomorphic apples, featuring a desktop computer set on a wooden desk.
Photo courtesy of Plano Public Library/YouTube

At Haggard Library in Plano, Texas, the workstations swapped flowers for “peek-a-boo walls.” In Washington-Centerville Public Library in Yellow Springs, Ohio, they have learning panels with “pat-a-cake” rhymes and interactive clock games for the kids. 

For WCPL library director Liz Fultz, the workstations were a natural solution to an everyday problem that many public libraries encounter. 

“We frequently see parents and caregivers in the library with small children,” Fultz told WYSO. “They’ll be sitting at a computer with their child in a stroller. Understandably, kids can get a little restless when they're just strapped in a stroller.”

Public libraries remain indispensable solutions for countless parents — especially ones that double as students — who don’t have the luxury of using a computer at home while they bounce a baby on their lap.

For many people, the cubicles are a major source of relief. 

“We want to be supportive of parents and provide things that the community wants and needs,” said Fultz.

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May 13, 2024 12:24 PM
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