Monday, November 28, 2022

Family Study Room aids parents

By Sydney Hakes

 In an initiative to reach out to underrepresented groups on campus, the Feinberg Library has opened a Family Study Room hoping to aid student parents and caregivers.

The room is open to all students accompanied by a child 12-years-old or younger. As a small room with a single computer, it’s first-come, first-serve. Students will need to check in at the front desk, and be let into the room by a library employee. The room is on the third floor of the library in Room 315. Parents and caregivers are fully in charge of the children under their supervision. Children can not be left alone at any given time.

Fitted with a desk, computer and office supplies, the rest of the room is a splash of color. Books and puzzles line the walls, stuffed animals are sitting against the walls waiting to greet whoever comes in. All sharp corners and electrical outlets are child-proofed. A poster listing the guidelines is on the wall. The information can also be found under the Library Family Study Room Guidelines link on the SUNY Plattsburgh website. 

Library Director Elin O’Hara-Gonya came up with the idea for a family room when she was weeding through her eight-year-old daughter’s toys. 

“I had a mountain of kids’ stuff sitting at my house,” O’Hara-Gonya said. “One day, I put two and two together: empty office, children’s toys.”

O’Hara-Gonya also works weekly at the reference desks, wanting to “stay connected” to the campus community instead of being in her office all day. She’s noticed the occasional student coming in with a child, whether it was their child, sibling or any child they might have been responsible for.

“It’s always challenging being a student and being a parent at the same time, because you want a quiet place to study outside the home, but at the same time, that often requires that you bring your child with you,” O’Hara-Gonya said. “On top of that, you have the library stereotype of the shuching, not being able to make any noise.”

She wanted to communicate to parents or caregivers that they were welcome in the library and could fulfill their rental and familial obligations while having a safe space to study or research. 

She ran the idea by the library staff and provost who were all strongly in support. She then jumped into some research.

Curious if this would be a successful venture, she reached out to all the SUNY library directors to see if they have a similar space and how they’ve been received. Only one college had a similar family-focused room, Monroe Community College. They actually have two rooms, both being reported as heavily utilized and having had no liability concerns. 

While it was surprising that out of 64 SUNY campuses, only one had a designated family room, O’Hara-Gonya’s question seemed to pique the interest of other colleges. Hudson Valley Community College reached out to her asking how far along in the process she was and to update them on how it goes. 

The project is a first of many for O’Hara-Gonya. This is her eighth month as the Library Director, a title she received after 17 years working at the college. 

In her new role, O’Hara-Gonya hopes to implement more resources and programs to reach out to underrepresented groups on campus. She hopes these new strategies increase student engagement with the library’s services, spaces and resources. 

While the room has not been used yet, O’Hara-Gonya wants to put out the message that there is now a specific space for the people who may need it.

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