Librarians and Parents Debate Whether Playgrounds Belong in Libraries

As budgets shrink and temps fall, it can be hard to find coveted free “third spaces” for children to release their energy. See why some are pushing back on indoor playgrounds in libraries.
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By Wyndi Kappes, Associate Editor
Published January 23, 2024
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Image: Ksenia Lev | Shutterstock

As dangerously cold temperatures make playgrounds across the United States inhospitable, more parents are searching for affordable or, better yet, free “third spaces” where kids can play and burn off some steam. One option? Indoor playgrounds in libraries.

Recently, TikTok has been set ablaze with the debate between librarians who believe that libraries aren’t the proper place for these indoor jungle gyms and parents who see the library as an easy solution to their play problems.
Proponents of indoor playgrounds in libraries argue that libraries can evolve to serve diverse community needs, including providing a safe and accessible environment for children to play during inclement weather. Indoor playgrounds could potentially encourage families to visit these cultural hubs more regularly, fostering a sense of community engagement.

However, opponents express concerns about the potential disruption to the quiet atmosphere traditionally associated with libraries. Some librarians worry that the integration of playground equipment might compromise the primary function of libraries as spaces for reading, learning, and contemplation. Plus, in a world where libraries are already underfunded and understaffed, the responsibility to keep these places clean and in order would fall to overworked librarians.

The discussion came to a head in a recent TikTok that has now gone viral. In it a librarian Abby, who goes by @24hourlibrary, educates people on how complicated the issue can be.

“Libraries — public libraries in the United States specifically — are already doing too much with too little,” she says in the clip. “We don’t have enough budgets. We don’t have enough staff. We often don’t have appropriate facilities to work with. In a lot of ways, we are already trying to navigate this difficult walk of making sure that there are quiet spaces for people to work while also being an appropriate place for children to learn and grow and yes — to some extent — play.”

Whatever side of the playgrounds in libraries debate you are on its clear that more free or affordable third spaces are needed for kids. In restaurant playgrounds that require meal purchases or pricey trampoline gyms can’t be the only options for kids in need of a place to escape and play.

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