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Thursday, April 26, 2012 06:14 pm

Children’s library is more than books

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Jenni Dahl, a volunteer at Northside Children’s Community Library with (middle) Rachel Kocis, the coordinator of the library, and Dequan Stamps, a regular visitor of the library.
PHOTO BY NEIL SCHNEIDER

When the Northside Community Children’s Library opened its doors in October 2011 it was originally supposed to offset the closings of the north and west branches of Springfield’s Lincoln Library.

Six months later, the library in the basement of Third Presbyterian Church on North Seventh Street has developed into more than just a place to borrow books. It has become a “safe haven” for children of the area, library officials say.

“This library presents a chance for kids to get off the streets and work with active, caring volunteers who want to give the kids as much one-on-one time as possible,” says Rachel Kocis, the coordinator of the library.  “I won’t say that this place has morphed into a community center, but the very nature of having just a stand-alone children’s library is challenging. It’s natural that over time this space has in some ways developed into a community center.”

While the library offers children access to books, mentoring and help with their homework, it also has more playful opportunities for children, like watercolor painting, playing board games and card games.

The library also offers access to four computers and two iPads, which the children can use to work on their homework, as well as play around with some of the interactive features on the touch-screen iPads. The computers and iPads were purchased through a $20,000 grant the church received for the library from the Presbytery of Great Rivers. The grant required that $5,000 of the total grant funds be spent on technology.

The library also expanded its offerings to include “themed” programs based on some of the children’s favorite books, such as the popular Fancy Nancy and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The programs allow kids to play educational games involving their favorite book characters.

The Northside Children’s Community Library is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays 3-6 p.m. and Saturdays 1-4 p.m.

Carole Holladay, co-chairwoman of the library administrative subcommittee, says the committee is considering whether to also open the library on Wednesdays this summer.

“Nothing has been determined yet, but we are looking into Wednesday as a possibility,” Holladay said. “It hasn’t been determined how many hours we will be open on Wednesday, but we are looking into increasing hours.”   

The library continues to grow and expand its selection of books, primarily through donations, book drives and the occasional Barnes & Noble gift card. Kocis said she has seen the relationships between the volunteers and the children grow as well.

“We’ve had a variety of groups of volunteers come in and help with the library,”  Kocis said. “Since the library has opened, we have seen groups of retired teachers come in and volunteer, as well as other community members.”

Kocis estimated that the library currently has between 10 to 15 regular volunteers.

Judy, a volunteer at the library who declined to give her last name, said she hopes the library will continue to grow and expand.

“Aside from continuing what we are doing now, I would like to see us expand our reading programs,” said Judy, a 50-year member of the Third Presbyterian Church. “The children like to use the computers as much as possible because they might not have computers at home, but we will definitely look into expanding our reading programs.”

Contact Neil Schneider at nschneider@illinoistimes.com.

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