Designing a New Children's Space for the Fort St John Public Library

by Lesley Kok



Community Survey

Library Requirements & Justifications for Planning Decisions


Appendix A

Appendix B

Capping Paper

Community Survey

History and Background

Fort St John is a relatively small city in Northern British Columbia; it has 17,400 residents (Statistics Canada) and is comprised mainly of families with young children. There are 6 elementary schools and according to the 2006 census, there are 5030 children between the ages of 0-14. All citizens of Fort St John and the residents of the small outlying communities (approximately 1,600 people) are served by one library: the Fort St John Public Library. The library itself is situated in the heart of downtown in the North Peace Cultural Centre on the corner of 100th street and 100th avenue. This location is very easily accessible from all parts of the city as well as the major highways connecting the outlying communities. It is easily accessible by foot since it is in the downtown core which is flanked by many of the residential zones, and the Cultural Centre itself acts as the major transit centre for all of the city buses. The Cultural Centre is the artistic hub of the city, housing not only the library, but the art gallery, the 413 seat performing arts theatre, dance studios, the Cultural Café, meeting rooms, and more. In a city that seems to revolve around ice hockey and the Oil and Gas Industry, the Cultural Centre and the Library are a breath of fresh air.

Fort St John is a small city with very few amenities that parents with small children can take advantage of; its long winters, notorious cold temperatures and abundant snowfalls dictate that indoor activities are a must. The public library with an exciting children’s section could offer a wonderful solution for parents with kids trapped in the cold north while also fulfilling the needs of the rest of the community. The Fort St John Public Library’s mission statement is to “promote self-education, personal enlightenment and social and economic well-being through the pursuit of knowledge and the exchange of ideas,” (Fort St John Public Library) indicating that it is a space meant to serve the needs of all people in Fort St John. The public library’s overall purpose is to provide equal access to information for all members of the community, regardless of age, ethnicity and gender, and to facilitate life-long learning in order to have a well informed society. Public libraries serve people throughout their lifespan,and since children who are in their formative years, make up a significant part of the community it is very important that libraries establish positive relationships from the very beginning that will hopefully last a lifetime.

Fort St John has a unique situation where the importance of education and learning, needs to be established at a young age. Since it is an Oil and Gas town, it relies heavily on the boom. When the economy is good there are many jobs and there is lots of money to be made. With this reality, sometimes the importance of education is swept aside with the lure of the money that can be made out on the rigs with little or no education. School District 60, which serves Fort St John and the surrounding area states that “the availability of employment has a [significant] impact on the secondary student population, with estimates of 70% of our secondary students working between 14 and 40 hours weekly” (School district 60). The importance of work and money over education is a problem in the city and I think that if an integral relationship with the library can be built early on, the importance of education could be taught and would thus be more prevalent in our Northern City. The library already has amazing programming for children, illustrating a vested interest in their development. I feel that now it is time to design a space that reflects that vested interest, which children and parents will want to visit time and time again solidifying that relationship with the library and hopefully instill the importance of education and lifelong learning.

User Population

When designing a children’s space it is very important to keep in mind what the children want, as well as the librarians who work with the children in the library. Taking the time to find out what the target users needs and wants, will make for a much more functional and well used space. In Carol Brown’s book on planning library interiors, she discusses the findings from two focus groups conducted in Denver with children and with library staff. The focus group done with children found that kids wanted a space that would be both welcoming and accessible, comfortable, safe, would make them feel special, be happy and fun, be bright and colorful, allow for both noise and activity as well as individual space and group interactions. They also asked that the library space not feel like a school setting (Brown 91). The staff had many of the same ideas as well as some additional recommendations. They asserted that the children’s space should be separate from the adult and teen sections, but also be highly visible and easily accessible. It should be fun and exciting to attract children to the library and be designed so that staff can easily oversee the area to provide a safe space. In talking with parents, it was found that having one entrance and low shelving for more visible sight lines are preferable. Staff also wanted to have a space that markets the materials and services that the library has to offer, a space that supports children and their interactivity as well as being flexible in terms of collections, displays, equipment, and services (Brown 93). These considerations are what I am going to try and incorporate into my design for the Fort St John Public Library Children’s space.


The public library serves all types of people of different ages and somehow a design must be created that allows for the optimal experience for all the library patrons. Children are a diverse user group and their active learning style and tendency to make a lot of noise means that they need to have a distinct space of their own which won’t interfere with the enjoyment of the other patrons. Children’s spaces thus should be sectioned off by shelves or walls which would act as a sound barrier. These walls or shelving units would also act as barriers to keep the kids in their own section and prevent them from easily running away, something that is a real security risk with children. It is also recommended that children’s sections should be situated near an information desk for security reasons so that staff can keep an eye on children and be there to offer assistance (Myller 54-5).

In my library design, the children’s section will be situated at the most Northern part of the library in a space designed specifically for them. It will be sectioned off from the rest of the library via walls with large windows. The space will have its own program area for storytelling and other activities and there will be a family washroom located in the space so children do not need to leave the area to use the washroom. This is important because children should not have to pass through the adult section of the library or walk a fair distance to reach a washroom ( Myller, 54-5).

Theme and Color

I want the colors from the rest of the library to be carried through into the children’s space so that there is continuity in the design. The colors in the main library are mainly Cottage White, with accents of Egyptian Nile (green), Rejuvenate (light green), Pismo Dunes (pale yellow) and Ripe Currant (red). However, in the children’s space I would like to deviate from the classic color schemes I have seen; in this space I am going to use the bold blues, greens, reds, oranges and yellows that are based on the primary colors, but that are more modern and fit with the existing color scheme. I also want to introduce a special theme to the children’s space to ensure that it is viewed as a distinct space from the rest of the library, designed specially for children. Because Fort St John is in the foothills of the Rockies, I want to reflect the beauty of the outdoors in a fun and creative way using a nature theme. I will also include a mural on the wall behind the story telling area that has an oil derrick to reflect the bread and butter of the city, but also have fun forest, animal and insect design, drawing in all of the bold colors and reflecting the beauty of our surroundings.


The whole inspiration of the theme came from the beauty of Fort St John’s natural surroundings and the primary focus will be on the tree entrance leading into the children’s section. When looking at the literature on children’s libraries, it is mentioned repeatedly that the entrance should be a focal point which children can see from the library entrance and know intuitively that it is a safe space just for them. Brown states that the entrance should be highly visible, should attract kids by color or design, and leave no doubt in the children’s mind that they are welcome and it is a space designed specifically for them (Brown 93). When searching for inspiration, I found a company called Nature Maker that makes tree sculptures for buildings that are life sized and look deceptively real. Navigating their website I found a tree design that acted as the entrance way to the children’s library; the doorway was through the trunk with foliage above and had little stumps at the base of the tree that acted as little seats. This tree entrance fits perfectly with my design theme and offered the ideal solution to the question of how to design a fun, creative entrance that would beckon children into the space and encourage them to come back time and time again.

Layout and Design

In this next section, I am going to walk you through my design. Standing in front of the children’s section, there would be a large tree, with green foliage at the top, and the doorway to the library would be through the trunk; on the sides are tree stumps that act as seating for children. The walls on either side have glass windows to allow for more light into the space as well as to make it feel more open. Looking through the doorway you would be drawn to two things: a) the two display shelves featuring new books, artwork and books on particular theme, and b) the eye-catching mural painted on the wall behind the storytelling section. Immediately to the left is soft seating for parents with pleasant end tables and reading lamps that encourage relaxation while your children browse, play or participate in one of the many children’s programs offered. There are also magazine racks with parenting magazines and a small bookcase with parenting and childcare books. In front of that are all the picture books for toddlers followed by a shelf full of children’s reference books. On this side there are also some low toddler’s tables and fun soft seating (turtle, hedgehog and frog) that act both as toys and chairs. The low children’s information desk is backed onto the very west wall, and beside the desk in the northwest corner is the family washroom.

Immediately on the right side of the children’s space when you first enter, are study carrels and various tables and chairs for group and/or individual work. Against the very east wall, with the windows to the outside, is the soft seating made up of comfortable couches and individual chairs for reading and relaxing. I put this large seating section next to the window so that people sitting there get the optimal amount of sunlight. This side of the library also boasts the children’s fiction and non fiction shelves which run north south perpendicular to the outside facing windows which the literature suggests. These shelves are a bit higher than the toddler’s shelves because they are meant for older children; however they are still low enough that sight lines are not blocked. There are two computers located in the back north eastern corner which are meant for playing a variety of children’s games as well as single faced shelving against the north wall with all of the audio visual items and some of the periodicals.

Last updated: March 15 2008
Contact: lkok@ ualberta . ca

Some of this project was fictional due to the lack of information on actual size of the building and collection. However the demographics of the city are real.