"The opportunity to both see and be with other children was great for my sons. Jesse was able to play with other kids, and this opportunity was extremely important to us."
One of the first Family Place Library sites funded by the Commonwealth Library of Pennsylvania, Schlow Centre Region Library joined the Family Place network in 2002 despite significant space challenges. Children's librarian Anita Ditz recalls, "We had no meeting room space available in our former building and the Parent Child Workshop happened by moving tables between the stacks and shifting furniture to make space." Despite this, and with over 40% of the population comprised of Penn State students, faculty and their families--many international, the library became the community melting pot, bringing together parents and children of all cultures to play and learn together. Today, the Schlow Library is expanding its role as community builder by bringing families of children with special needs together with their neighbors and peers.
Schlow Centre Regional Library moved into a newly constructed building in 2005. This new space provided a larger and more appropriate children's services area reflecting the Family Place philosophy. The children's department gained a large storage space for Parent Child Workshop materials. A public space within the children's room that includes comfortable sofas and chairs for parents alongside an open play space featuring toys, a puppet stage and train table was later added. "The library embraced the idea of becoming the downtown destination spot for families and young children. Family Place greatly impacted the planning for our new library," Ditz added.
Though the Library had some established connections with local agencies serving parents and young children including State College and the local school district, the full implementation of the core components of Family Place created an avenue for more extensive outreach and coalition building. This led to an amazing long-lasting partnership with Strawberry Fields, a local early intervention program. Together they partnered to create the Toddler Learning Centre (TLC), a multi-week program series for parents and young children with and without developmental delays. The TLC allows children with developmental delays to play with age-appropriate toys, interact with their typically developing peers, and receive therapy at the same time---all in a welcoming, inclusive community setting. The program, run periodically throughout the year, supports early learning standards, especially social, gross and fine motor skills. "Many of the attendees do not realize that some of the children are actually receiving early intervention services during the program. All families benefit from the opportunity to speak with early intervention specialists," says Ditz.
Parents develop support networks, receive information about library resources and programs, and learn how to play with their children. The librarian concludes each session with a read-aloud book to model reading techniques. This unique program, offered in the non-judgmental, supportive environment of the public library, is the only one of its kind in the area. Deb Conklin, a local mother who attended the program with her sons, said, "The opportunity to both see and be with other children was great for my sons. Jesse was able to play with other kids, and this opportunity was extremely important to us."
Winner of a Pennsylvania Library Association Best Practices Award in 2007, the Toddler Learning Centre continues to thrive. In fact, it has blossomed into a more expansive partnership that now includes Easter Seals and Cen-Clear Child Services. These agencies work with the library to offer monthly on-site early intervention screenings. Ditz adds, "The library's expanded involvement with our local community engagement team has resulted in my co-chairing a Parenting/Literacy Committee. I am also a member of a group called the Children's Team composed of representatives from county agencies who provide services to families and young children. Increased community awareness of Schlow Library as a vital downtown destination for all families has raised our visibility with area service clubs, such as Kiwanis and Soroptimist who provide financial contributions to help support our work with State College families."
The Family Place Libraries™ initiative has been instrumental in shaping the library's service model. The welcoming environment speaks for itself and, through word of mouth, patrons flock to the library. Schlow Centre Region Library has truly become a vital, inclusive community destination for all families.