By Dedra Cordle
Lauren Easley loves her local library.
“We always come here,” said the Galloway resident.
At least once a week, she and her 2-year-old son, Milo will go to the Westland Area Library in order to drop off the dozen or so books they had checked out and then scour the shelves for more.
“We like to refresh our supply,” said Easley.
But if there was one complaint she had about the library, it was its lack of a designated space for children.
“They didn’t have much of anything,” she said. “The area really consisted of books, one table and a few chairs.”
When she heard last year that an expansion project for the youth services department was forthcoming, she was ecstatic. She even made a mental note to come out for the grand unveiling, whenever that may be. When it finally occurred on March 23, six months after the construction process began, she and Milo were one of the first visitors. Like so many others who came out to the event, she was not at all prepared for what the finished product looked like.
“It’s unbelievable,” Easley said.
After rounding the corner near the main entrance, the patrons came across a piece of chalk art from youth services librarian Jessica Smith that depicts a scene from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s novel, “The Secret Garden.” As both book and expansion project share a theme of exploration and discovery, a “cement path” woven into the carpet leads visitors to an archway filled with stuffed animals that welcome them to the sensory room. There, the space is filled with books, puzzles, reading nooks, multiple tables, computers and furniture.
Upon leaving the sensory room, the path takes visitors to the youth services program area that will primarily be used to host public reading events and activities, such as the popular Storytime series that is held throughout the year.
“With all of this new space, people won’t have to sit on other people when they attend these events,” said Jane Barnhart, the youth services team lead. “Children and parents can be together as they take part whereas it used to be children in one room, parents in another.”
Adjacent but separate to the program area is a section for teens where they can browse books on the tree shelf, use specialized tables to access the Internet or just take a few moments to chill out.
“It’s just a neat space for teens,” said Barnhart.
Having worked at the library for nearly two decades, Barnhart has seen the growth of the patronage and been a witness to the need for the expansion of all departments, particularly for youth services.
“It’s been pretty cramped for a long time,” she said.
Barnhart said she was excited when the expansion project began, but didn’t realize just how much space would be added.
“I knew it was around 3,600 square feet of new additions, but seeing it firsthand is something else,” she said. “It’s a little overwhelming, having all of this space.”
Still, she knows it will be put to good use.
“We have so many programming plans for the future,” she said. “And now we’ll actually have the space for it.”
Judging by the comments from the children and adults alike, they too plan to take advantage of the expansion.
“I like it a lot,” said Cadence Williams, a kindergartner at Darby Woods Elementary. “I like the play area. I like to read too.”
“We will definitely be coming back,” said Hilliard resident Jessica Linley, who came to the dedication with her 5-year-old son Isaac. “It’s such a lovely place to be.”