BYU supports young parents with new family-friendly study room

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Two-year-old Genevieve, daughter of BYU grad student Lauren Manzione, plays with toys in the library’s new family-friendly study room. (Savannah Hopkinson)

The Harold B. Lee Library’s family-friendly study room caused quite the stir when it opened at the start of fall semester. A Facebook post announcing the new addition to the library went viral, reaching hundreds of thousands of people within the first week.

The new study room, which was funded by an anonymous donor, had been a concept on BYU’s radar for several years now. But due to the vast list of other desired campus improvements, the family-friendly room had to wait its turn in line, according to library human resources manager Cali O’Connell.

“Even great projects have to wait their turn in the university budgeting process,” O’Connell said. “Because we had a donor, it got to happen sooner.”

The anonymous donor named the room in honor of Keith and Dolores Stirling, two BYU alumni with strong ties to the university library. Keith and his wife have 10 children and know the struggle young parents face as students.

They both earned graduate degrees from BYU while raising their large family. Keith taught in the School of Library and Information Science at BYU for 21 years. He then served as the HBLL Electronic Access Librarian for 10 years.

Assistant Facilities Manager Debbie Christoffersen sat on the project’s planning committee and was directly involved in the room’s design and construction. She believes there was no one better to name the room after.

“It’s a pretty great space to honor (the Stirlings’) legacy,” Christofferson said.

Savannah Hopkinson
Adult patrons enjoy the benefits of the new family-friendly study room in the Harold B. Lee Library. (Savannah Hopkinson)

The overall process to plan the study room began in 2015. Students from a sociology class researched the concept as a capstone project and presented the gathered information to a potential planning committee and donor. Research included tours of family-friendly study rooms at Utah Valley University and the University of Utah.

After the project received a green light, the next step was to relocate the American Heritage offices and demolish the space. Demolition started in February 2017, followed by construction throughout the summer, making the room ready just in time for the opening on Sept. 5.

Library Communications Director Roger Layton created the viral Facebook post announcing the family-friendly study room’s opening.

“I wasn’t worried about announcing it because of its location. It really would take care of itself,” Layton said. “As soon as it was usable — in fact probably hours before it was officially usable — we posted it on Facebook, and it’s the most popular post on Facebook the library has had in years.”

The room features study tables, study rooms and computers, in addition to a play structure, toys, books and enclosed play areas for children. A printer will be installed soon, as well. Some of the features highlighted by parents include the family-friendly bathrooms and the private nursing room for mothers.

BYU grad student Dania Ellingson has studied in the family-friendly room with her son every day since the semester started. (Savannah Hopkinson)

Portuguese literature grad student Dania Ellingson has brought her two-month-old son to the study room every day since the start of the semester.

“I mostly just use the nursing corner, which is really nice because to have a place to comfortably nurse (my son) on campus is amazing,” Ellingson said. “When he’s hungry, I don’t want to take a screaming baby through the quiet library to go and feed him.”

BYU grad student Lauren Manzione meets with a study group in the family-friendly room while her daughter Genevieve plays with toys. (Savannah Hopkinson)

The library will continue to take informal assessments of patrons’ opinions on the room over the next several months. More formal surveys are planned for the future so further additions and improvements can be made to the study room, specifically the lactation room. It is important to determine whether the nursing area is a multi-gender space or if a curtain should be installed for added privacy, Christofferson said.

Library faculty have received overwhelmingly positive feedback about the room from current students and alumni alike.

Public health grad student Lauren Manzione appreciates the university’s demonstration of support for students’ academic and familial responsibilities.  

“Even just the concept of it feels like support from the university,” Manzione said. “They’re encouraging us to be more than just one thing. It’s hard to be a parent. It’s hard to be a student. It’s a whole new challenge to do both.”