Let me begin by stating that I often agree with Leslie Knope, the fictional civil servant from the popular TV show Parks and Recreation. She is passionately loyal to her city (the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana), committed to working hard on behalf of its people, and unwavering in her dedication to improving it no matter what obstacles she faces. I also feel very loyal to my hometown. She also loves breakfast food - who doesn't? That must be universal. But I have to emphatically disagree with Leslie Knope about the public library. Leslie and her friends in the parks department describe the library as "horrifying and miserable" and "the worst group of people ever assembled in history." The library as the nemesis of the parks department is a running joke throughout the show.
I am [a little] biased when it comes to the library. I grew up going to the library almost every week, reading and re-reading my favorite books in the children's section, taking part in the Summer Reading Program every year, and even worked at the local branch (Irvington) in high school. Now that I am a mother to three little ones (ages 6, 4, and 1), I have continued the tradition of faithful library patronage with my own children. Thankfully, we have a world-class library several blocks away - the Central Library.
I have to admit that I am always mystified when people (especially other moms) tell me that they don't go to the library, or take their kids there. The public library is FREE and this one is awesome. So this is a things-you-might-not-know-about-the-library post. Four reasons you should take your kids to visit this library (or if you live downtown, make it a regular part of your life):
Why Take Your Kids to the Central Library?
1. They have a lot of free stuff you can borrow.
The Indianapolis Public Library has over 2.1 million items in its collection, housed at the Central Library and at the 22 branches located around the city. You can request specific books online (my kids love doing this) and pick them up at whatever local branch you choose. You can also check out new-release DVDs (movies and TV shows), as well as classic films, documentaries, audio books, magazines, pretty much anything. You can keep the items for 3 weeks, then return them or renew them online for another 3 weeks. You can get a library card for each child in your family when he or she turns 3 years old and check out up to 25 books it. Adults and older kids can check out 75 items on each card. This means that my family of four library cards can have up to 250 items checked out at any one time (and it's not unreasonable to think that we might hit that limit), and we can renew them multiple times online, every 3 weeks, as long as someone else has not requested them. My kids have had "How to Train Your Dragon: Defenders of Berk" Part 1 and Part 2 checked out for a few months now because they are really into it and like to watch the episodes over and over. This can save a lot of money compared to buying books, even on Amazon or at Half-Price Books.
2. They have great activities and programs for kids.
The Learning Curve at the Central Library hosts weekly storytimes and crafts (11:00 am Friday mornings), as well as special programs like concerts and author visits. It is also home to a magnetic activity wall, a green screen, toys and puzzles, computer play areas with educational kids' games, technology labs (where kids can build LEGO robots, for example), and futuristic-looking space pod chairs where kids can sit and listen to a read-aloud story on a screen. This is sort of like taking your kids to a smaller version of the Children's Museum, except for free (you do have to pay for parking in the underground garage, but it's usually $1 or $2 depending on how long you stay, so all things considered, it's a bargain).
3. It's beautiful.
I want my kids to be exposed to unique and excellent architecture and beauty in the built environment whenever possible. This enriches the fabric of their childhood in a way that is hard to pin down, yet very meaningful in creating positive memories. I don't have scientific evidence for this (although I'm sure cognitive research has explored it and information is available somewhere); I'm just basing this theory on my own childhood experiences growing up in a city neighborhood and visiting downtown Indianapolis often. We were in the state capitol building many times, because my father worked there for most of my growing-up years. I remember feeling in awe of the beautiful architecture of the Statehouse when I was young; the marble floors, vast columns and stained-glass in the rotunda gave me a good feeling that I was a small part of something grand and magnificent (the State of Indiana - ha!). But that's exactly what civic architecture and public spaces are meant to do - to encourage citizens to come together, form a community and be part of something greater and nobler than their own individual goals. I felt the same way about visiting the Central Library when I was a child - inspired and thrilled by the beauty and history of the place.
In 1917, the original building (now the front part of the Central Library, facing St. Clair Street) was completed in the Greek Doric style and has been referred to as one of the most architecturally outstanding public libraries in the U.S. The newer addition was completed in 2007 and consists of an atrium and 6 stories with glass walls facing the city center. The Indianapolis Central Library has been included in some online lists of "World's Most Beautiful Libraries" such as this one (at #41).
The top floor offers an amazing view of the city and, along with the historic reading rooms on the east and west ends of the original building, is a good place to read, think or study.
4. It's diverse.
Exposure to diversity (racial, ethnic, economic, cultural, and generational) at a young age is beneficial for kids' cognitive development as they observe and process information about the world and the people they see. If children are not often seeing people who are different from them, their perception of the world is going to be affected. (More information on this in a future post.) Some neighborhoods bring together people who differ in age, stage of life, economic class, race and ethnicity, but other neighborhoods are more uniform and homogeneous. Churches, schools and other institutions can be places where children benefit from diversity, and the library is certainly one of these.
The Central Library is a type of microcosm of the city: there are students studying, people doing research for a project, using computers and the Internet, job seekers receiving help from employment services, entrepreneurs getting together for informal business meetings, parents with young children playing and listening to stories, and maybe homeless people hanging out in a chair for a while.
If you're a parent of young children, what is your favorite aspect of the library? If you're a college or grad student, what's your favorite place to study in the Central Library?