By Kathleen Deerr
National Coordinator, Family Place Libraries
The Kalamazoo Public Library is one of 25 libraries participating in an IMLS National Leadership Grant, Family Place Libraries™: a Model for Institutional Change. Family Place Libraries™ is a tried-and-true library-based model for early learning and family support beginning at birth. Key components include the Parent-Child Workshop, a specially designed early childhood area on the public floor that is comfortable for families with young children, and the development of programs, services, and coalitions in partnership with other family service organizations. The development of these core concepts at the Kalamazoo Public Library led to an exciting and unique partnership between the Kalamazoo Public Library and the Kalamazoo Growlers at the Homer Stryker Field --the development of the Family Place Zone.
In November 2014, Farrell Howe, the library’s community relations manager, was contacted by John Bollinger, Assistant General Manager for the Kalamazoo Growlers, a summer collegiate baseball team, regarding a reading program the Growlers were considering for their fans. After brainstorming some ideas, John mentioned another problem that he thought the library could help with. While the Growlers have a popular dedicated play area for children called the Eaton Kidz Zone, they had received comments from parents that the little kids were being overpowered. They wanted to create a space for the littlest baseball fans. Farrell immediately thought of Family Place Libraries™.
After giving John a tour of the redesigned space at the Central Library location, staff presented ideas for bringing it to the ball field. John spoke with his staff and brought back a sponsorship contract that included all of the ideas discussed, including The Family Place Zone. After receiving approval to utilize the Family Place Libraries™ trademark, the KPL Youth Services department ordered appropriate toys, created signage, and coordinated with John to ensure the space would be welcoming and comfortable for their littlest fans. Knowledgeable library staff are available at Sunday home games to model how to play and share books with the youngest fans and casually talk with parents about all library offerings.
KPL’s partnership with the Growlers has been a win-win since the first pitch of the season. The start of the 2015 Growlers baseball season garnered a lot of media attention and the library was very pleased with the opportunity to promote KPL as well as Family Place Libraries™. Library staff was overwhelmed by the number of people who came to thank them for their involvement.
Everyone scored big with this partnership. The KPL endorsement gave the Growlers’ reading program legitimacy. KPL was able to reach thousands of local families in a strong new way--promoting their own Summer Reading Challenge to a record number of participants as well as informing families with very young children about Family Place Libraries™ and other programs. KPL staff loved working in the Family Place Zone, commenting that it was one of their favorite community outreach efforts. Most importantly, parents were able to enjoy both the game and their little ones’ experience in the new space. This unique partnership is proving to be a real grand slam!
About Kathleen Deerr
Kathleen Deerr has been working with children and families in public libraries for the past three decades. Since 2002, she has served as the National Family Place Libraries™ Coordinator, administering all aspects of this initiative. Under her leadership the number of libraries in the Family Place network has more than tripled and in 2012 Family Place was award the prestigious National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).