Focus on Pediatrics: Create child-friendly space in family libraries

Toys and storybooks provide welcoming atmosphere

Children who visit The Family Library at Egles-ton, which is part of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, always are delighted by what they see, says Arlen Gray, MA, family library coordinator. That’s because the library is designed with kids in mind.

The reading and activity table is about the height of a child and the chairs are miniature too. In addition, a railroad track runs around the table and the chairs, painted in primary colors, look like train cars. Plastic baby dolls with molded hair sit at the table.

Children’s books are kept on low bookcases with those appropriate for very young children on the bottom shelf. In a separate display case, books lay flat so that the covers show and children easily can pick up the book to read. "If the books are in a case in the ordinary way with the spines out, a child will have trouble getting hold of them and pulling them out," explains Gray.

A toy nook at the back of the library is filled with plastic toys in bright colors, such as dump trucks, trains, a tea set, animals, and a ring set. Gray and library volunteers monitor the activity in the play nook and disinfect the toys after young children put items in their mouth or children are coughing in the area.

It’s important for resource centers or family libraries to accommodate children, especially if there is a pediatric wing at the health care facility where it is located. "They need to have a pediatric section or a book nook on the wing itself. It makes so much difference to have entertainment materials for the children in any hospital setting because once they start feeling better, they need something to help them pass the time," says Gray.

At The Family Library at Egleston, about 15% of the book collection are titles to entertain children. There also are video selections that families can watch quietly at the library while waiting for test results or to pass the time when a sibling is in surgery. These items also can be checked out and taken back to the hospital room.

If a child is in isolation, one-way books, which are selections children take home with them upon discharge, are available. When a child-life specialist checks out a video for a child in isolation, the cardboard box stays outside the room and the video case and box are wiped with disinfectant before the video is returned to the library.

When children are well enough, they like to come to the library and make their own selections; therefore, the facility is wheelchair-accessible with a wide doorway and furniture pushed back against the walls so there is room to maneuver. The hospital also has red wagons with blankets and cushions that parents use to transport younger children to the library, and aisles need to accommodate these as well.

While the library clearly is a place for children, it also is a place for parents and other family members to come for educational materials and to research a specific diagnosis. About 60% of the material is for adults and about 25% is educational materials for different age groups. "We have a large proportion of children’s cancer books," says Gray.

The children’s area with child-sized furniture and lots of toys provides a place of entertainment while parents do their research. The library also is a place for children to go when they need to get away from their hospital room for a while. However, in both instances, children know it was designed for them.

"When they come around the corner, their eyes always light up because they see it is clearly a place for children," says Gray.