It Takes Blood, Sweat, and Pom-Poms to Re-Design a Children’s Room

23 May

As my legions 2 or 3 loyal readers already know, I left the children’s room of our Central Library in late October to take the helm of a branch library, the Williamsburgh Branch.  I decided almost immediately upon arriving that the children’s room was due for a major overhaul.  The space was crowded with furniture, practically none of it was child-sized, and the shelves were too high for children to reach the books they wanted.  It wasn’t comfortable or accessible and I noticed families were bypassing spending a lot of time in there.

True story.  I had a class of first graders visiting back in March.  As I shepherded them into ‘The Children’s Room That Should Look Like a Children’s Room, But Looked Like a Bank ca. 1913’ a boy in the class looked up at me and asked, “Isn’t this the adult room?”  Out of the mouths of babes, readers!  I told him to come back in a month or so to see how different the room was going to look.

I talk a lot about the library being a ‘destination’, a place valued within the community as somewhere to read, explore, discover, learn, be challenged, or find comfort and safety.  Talking is fine but it only goes so far.  What library patrons see and experience when they walk over the library threshold has a lot to do with how often they come back.  Granted, it’s not only space that bolsters these feelings of trust and value in the community.  It’s also having friendly, knowledgeable, and professional staff and volunteers.  And offering both core and innovative programs.  And making library services and policies clear and easy to navigate.  And the library experience can also be enjoyed digitally.  And…well the list goes on and on and on.

We’re dealing with space in this post, and it’s time for the big reveal of what we’ve done!  Below is the children’s room (yawn) as it used to be…

The Old Children's Room.  Ginormous tables everywhere you turn.

The Old Children’s Room. Ginormous tables everywhere you turn.

And here it is last Tuesday!  We still have some work to do, but it is definitely sporting more of a Children’s Room vibe.



Let’s go into more detail, shall we?


Every shelf in the room was adjusted downward so children can see what they contain.  Previously, the bottom shelves were not housing books, but they were at least 18 inches in height.  It inevitably made the top shelves unreachable to all but the most vertically endowed.  Some of the top shelves were at my eye-level, and I am a tall lady, 5 foot 10.

A paper towel roll fills in here as a visual aid.

A roll of paper towels illustrates this shelf’s change of height.

After the downward shift, I whipped up shelf labels using a similar technique to the ones I made for the adult room.  I started with a rectangle in Microsoft Publisher which I gave a funky checkerboard border.  The lettering is Word Art where I removed the fill color and made the outlines thick and black.  Then I pulled out the colored pencils and went to work.

E Reader Sign

Picture Book Label

Shifting all of those shelves downward was strenuous enough.  Happily, we did not have to move the collections around too much.  We did weed the non-fiction to make room for the children’s DVD’s, which were previously shelved at the end of the adult DVD collection.  I’ve always wanted a DVD sign made with discarded DVD’s.

DVD shelves

DVD Closeup

Ooh, shiny!

Finally, we removed the parenting books from the adult non-fiction collection (I have big plans for adult non-fiction.  Stay posted!) and set them up in the children’s room.

Parenting Books

We kept these shelves at a grown-up height.


The massive rectangular tables in the Before picture above were 3 feet by 6 feet and stood 3 1/2 feet tall.  They took up a lot of real estate in the children’s room and I wouldn’t be surprised if your average six-year-old perceived something like this upon approaching them…

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

We swapped out these tables for round ones with a smaller surface area.  One of our branches was renovating its own children’s room (Stone Avenue: take a look at this New York Times article for a history lesson and to see how beautifully it turned out).  We pounced on a couple of toddler sized table and chair sets they were giving away, and along with an Eric Carle carpet we already had, we created a First Five Years space by the picture books.  We plan to introduce more toys and sensory/literacy activities in the future.


More toys coming soon.

More toys coming soon.

Fireplace Reading Nook

Here’s the part of the re-design that I am most pleased with.  It’s an area in front of the fireplace that we turned into a reading nook.

Fireplace Nook

The couch and table were brought down from the staff area.  It is not the most charming couch out there in the world of library furniture, but it is sturdy and comfortable and it’s what we had on hand.

Don't hate on my couch.

Don’t hate on my couch.

The garland is images of books glued onto cardboard, and the lettering and stars are some glitter stickers we had lying around.

Fireplace Garland 1

Fireplace Garland 2

The items on top of the mantel are objects and mementos from well-known children’s books.  We have:

  • A framed picture of Beezus’ candy dragon from Beezus and Ramona.

Beezus Dragon

  • Jack’s notebook from The Magic Tree House series.

Jack's Notebook

  • Framed family pictures.

Fireplace Portraits

  • This Horton Hears a Who needlepoint sampler involved neither needle or thread.  It was all done on the computer!  I downloaded a free cross-stitch font and typed the words against this image, which I set as a background in my document.  Print in color and it looks just like you spent hours lovingly embroidering every stitch yourself (not really…)

Horton Sampler

Here’s an image of the PDF, without glare or the reflection of my big head in the photograph above.

Horton Quote

  • A Hogwarts House Cup.  This is a stainless steel bowl, an empty packaging tape spool, and a plastic container used to hold paintbrushes that were slathered with 3 (maybe 4) layers of glitter and Mod Podge.  Super-glue a crest and nameplate printed out from the computer, and Vernon’s your uncle.

House Cup 1

House Cup 2

The House Cup dismantled.

The Final Decorative Touches

  • Remember the boring green lampshades?  My colleague Hanna glued glass marbles on them.  Now they look like cute bejeweled apple trees.


  • Hanna’s the plant person.  She brought these down from the staff area (a lot of the staff area is being repurposed in the coming months and all this stuff needs new places to perch).  All of the plants are well out of reach of curious toddler hands.



  • Finally, the coup de grace, pom-pom garlands!  The entire staff reports when we work on Saturdays.  There’s a lot of downtime, and one of the things we’ve been doing to fill it is string these pom-pom garlands.  We managed to make three strings that span the width of the ceiling.  I helped our custodian Randell hang them on a Tuesday morning (he did 95% of the work).  We thought it would be a peaceful time to do it, but it turned out to be a morning of constant interruption.  We had a team installing new phones, the fire inspector dropped in, and every single vendor in Brooklyn, NY decided they needed to make their deliveries to us that morning.  No matter.  We got it done and I feel happy and cheerful every time I look at our pom-poms.

pom 1

Pom-poms abandoned.  The doorbell must have rung for the 75th time that morning.

Pom-poms abandoned. The doorbell must have just rung for the 75th time.

Ignore the peeling paint and look at the pretty pom-poms.

Ignore the peeling paint and look at the pretty pom-poms.

pom 4

pom 5

pom 6

I am so happy we got this done before summer started and I am super-proud of our staff.  They came up with some great ideas and were more than willing to roll up their sleeves and help out with the dirty, physical work needed to get the work done (shifting those shelves wasn’t easy!)  So far our patrons are loving the couch and we’re getting a lot of complements on how pretty the room looks.  I’m noticing more families coming in, hunkering down, and reading together.  We’ll be tinkering and adding to what we’ve done, and taking away (I hate faded and dusty artwork.  Tear it down and put up something new to look at).  Thanks for following along!





7 Responses to “It Takes Blood, Sweat, and Pom-Poms to Re-Design a Children’s Room”

  1. Gretchen McCormack May 24, 2014 at 1:34 am #

    Absolutely fabulous, Catherine!!

    • zbeforey May 25, 2014 at 7:23 pm #

      Thank you, Gretchen! And thanks for reading. I’ll come and decorate the Hamburg Library (For those following along, Gretchen and I are mates from High School).

  2. Cathy Cassidy May 24, 2014 at 2:24 am #

    Love it… and so will the kids! Well done. xxx

    • zbeforey May 25, 2014 at 7:21 pm #

      Thank you very much, Cathy!

  3. Anne Clark (@sotomorrow) May 27, 2014 at 8:19 am #

    This is a very fun update! It’s impressive what you can do with a little ingenuity and hard work, even without tons of money behind it. Good job to you and your staff.

    • zbeforey May 27, 2014 at 10:00 am #

      Thank you very much, Anne! I bought a tube of Super Glue for $4.13, but everything else we used was either brought from home or already on hand at the branch.


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