New Children's Library Offers Much Potential for Little Rock (Quality of Life | Winner, 20,000+)

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Dec. 9, 2013 12:00 am  

The Hillary Clinton Children’s Library and Learning Center, opened in the spring of 2013 just off the 12th Street corridor in central Little Rock, represents not just another notch in the Central Arkansas Library System belt.

The construction of the roughly 7-acre facility has proven to be an infusion of life into a community in need of it. New development has been missing from the area for decades, and the library’s placement increases the potential to create a new corridor connecting War Memorial Park, the Little Rock Zoo and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to the north and 12th Street to the south. The library is located just off Jonesboro Drive, which runs north from 12th, across I-630 and into what is considered Midtown, now thriving with development and activity. Through the library, CALS is collaborating with a group of local agencies and businesses on the Central Little Rock Promise Neighborhood, which aims to help meet the social and educational needs of the area.

In addition to its potential for helping spur economic development, the library represents a state-of-the-art facility that features a teaching garden and greenhouse, an outdoor classroom that recreates the state’s major eco-regions, a theater/performance space, a teaching kitchen, flexible meeting space for community access programs and and the largest collection in one place of children’s books in the state.

Plus, the new children’s library earned Little Rock a 2013 Arkansas Business City of Distinction Award for Quality of Life for cities of more than 20,000 people.

“It is the hub of the children’s initiative at CALS and is intended to provide basic library services for children in the midtown area south of I-630 and for all children of Little Rock,” said Don Ernst, coordinator of children’s initiatives for CALS. “The vision does not stop there. We have created a special community-embedded place to enrich the learning lives of all children into and onto the 6.8 acres of urban canopy and wonderful architecture.”

Ernst said the vision for the facility includes place-based learning that “weaves basic literacy and pre-literacy enrichment into a variety of learning themes.” That includes urban canopy and green space themes connecting inside and outside learning.

The library’s resources, he said, will enable CALS to create “learning streams” that include gardening, cooking/nutrition, performance, theater, music, design and story telling. Summer programs at the new children’s library include summer reading, pre-school story hours, food and gardening and arts and music.

And most important of all, the library will provide families and children who need it with free access to reading materials.

Future plans for new children’s library include 4,000-SF of new learning space that could include a 3-D printer lab, a green screen facility for film and animation production, a biological lab, a space for a boat-building math program and a design space.

“Further, imagine a place that highlights the motivation for learning and engagement in the hands of the students,” Ernst said. “That is, students accepting responsibility for directing and influencing their own passions and interests outside of school. Our hope is that we bring life to spheres of learning silent in the learning lives of children and young people, especially for the most marginalized of those children, youth and families.”

Ernst said the new children’s library can help solve problems associated with summer learning loss and “idleness” among kids.

“Strategic partners will join in the creation of such a space to ensure expertise, creativity and shared mission and resources,” he said. “Our future is just getting started.”

So far, the library has been well received by the community. Peak summer programming in 2013 saw 300 kids a day, and the library actually had to turn away kids, Ernst said.

Since March 15, the facility has seen more than 42,000 visitors, a total that exceeds the traffic of some other branch libraries by more than 50 percent.

“Our numbers alone have sent a powerful message of support from our immediate communities and neighborhoods,” Ernst said.

“Moreover, the surrounding neighbors have helped spread the word and kept the campus safe and free and damage. The surrounding neighborhoods have greatly appreciated the investment for the long-term support of their children and young people.”



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