Keep Calm and Carry On: Creating Quiet, Cozy Spaces in Active Libraries

“The world is quiet here.”
― Lemony Snicket

Thankfully, school libraries in which librarians are constantly shushing their students are more or less a thing of the past. In fact, your humble author is definitely a “no shh” school librarian. School libraries across the country–ours included–are vibrant, bustling centers of reading, learning, making, and more.

That acknowledged (and proudly, too), it must also be said that we all have moments when we quite simply need quiet time. There are a myriad of reasons why this might be so. Welcome to 2022, everyone.  If this year’s even a tiny bit like the past two, we might be feeling anxious or stressed at some point. We may get pulled in a million different directions and have so much on our plates that we would actually be better off with trenchers. There could well be tension of all kinds afoot everywhere you go (book challenges, anyone?), along with the Damoclean presence of COVID-19.

So, where can one go to find an oasis of peacefulness, a nice spot to be mindful and relaxed, a bastion of coziness?

Why, the secular sanctuary–the original safe space at school–the library, of course!

School librarians across the country are actualizing elements of this aesthetic, learning, and programming trend at their schools. Herein I highlight some of the various ways that school libraries can offer such places within their own spaces, with a focus on three particular varieties: the sensory room, the “Zen Den,” and, to springboard off of a topic I mentioned in my last post, the “Hygge Hub.”

Sensory Spaces

Currently, one in fifty-four children is determined to be on the autism spectrum; the prevalence rate has nearly tripled since 2000. What this means for school libraries and school librarians is that there are certain to be autistic students in our schools right now (or soon). Because they can struggle with sensory integration (the body’s responses to sensory experiences), children often have a specific need for time away (often called a “sensory break”) from the standard classroom environment. Providing such a space within the confines of the library allows students to have both the place and the time to relax and regroup.

Since various sights, sounds, smells, etc., can prove triggers for sensory discomfort and/or overload, it is important to note here that there are particular conditions, items, and qualities that should be present in a sensory space. These include, among other things, low general lighting (fluorescent lighting is not recommended; fire code-approved light covers can be found) and specialty lamps like bubble tubes or fiber optic lights in calming colors like blue or purple, or even lava lamps; soft seating; weighted blankets and body socks; a tactile center with sensory boxes, which can be filled with textured items like water beads or kinetic sand; and, if possible and space and/or structure allow, a swing of some type.

Because of the ambience that exists in a sensory space, even neurotypical students can use it to relax or develop coping skills, which can be overlooked in typical classrooms, where teachers are often pressed for time.

As the mother of two children on the spectrum (and someone who may well be autistic herself but has gone undiagnosed due to lack of awareness years ago) and as an educator, I can personally attest to how helpful and positively impactful sensory spaces can be.

Zen Dens

Zen can refer to the Japanese Buddhist sect that aims at enlightenment by direct intuition through meditation, or it may relate to a state of serene attentiveness in which one’s actions are guided by intuition rather than by conscious effort. In either case, calm is key.

Elements that can be incorporated into a Zen Den include  soft lighting and relaxing instrumental music; Buddha Boards and other art/coloring supplies; plants and other natural materials, like river rocks; a small indoor fountain; yoga mats, meditation pillows/cushions, and or beanbag chairs.

As mentioned above, sometimes life and school can be challenging for anyone and everyone, from the tiniest Kindergartener to the principal. Bringing elements of Zen into a library space means that students and staff will have a place in which expectations, while not necessarily lower, are at least low-key.  Away from stress, they can decompress.

Hygge Hubs

Aside from being a really fun word to say (it’s pronounced HOO-GAH), hygge is actually a way of life. Originating in Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, Hygge is (loosely translated, since the English language can’t completely capture the nuances inherent in this one word) “a quality of coziness that makes a person feel content and comfortable.”

Important components of Hygge one would definitely want to introduce to a dedicated space include candlelight and/or firelight (of course, there are battery-operated LED versions that can be utilized in schools); hot beverages (such as cocoa, chai, and coffee; a Keurig is an excellent addition in this instance) and sweet treats (such as sandwich or snack bags filled with small cookies or candies); and spending quality time with family, friends, or in this case, classmates.  (Electronics are not allowed.)

Hygge is all about comfort and connection. Simply said, it is a perfect example of what’s needed in these trying times.

“It’s times like these we learn to live again.
It’s times like these we give and give again.
It’s times like these we learn to love again…
times like these, time and time again.”
― Foo Fighters

There are two final pertinent points to be made: first, as is the case with any special space, there are rules that should be established. While these rules vary depending on the kind of space, anyone visiting should be expected to follow the rules, whether they are a student or faculty member. Ensuring that everyone does so means that all can receive the benefits of being there, and as should be plain by now, the benefits are real. This is a valid (and, most important, accessible) form of self-care.

Second, and last but not least, guess what fits in perfectly with any and all of these special programs and spaces?

Of course you guessed it; you’re librarians!

Reading and books!


Author: Lia Fisher Janosz

I am Regina Libris.

I’m…a Bibliothecaria Rebellatrix (“librarian…because Book Wizard isn’t an official job title,” at Sharon Elementary School in Alleghany County, VA) wending a way through the seven ages whilst geeking out over Shakespeare & sundry other stuff. I am rather like Hermione Granger and have “conjured” floating candles in our school library. I’m an admirer of Eowyn and would place myself somewhere in the middle of the shieldmaiden-healer spectrum. I am inimitable, I am an original, and yet I am totally #TeamHamilton (see what I did there?). I’m a graduate of the Longwood University School Librarianship program and an avid reader and lifelong learner (and, apparently, Mistress of the Obvious as well). Any rumors regarding me having a crush on either Stephen Colbert or Chris Martin (or Benedict Cumberbatch or Andrew Scott) are completely…irrefutable. That being acknowledged, I am the loyal consort of an unsung prince of Poland and very proud mother of a tornadic, talented, and talkative wunderkind girl and a happyhopper jollyjumper bouncyboy who has a memory like an elephant.

Categories: Blog Topics, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Makerspaces/Learning Commons

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1 reply

  1. Hi Lia,

    I am currently working on a teacher-librarian course and came across your blog. When I saw your post about creating quiet spaces in the library, I wanted to read more.

    I love how you call the library, “the original safe space at school”. As an adult, I remember the lovely quiet spaces of my elementary school library. That was back when libraries were all shush zones, but as a deeply introverted little person, I loved the quiet. Now that I am a teacher, and delving into teacher-librarianship, I am eager to provide those safe, quiet spaces in a room that is no longer required to be quiet.

    You are right that there are so many reasons why a quiet space is needed. As a teacher working through the lens of a trauma-informed practice, sensory spaces and Zen dens are certainly becoming more prevalent in classrooms, although I must admit, I haven’t seen them as much in libraries! I wonder why that could be. I would love to see this change, and I’m sure I will throughout my career.

    Thank you for introducing me to the Hygge Hubs and thank you for your post. A lovely addition to my learning. I look forward to reading more.

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