"So often we see children playing in the library, but Family Place makes it okay for parents to play, too. " ~ Youth Librarian, Carla Perkins
Less than two years after opening its doors to displaced families from the hurricanes of 2005, two branches of Alabama’s Birmingham Public Library opened new doors for families by joining the network of Family Place Libraries. Thanks to generous funding from the Petersmeyer Family Foundation, a dedicated library staff, and a grant and volunteers from the local Junior League of Birmingham, the Avondale Branch library was able to offer their first Parent/Child Workshop, 1, 2, 3 Play With Me, at the Avondale Branch in the fall of 2007.
Youth Librarian Carla Perkins was enthusiastic about the new additions to the Youth Department, from children’s activity tables and a comfortable rug to Legos and parenting resources. She said, “So often we see children playing in the library, but Family Place makes it okay for parents to play, too. Thanks to interactive and self-selected play, the library is the place to be.”
When four-month old Griffin and his dad Ted Shade began attending the workshops, they were pleasantly surprised by all that the library had to offer. At first Ted, a stay-at-home dad, and Griffin were not sure of what they were getting themselves into. Still, the library staff noted that with every passing week Ted’s confidence as a father increased and he quickly became comfortable having his young child with him in the library environment.
While Griffin happily benefited from playtime in the baby gym and on the tummy time pillows, Ted had the opportunity to get to know other parents of young children in his community. “We had a great time. I think I got more out of it than Griffin, but I think getting him exposed to a kid-dominated environment is good for him at any age. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to converse and network with other stay-at-home spouses. I still sing the circle-time "hands" song to him (which he loves) and it gave me a lot of new avenues to research with regard to children's culture. Thanks so much for doing this.”
So how did the library acquire such wonderful books, toys and other resources for families with young children? Major funding came from the Petersmeyer Family Foundation, which responded to news of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina by creating a fund through Libraries for the Future to establish eight new Family Place libraries in the Gulf Coast. LFF selected Birmingham as a first grantee, since community need was high while the library’s infrastructure for supporting Family Place was stronger than those libraries immediately hit by the hurricanes throughout Louisiana and Mississippi. Check back soon for information about additional grants to Gulf Coast libraries just now able to return from structural repairs and crisis assistance.
In Birmingham, the libraries found expanded local support in a grant from the local Junior League for funds and even volunteers, trained by the library’s Family Place Coordinators, to help jumpstart the initiative. The libraries used the grant to purchase a permanent collection of toys for the children's departments at both branches as well as a rotating collection of parent/child workshop (1,2,3 Play with Me) toys and equipment to be shared by both branches. Better yet, the experienced and devoted volunteers from the League aid the librarians in everything from set-up and greeting participants to working at the art experience table and assisting with cleanup. Thanks to these wonderful successes (and the offer of even more volunteers!) the library is in the process of expanding the workshop to two additional branches in the upcoming year. As the Literacy, Outreach and Youth Services Coordinator Janine Langston said, “The Junior League of Birmingham is a true partner.”