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Making the Church Library Conducive to Learning
By: Charles Businaro

Learning in the library should be both exciting and educational. In addition to providing resources that are treasures of information, your library can create an environment that encourages learning. As you evaluate your church library, use the following checklist to determine how your library currently rates. Then, develop ideas for enhancing your library's learning environment.

1. Create an inviting place.
Your library should be fun to visit and a good place in which to learn. The entrance should be spacious with plenty of room to enter and visit. If the hallway is narrow, a recessed entrance can help create a more open entry. It should be prominently located so that even first-time visitors can easily find their way to, and into, the library. Signage adjacent to the entrance or perpendicular to the wall above the entrance will strengthen your library's identification.

A glass door with glass sidelights helps to create an open, inviting entry. Change the appearance of the entrance with seasonal decorations such as wreaths, garlands, or topiary trees on each side. The entrance also provides an ideal location to feature new media resources. Use pedestals, laminated cubes, or a narrow table to display resources. An expanse of glass or window wall along the main corridor, especially for displays or adjacent to the reading area, also creates a visual invitation.

The first contact a guest has with the library is often the staff at the circulation desk; therefore, the desk should be located near the entrance. For better eye contact and natural interaction between staff and library users, the circulation desk should face the entrance or be located to one side of the entrance. A convenient, logical location for the circulation desk will better assist guests who have questions about the location of resources, as well as which resources are available.

Finishing touches, such as the use of paint colors and accessories, aid in creating an inviting space in which to learn. Select neutral colors that enhance the learning environment. These colors should be easy to live with for several years and should have a light reflectance value of at least 70 percent. Incorporate limited accent colors to add interest. These colors should play off of other colors that occur in carpet and upholstery. Accent colors might be used at the entrance, behind the circulation desk, and in the reading area.

Once furnishings are in place, arrange art, plants, and accessories to give the space a comfortable, warm atmosphere. Choose art that is appropriate and significant for your library.

2. Plan and logically locate functional areas and furnishings.
Locate the most frequently accessed functions nearest the entrance. These functions or provisions include the circulation desk, computer terminal or card catalog, study or browsing areas, book collection, and reference materials. Place less frequently used functions and resources and quieter activities farther away from the main entrance and public areas. These functions include a viewing and training room where customers can view audiovisual materials and learn how to use library resources and equipment. This space should be separated with soundproof walls, separate light controls, and window treatments that allow the room to be darkened when needed.

An area for study or research should be away from the main traffic area but convenient to reference resources. Also plan adequately for children's groups who visit the library as well as for adult needs. Determine furnishings and space to meet these needs. Once the library resources and furnishings are properly located, provide appropriate signage to identify areas or rooms and the location of resources.

3. Provide a user-friendly environment.
To make your library conducive to learning, the space should also be user-friendly. A user-friendly library contains logically arranged services and resources. Ease in use will encourage learners to visit your library regularly. Enlist the assistance of friends with library experience from another church library to evaluate your library.

Provide ample space for guests to enter, walk, browse, and linger to read. A minimum entry should be four feet wide, and circulation space (space between bookshelves) should also be at least four feet. More space is desirable in larger libraries. A good balance between the space required for guests, media, and equipment should be planned and incorporated.

4. Develop space that addresses the furnishings needs of library users.
Provide for specialized needs of all ages and abilities. Although well-planned, designs that provide for physical needs often go unnoticed, inadequately accommodated needs are noticed almost immediately.

Library furniture should be planned and purchased to meet the specialized needs of learners who come to your library. Furniture should be of standardized sizes, modular, well-constructed, and easily expanded in the future. Provide an adequate number of tables, study carrels, and chairs to meet research needs of adults, youth, and children. Home school and church school needs should be considered.

Tables should be at comfortable heights for learners of various ages: 29 inches from the floor for adults, 27 inches for ages 8-11, and 25 inches for the youngest users. Tables should also be sized to meet user needs while allowing adequate and accessible circulation space around them. Tables are available in 42-48 inches diameter and rectangular sizes of 30-36 inches by 60-72 inches.

Provide study carrels for privacy and adequate work surfaces. Units are available at 24 to 36 inches deep. As you decide on the appropriate depth, consider your library's computer needs and future plans.

Chairs should be sized to meet the needs of all ages, and chair seats should be 10 inches below tabletops. Select chairs designed to meet the ergonomic needs of learners in your library. These chairs provide comfortable, adjustable seats that are adequate from front to back and in height. Back support should occur in the appropriate location and should be adjustable. Chair arms provide arm and back support and will be most comfortable if adjustable. Learners who stay for extended periods of time or use computers will appreciate these comfortable features. For handicapped accessibility, incorporate stackable chairs that can be easily removed to accommodate a wheelchair.

5. Provide well-designed and constructed space.
Adequate lighting of about 60 foot-candles should be planned for your library space. Foot-candles are measured by a special meter and should be measured from the reading/research surface. The size, type, and spacing of light fixtures contribute to an adequate light level for reading. In addition to adequate, evenly distributed lighting, select light fixtures that do not create glare, such as fluorescent fixtures with parabolic diffusers.

Install adequate electrical and data cable connections to support computer requirements. Once the arrangement of space is determined, the location for electrical and cable connections can easily be determined.

Use natural light from exterior windows to support light requirements. Windows, however, can also create glare and fade media. Include window light control such as mini-blinds to regulate the amount of exterior light coming into the library.

Heating and cooling play a significant role in keeping a library comfortable for both users and media. Generally, temperatures and conditions that are comfortable for people are good for media. Heating and cooling controls should be separate or connected to the church office since both spaces will be in operation at similar times.

With your space and furnishings specifically planned for learners and your staff eager to be of assistance, your church library will be conducive for learning.

This article is courtesy of Lifeway, www.lifeway.com.

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