Sorry for the obvious alliteration, but Laramie County Library’s (LCL) Early Literacy Center is so impressive that the title fits perfectly. I’d been meaning to visit this facility ever since a bedazzled friend described it to me, and seeing Livability.com’s Top 10 Libraries for Children article further whetted my appetite, so while we were in Wyoming’s capital to attend the world famous Cheyenne Frontier Days…
…I took a tour.
It’s an enormous, centrally located, award winning building – three stories and 103,000+ square feet, it has an intriguing exoskeleton, lovely xeriscaping, wrought iron benches, bike racks and numerous sculptures (my favorite was the giant cowboy boot painted with three readers against a background of bestselling titles) surrounding it.
Finished in 2007, LCL, the oldest continually operating library system in the US, wisely held focus groups to help plan it. The three main things the community wanted were more meeting areas, a quiet space, and a cafe. The eatery is the first thing you notice as you enter and it has child sized portions to accommodate the thousands who visit weekly.
In the lobby, big screens televisions scroll photos of customers enjoying myriad activities, while display cases holding gorgeous pottery (part of the current exhibit Of, Above and From: Art of the Earth) form a see through wall. Under the bulletin board, several strollers with net bags on the back eliminate the need to lug in your own, while an ATM saves a trip to the bank just as the courtesy phone saves cell minutes.
The nearby lavatories give the first impression that a thoughtful process has created the facility. The toilets save water – pull up to flush liquid waste and down for solid, and there are waterless urinals. Since LCL is so cutting edge, their LEED® Gold Certification probably isn’t surprising, but the abundant natural light is pleasant, and I love that they have showers to encourage personnel to bike to work. Containers for recycling paper, plastic, cans and hearing aid batteries are scattered around.
The building is designed with lots of “discoverables” – although this is most obvious in the youth area, artwork is everywhere and there’s exhibit space by every restroom. Pieces are rotated and they are always adding something new by local artists.
In 1990 for their 100th anniversary artists made this stained glass window complete with a cowgirl, Devil’s Tower and a bucking bronc and donated it to LCL.
Colors play an important role here and help people navigate throughout. For a theme they decided to use the hues of the prairie in bloom, so took pictures of wildflowers and sent them to the interior designers. Overhanging “Ask Here” and “Cards and Accounts” signs indicating a staff help desk are the fiery red of Indian paintbrush, while the purple of penstemons signify a meeting room, sagebrush green shows bathrooms, blue means copiers and goldenrod yellow points out exits.
The downstairs houses fiction and media – there are loads of paperback spindles and a large A/V area where CDs and DVDs are arranged by genre (DVD categories include foreign, comedy, TV shows and blueray). Video games have separate cases for Wii, Nintendo, Playstation and Xbox. An Español section is close by and end panels have slots so Plexiglas holders can be hung for face out displays. Vibrant modern cushioned seating and unique furniture like a circular upholstered bench with blond wood slatted back are everywhere.
As I walked up to the second floor I admired the granite staircase that wraps around a glass elevator whose visibility ensures patron safety as do the abundant interior glass walls and windows. The administrative offices are here so I checked in with County Librarian Lucie Osborn and Deputy County Librarian Carey Hartmann. We’d actually met before back in 2010, when we did a presentation together at PLA.
I wondered how they’d managed to fund such an amazing institution and was told that voters approved a one cent per dollar sales tax increase specifically to build a new facility. Thankfully the county commissioners have been very good about providing monies so they can continue supporting the 97,000 people in their region. LCL provides a personalized information service for businesses – two employees are dedicated to helping companies get started and succeed. The unemployed can attend a Job Search Basics classes and they deliver to the homebound and have two small branches. A bookmobile travels to various schools, apartments and other convenient locations and materials can be picked up or returned at any of these sites.
Their Facebook page features pictures of numerous programs and there’s an active Twitter feed and YouTube account. Residents can download ebooks and eaudiobooks and access a number of databases via the Wyoming State Library’s GoWYLD connection.
The second floor is dedicated to the younger set. Carey kindly showed me around – with so much to see, I would have missed a lot if I’d explored on my own.
There’s a big chess set with huge men in the elementary area and a place to create games. One of the Burgeon Group fixtures is here – a joke station – e.g. “What’s not a good name for a zebra?” (answer “Spot”). Youngsters have many storytimes to choose from and there are baby music and lapsits too. Other offerings include a Lego challenge, classes for beginning readers, sidewalk art contests, family treasure hunts and luaus, and a magic, juggling and lassoing show. Outside events include musical performances and bamboo boat making and racing.
This floor has three AWE units for older kids, six for early literacy, six children’s internet and eight in Teen. Adults have 50 stations on the third level – 38 in the computer lab and 12 in the training room (which opens for overflow if no class is in session). All adult PCs can access the Net and a host of programs including MS Office, resume, photo editing and website design software. Equipment includes CD burners and scanners and there’s an express terminal just off the lobby. The wifi setup allows users to print from it.
Taking one of the flyover bridges into YA I was impressed with how they made this spot their own. A Teen Advisory Board that includes representatives from all the middle and high schools and from the homeschooling contingent helped design the space. They chose the furniture and fabric and opted for exposed duct work giving it an industrial feel that complements the girders that soar through the place – and the Jersey barrier that prevents the oblivious from bonking a noggin on a diagonal beam. Moving further in, a long cushioned banquette wraps around a corner and above bar stool seats surrounding round tables, multicolored circular sound barriers cover the ceiling. Two tinted glass study rooms can be used by adults if noone here needs them. There’s a white board to write on and a terrace (one of two – there’s one next to the staff lounge) so growing adolescents can get their daily dose of sunshine. Young adult volunteers make users feel welcome.
The third level hosts nonfiction, special collections and a genealogy room where the plaque from the original building honors LCL’s roots as does the portrait of Mrs. Smith, the first county librarian. Friends with Andrew Carnegie’s wife, she may be the reason Cheyenne managed to get a Carnegie library.
To save space, Genealogy has rolling shelves like Kita-ku’s, but these move easily with just the touch of an electronic button.
Western and Wyoming History and a Trails collection (as in the Oregon Trail…) generously donated by a local are in a peaceful room where glass fronted cabinets hold rare tomes and lovingly restored tables from LCL’s previous residence provide an appropriate spot for historians to work. Another stunning stained glass work, this one of a Western Meadowlark (the state bird) surrounded by wildflowers bordered in violet, mutes the sunlight. The doorway is edged by a handsome lintel, its dark wood glowing under recessed lights. Originally from the old Federal Courthouse, it somehow wound up at a local car dealership who donated it to LCL. They designed this space to fit the piece.
A serene quiet area is up here too. The fireplace is bordered in marble that came from the circulation desk in the Carnegie structure, further strengthening the connection between old and new.
LCL has five meeting spaces which are free if it’s for a nonprofit event that’s open to the public and which can even be used when the library is closed. Up to date AV equipment is available and the largest option, the Cottonwood Room, seats 225 people and has two pianos so music teachers can hold recitals. The six study rooms (besides the two in YA) are first come first served and there’s self check and pick up of holds.
Patrons can browse the booksale or tote their selections in the free plastic LCL logo bags. Adults can get free legal advice, see movies or go to a Maker Workshop where an artist shows attendees how to mold and glaze ceramic cups. Customers can listen to authors like C. J. Box (one of my favorites and a WY resident, he’ll also be featured at the LCL’s Foundation’s Booklover’s Bash) or immortalize themselves via StoryCorps. LCL offers one on one computer tutoring and sessions on Word, PowerPoint, email etc.
And here’s the pièce de résistance – the Early Literacy Center (ELC) – which has multiple Burgeon units. This one contains a whisper tube and a Rube Goldberg style conveyor belt that moves items around. Another module is shaped like a wooden bookmobile. The back, inspired by Wheels on the Bus, has busy box style moving windshield wipers, a crying baby… There’s a Wyoming “2READ” license plate and a steering wheel so the little ones can drive. A bit further on is the Height component where stacked books and mittens let tots see how they’ve grown. Burgeon started in children’s museums and now do libraries exclusively – Cheyenne’s installation is one of the biggest, and helps the young ones learn sequencing, sounds etc.
LCL is lucky to have a professional artist on staff – she designed Elsie and Eddie, the mascots for the ELC. These adorable mountain lion cubs indicate where there are interactive learning opportunities – branding so kids will recognize the learning spots when they are moved out into the city as they plan to put them at the mall, children’s clinic etc.
Just beyond these delights is an oversize storytime and crafts zone with a stained glass Alice in Wonderland, toddler furniture, portable puppet theater and bins of stuffed animals and toys. Comfortable rugs cover the replaceable rubber matting tiles (made from recycled products and also used in Teen). One carpet has a tree motif while another with a town center imprint has miniature trucks and busses to drive around its streets. Prominent Sing, Write, Talk and Play signs emphasize literacy and there’s a mirrored panel and a flannel board children use to tell stories to their guardians. An alcove has hefty cushions and tiers to save the leg muscles of accompanying adults.
Back in the main space a rack holds daycare theme kits on topics like Zippity Zoo and Rascally Rabbits. The Teeth are Terrific one contains six books, a curriculum guide, audio title, a dental model and an oversize toothbrush.
An I spy table has a glass cover with little boxes holding snails and nails and whales and sails (all things that rhyme with mail), but sadly no puppy dog tails 😉 Just beyond, a window promotes the Dig Into Reading Summer Reading Program while Dig stickers on the floor lead to a display of bookmarks produced for an SRP contest.
LCL has an outreach librarian who visits schools and helps parents and daycare providers. They produce colorful pamphlets – the August calendar features huge yellow sunflowers against a brilliant blue sky and another brochure lists the 125 books that all toddlers should have read to them by age five (e.g. Stone Soup and The Polar Express) so kids can keep track of which they’ve heard. It discusses the ALA early literacy standards as well – Narrative Skills, Letter Knowledge, Print Awareness, Vocabulary, Print Motivation and Phonological Awareness.
Further on an animation station lets children record a stop action movie, then add sound and post it on the web to show parents.
It’s so great that the citizens of Cheyenne and the staff and volunteers of LCL have worked together to build this exciting and enticing library.