Sunday, February 4, 2018

Welcome to the children's area, with a side-discussion on tub books

Duplo table, tool bench, and board books. The board books
have colored dots on the spines and matching colored
strips on the shelves to keep them roughly in order
It's been a long time since I showed off our children's area and an even longer time since I talked about why and how we collect and circulate what I call "tub books" i.e. paperback 8x8 tv tie-ins.

Since I just finished, in early January 2018, completely weeding and revamping our tub books and finished it up by reorganizing the children's area with my associates' help (she also reorganized the board books) this seemed like a good time.

Our play area is the most heavily used section of the library. It is in the back corner of the children's area and has one entrance - through the shelves coming from the children's area. At the back, it opens into the Storyroom (the door is always unlocked since the emergency exit is through there). It used to be a complete circle of shelves, but I removed one to put in our market stall. There's a secondary play area, intended for older toddlers and preschoolers, on the other side of the stall, next to the circulating toys.

Above the board books are the backs of the cd holders and above the tub books we keep book bundles for checkout. Additional toys (puzzles, flannelboard sets, etc.) are located on a shelf between the youth services desk and the flannelboard wall.

Book bundles above the shelves, board books and tub
books on the shelves. Market stall to the right.
My main intent for this area is that it be a place where families can relax, play, use their imaginations, and interact. Occasionally I get asked where the "kids computers" are. Farther down the aisle, there are two public computers available for use (I opened up the aisle by the windows so busy parents, especially those with no second adult, can keep an eye on their kids while they get necessary work done on the computers). They do not have games or educational software loaded on them. They're just basic computers.

When I started designing the children's area (almost ten years ago now!) I made a conscious decision to stay away from technology and focus on hands-on, imaginative play. Every library creates their space to fit their community and this is what fits the majority of my community. Our schools have a plethora of technology, from ipads and smart boards in four year old kindergarten up to maker labs and robotics in middle and high school. I don't need to try and mimic this in the library. This is a place where families can come together and interact, build early literacy skills, and take a break from their busy lives.

It's almost always a mess. Kitchen toys, puzzle pieces, books, toy bags, often they're strewn abroad. I'm perfectly ok with this. It gets picked up eventually (usually by parents and kids, but sometimes by staff) and the fact that it's not pristine makes it more welcoming, in my opinion. It's often loud (yes, there's a hammer in the tool table). That's fine - it's as far as you can get from the quiet upstairs area and if people need quiet, there are times of the day when it is more peaceful. I often have homeschool families coming in during those times to study and work together or family visitation groups.

I created tub books back in... 2012 I think? I had noticed that people repeatedly asked for Barbie, Disney, and other media-related books. We had some interfiled in the picture books, but I was hoping to eventually move to neighborhoods there and I had noticed that the prebound books were often lost or missing, with prohibitive replacement costs, and frankly looked like crap regardless. If they were going to look so dingy, why not at least get them cheaper?

Tub books. We currently have 9 tubs, several of them shared.
Armchairs, slightly too large table, and Read and Grow chart
(1,000 books before kindergarten). There's also an art tub
for creations waiting to be picked up.
I bought a bunch of cheap dish tubs from Walmart and filled them with Berenstain Bears, Disney, Barbie, Dora, Little Golden Books, Clifford, superheroes, and Thomas. All in paperback (except those moved over from the picture books). They had a label with their tub designation (TUB DISNEY), a barcode, and an address label. No other processing. This mean I could waive the processing fee and make the cost of replacement a flat $5 (which I often waive anyways, especially if they've circulated a lot and were falling apart anyways.) The average life of these titles is about 30 circs, or around two years. I noticed an almost immediate change as soon as I introduced them. Families who had previously been divided, caregivers sitting on the couch and looking at their phones while children ranged restlessly about, were more frequently to be seen reading together. I could clearly hear that many of these adults struggled to read - I could hear them sounding out words, stumbling over sentences, and working hard to get through these books. But the kids listened. And the families were together. Having the familiar characters seemed to help both adults and children relax and enjoy their reading time together. I got a lot of feedback from caregivers that they felt more comfortable and less judged in the library (most of them did not say this directly, but that was the import of how they responded).

It may sometimes appear that I just randomly dump toys and books in the play area. But this simply isn't true. I spend a lot of time researching, looking at other libraries, talking to parents, and connecting with the community organizations to figure out the best design, most welcoming features, and affordable but sturdy toys.

Train table, entrance to the Storyroom
Every item, both books, toys, and furniture, that is added is carefully reviewed. Changes are made in the same way. The train table is a staple of the area, never moved or traded out for a different toy. It's a recognizable feature and one that children and families return to use again and again. I've replaced the entire table once and every few years I replace tracks and train cars.

Our original kitchen, added two years ago, was a cheap wooden one from Amazon. Thanks to a memorial donation, we were able to replace it with a market stall, sink, and stove to create a permanent kitchen area. Kids happily tie on aprons and cook, clean, and serve meals every day!

Our original loveseat was replaced, at my request, with two separate armchairs. It was rare for families to sit together on the loveseat, whereas the chairs are big enough for a caregiver and several children, or to stack up diaper bags and books.

Other side of the market stall - stove, sink, and
aprons hanging on the shelf.
Our original child-sized table (one of the first things I purchased - when I first started working here there was a table with a "do not move" sign on it. Being a rule-breaker, I promptly moved it and the legs fell off) was a cheap one that always wobbled. I hope to eventually bring in a new, child-sized table. The one we have is borrowed from the school-age area and is a little too large for the space.

Interchangeable toys include the tool table, a dollhouse (which needs to be replaced) and the duplo table. I also have a road mat/rug. When not in use, the toy sets are stored in the basement or lent out to other libraries. Eventually I'd like to add some more interactive toy sets to trade through, but that's a long-term goal.

Tub books

  • Barbie
  • Berenstain Bears/Clifford
    • Combined tub. I generally buy only the "original" Bears and do not purchase the "Living Light" titles.
  • Disney
    • 2 tubs, includes Pixar and Disney-themed Little Golden Books
  • Little (Golden Books)
    • Non-media titles, both classics like Pokey Little Puppy and newer titles
  • Paw (Patrol)/Peppa (Pig)
    • Combined tub with Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig titles
  • Star Wars/Superhero
    • Combined tub - includes all the Lego-themed titles as well
  • Thomas (the tank engine)
  • TV
    • TMNT, movie titles like Trolls, Blaze and other Nick titles, etc.


Links and resources for the children's area:

  • Read and Grow: 1,000 books before kindergarten
  • Train table - Melissa and Doug, $100 on Amazon
  • Market stall and kitchen pieces, $250-$600 at Community Playthings
    • These are expensive - I was only able to purchase them because of a memorial donation. But they are worth it. Very high-quality and have held up to constant use.
  • Tool bench - donated
  • Duplo table - bought on Amazon in the mists of time
  • Dollhouse - Melissa and Doug (falling apart)
  • Small toys and accessories - purchase on Amazon, donated, or purchased through Discount School Supply
Future additions
  • Child-sized table and chairs
  • Sturdy dollhouse
  • New/additional building tables
  • Additional slotted shelves for board book shelving
  • As always, I replace individual toys every few years

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