Field Trip! Visiting the Kalamazoo Public Library’s Children’s Room
Grew up in Kalamazoo, I did. Spent my summers inhaling the noxious fumes of the Kalamazoo River until they finally cleaned it up. Learned "I Got a Gal in Kalamazoo" in school choir, as was a requirement of all good schoolchildren (hometown pride). Walked its Celery Flats. Drank its Vernors. Patronized its downtown library.
Years ago the downtown Kalamazoo library was a crumbling fluorescent-lighted yellowing-tiled space. It was kind of cool because if you went one floor up there was this awesome museum on the second floor with a real mummy hidden in a bizarre faux Egyptian tomb. But the library itself? The children’s room was okay. Not huge. Most of my memories involve the odd little teen space adjacent to the children’s area, where I was fully introduced to the great living works of Christopher Pike and his ilk. Then, just as I was about to leave the city for my further ed-u-ma-kation, the library got a reworking. A rejiggering. A mighty expensive rebuilding effort that redid the core, but added all the modern accoutrements and necessities of a modern space. Gone the dumb terminals and ugly facade. Instantly it became Library Journals 2002 Library of the Year. And into this new space we found:
Honestly, I like it (sorry, mom). I’ve a penchant for weirdo design, though, so maybe that’s why I’m fond of its neo-we’ve-come-to-take-your-women-to-Mars style.
I had not been back to this library since officially leaving the city, so I decided to take a trip to KPL and see how the services for the young ‘uns shaped up. I was sort of hoping to run into the Youth Services fella in charge of the site. Rumor has it that was one of the Fritz twins (small town, we are) and that the fellow attended my church. However, he was not working the desk the day I appeared, so no proof was forthcoming.
Enter the room and a wonderful colorful carpet welcomes you into the space.
I headed straight for the information desk to see what kind of programs they had available. They hand out these full-color sheets of information containing all upcoming programs for the coming season, shown here. And I could see that they have a regular roster of four different kinds of storytimes in addition to regular performers, programs, game days (not video games quite yet), and movie nights.
The sheets also offer information about the artists responsible for the original artwork in the room. One thing I’ve never understood about New York is the lack of original art in our libraries and children’s rooms. Here we are in the cultural center of the world and we can’t even work up a single solitary mural? And yes, my new children’s room has a mural, but it’s by a Brit who has never done a picture book and who didn’t think to include Harlem . . . but I get off-topic. In Kalamazoo murals are present and accounted for. David Small did one of the pillars, which satisfied my get-a-children’s-author-to-do-a-mural requirement. And Conrad Kaufman (who once trading art with my mother for knitting) did the Alice in Wonderland mural in the storyroom. And this column is by one Barbara Thiery Buysee.
And this is the one by David Small.
They have a puppet stage!
A quilt containing various famous children’s literary characters (Small’s Imogene’s Antlers made the cut, I see).
A very clearly labeled area for new titles and gns.
Ample seating and great little rocking chairs. Furniture that may last for more than two years.
Look at this little board book house! So cute!
The tortoise I remember. I think it’s been in the room for years. I’m not sure who made it.
They have a Wanda Gag!
And a David Small.
Is that a Jan Pienkowski print?
Patricia Polacco art.
The stained glass windows have also been around for a while. One Jamie Rife created them.
Picture books are nicely displayed above the shelves.
Picture books are also alphabetically arranged by the author’s last name. Boo-yah! That’s how it’s done, people!
And here’s the aforementioned cool storytime room.
The floating smile is a little eerie.
I do like the tail that hangs behind it. But I wonder how many preschoolers prefer not to enter this room because of the disembodied teeth.
I am convinced that this next design was taken from the old Parchment Library circa 1983. Of course, I have no idea if that old Parchment Library is still around, but when I was a kid this exact foot-through-the-drop-ceiling look was behind the circulation desk. Of course that doesn’t mean it isn’t still a cool (and low-budget) option for library systems that want to spice up their children’s areas. But credit where credit’s due!
Not many computers are in the children’s room, which is interesting. I saw some kids on the adult floor using the PCs.
I love the mix of old and new titles on the shelves. Check out this classic Hardy Boys cover.
Then I took a quick tour through the rest of the building. Peer down through the center of the library and it looks like this.
Those of you looking for ideas for your display areas might want to take a tip from KPL. This next photo was a great idea for a display. In response to the current economic crises, the board systematically states how much free library services would cost you, piece by piece.
Oddly, books on CD looked like this. And the ones for kids were with the adult materials in the basement.
VHS tapes alive, well, and circulating.
Here was the relatively small Teen Area.
They circulate comic books!
On my way out I noticed that by the door there are a whole host of colorful little book recommendation lists including this one:
They get incredibly in-depth, these colorful little book recommendation lists.
At the start of this post I cheated. I put up a picture of one of my favorite Kalamazoo gargoyles, perhaps implying that it appears on the Kalamazoo Public Library. It does not, though it is library related. The Kalamazoo Ladies Library Association (a couple blocks from the Public Library) definitely doesn’t circulate books anymore. But they do allow this wonderful fellow to perch on their room with a tongue that acts as a spout.
Matt and I slept beneath a quilt featuring his ugly mug created by my mom years ago. I covet that quilt.
Many thanks to Kalamazoo for its magnificent children’s space. And to all the great librarians that fill their hours there.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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