What a Children’s Library is Good For

Earlier this summer, it was announced that the Cincinnati Public Library is pursuing selling off a part of their downtown branch’s facility and consolidating services into their main building. Under normal circumstances, consolidating services sounds like a grand idea. Save space. Save time. Save resources. Right?

The situation at the library is a bit more complicated than that for two reasons.

First, the word on the street is that the library’s facility could be sold off to a private developer, transferring an entire city block of beloved public amenities into private investors’ hands. Our community (OTR) is already burdened under the heavy hand of big investments from people who seem to think they know what we need better than we know ourselves and we’re tired of it. So this is not a welcome option.

Second, most of the services that will need to be moved and consolidated are geared toward youth: the children’s library and garden, the teenspace, etc. (plus the makerspace!). The threat of losing the entire building is scary for parents (and kids) like us who make frequent use of it and its kid-friendly services.

So what can we do about it?

Well, we’ve seen how these things work. By the time the public hears rumors of this sort of thing, backroom dealings have already occurred. So I understand that it’s probably too late to do anything at all.

Plus, maybe the experts are right. Maybe the library can consolidate and still offer the same quality of service. So maybe it doesn’t even make sense to fight it.

But, for those willing to hear, there’s a lot that needs to be said in favor of the library as it is. And there are certainly a few words left to be spoken about the Children’s library, in particular.

 

Here goes:

  • The public library is one of the only free, indoor public spaces downtown. It provides public restrooms, comfortable chairs, internet access, water fountains, shelter from the rain and cold, etc. It is impossible to quantify the public good a library does by its very presence, in addition to any actual literary contribution to society. Losing any square footage, honestly, is a huge loss.
  • Because it is a completely free public amenity, it attracts a diverse group of patrons. So long as you follow the rules (which are few), all are welcome. This kind of inclusive space exists almost nowhere. It is worth protecting. While attending storytime, public programs, or just browsing for books, my kids and I have felt part of a truly diverse community. This is one of my favorite things about living downtown and one of the best things about the library.
  • The children’s garden is one of the city’s only public, enclosed outdoor spaces for kids. Washington Park’s playground is fenced in, as well, but the library’s garden is different. It feels like a natural escape in an otherwise concrete jungle. We’ve had picnics in the garden, school lessons, played tag, practiced bird watching, and more. There is another, very nice, walled garden at the library’s south building, but it is open to all patrons. Adding the natural chaos of children to such a dignified garden may be tricky for both parties.
  • The children’s library is heavy on books and lite on media. There are a handful of computers and iPads available for use (and, yes, my kids use them and love them), but the majority of the space is still occupied by books. Real books. The kind of books many libraries don’t even keep on public floors anymore. Consolidating the children’s library, I fear, means hiding all those lovely books behind closed doors. Which means we’ll now have to request a book from a librarian at the desk. Which means fewer children experiencing the pleasure of browsing through shelves of unfamiliar books to find literary treasure which is, honestly, one of the greatest joys of reading.
  • Because of the way the building is currently laid out, the children’s library seems isolated from the rest of the library. I understand how it’s likely a logistical nightmare for staff and management because, I will admit, I don’t often make my way over to “my books” anymore because it’s so inconvenient. But this kind of set-apart “kid space” is a dream for my kids. We walk into the building and they instantly feel at home. They roam within the confines of their own library without me hovering over. And it’s not really about “safety”; it’s about ownership and comfort. They can wander and browse and enjoy their pint-sized library world with their own librarians, their own kids-sized bathrooms, their own computers to use, their own garden, their own public events and summers camps and storytimes. Babies even have their own toys. My fear is that moving the children’s library to the other building means surrendering their domain and being grandfathered into a building where–like everywhere else in their world–everything is made for adults. This is nowhere more evident than the computer labs in the south building where most of the adults are busy watching music videos, playing video games, and (I’m sure) some are watching porn. What adults do with their free time is their decision, but that’s not exactly the cultural experience I’m hoping to provide for my children when I visit the library. So, it’s nice to let kids have their own space to be kids.

 

A few weeks ago, I thought I might gather some friends to stage a “read-in” in solidarity for the Children’s library and garden. In my mind, I was going to be a big hero and I was going to save the library and we’d all live happily ever after in our safe, spacious, kid-sized literary wonderland. But, like I said, I think it’s probably too late to actually do anything about this. So, I am relegated to writing instead so I can at least feel like “I said something.”

My hope is that, no matter what decision is made about the fate of our library, those in power are able to design the new children’s space to be as beneficial to the community as the current one is.

We love the children’s library. And, if/when it’s gone some day soon, we will damn sure miss it.

Even if we love the new one, too.

 

 

“The most common and the monstrous defect in the education of the day is that children fail to acquire the habit of reading.” – Charlotte Mason

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Our Favorite Free Range Kids Books

And now, for something completely different…

Since Christmas is right around the corner and you’re likely shopping for gifts, I’d like to share some of our favorite children’s books.

It just so happens that many of our favorite books have a common theme of “free range kids” or, as they used to call them: kids.

You know, the kind of kids who are full of wild ideas and are super creative and curious and who spend time by themselves doing wild and creative things.

Andrew Henry’s Meadow and The Summerfolk, Doris Burn

Roxaboxen, Alice McLerran and Barbara Cooney

The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats

Blueberries for Sal, Robert McCloskey

Oh, Were They Ever Happy and Bored, Nothing to Do, Peter Spier

A Walk In The Woods, Christin Couture (currently out of print)

The Railway Children or The Book of Dragons, Edith Nesbit

 

 

 

So if you’re looking for a great gift for your kids this Christmas, a book that you’ll enjoy reading as much as they will, check one of these out.

 

Where We Play: Eden Park

photo from historylines.net

photo from historylines.net

Eden Park– Walnut Hills

* This a guest post by Steve Carr, a husband, father, and pastor in Walnut Hills. Visit him online here.

Overview: Eden Park, located in Walnut Hills and bordering Mt Adams, is one of Cincinnati’s most popular parks. Yet those who visit often miss out on the wide range of opportunities hidden throughout the park. It occupies a strip of land between two hills overlooking the Ohio River Valley and boasts ample open spaces, trails, and numerous water features.

A system of paths connect the divisions of the park. Starting at the south end of the park (at Mt Adams Drive) is the Playhouse in the Park. Behind the theater is a “mini-park” area with a CRC pool. Descending the hill, you encounter the Art Museum and (down the hill) the Seasongood Pavilion. Behind the pavilion is a path to Mirror Lake, a popular walking destination. From here you could descend down the hill toward basketball courts and the remnants of the old reservoir wall (bigger kids love climbing up the incline of the wall since they’re practically steps). Usually, people opt to ascend the hill toward Krohn Conservatory. While the conservatory now charges an admission fee, it’s still an incredibly popular Cincinnati destination.

At the northern end of the park, up the hill from the conservatory, is the Twin Lakes—a place where children can feed the ducks and play on the playground. Yet this isn’t the end of the park, as you can ascend even farther up the hill toward the Eden Park Water Tower and scenic Author’s/President’s Grove. From there, you can cross the Arch Bridge to the Overlook, one of the park’s many scenic vistas.

General Cleanliness: Despite the high-traffic throughout the park, it is often very clean. The Twin Lakes area is a popular Sunday picnic location so it’s most chaotic then.

Parking: Parking is available throughout the park. If you decide to explore areas up the hill and don’t want to walk, you can move your car. If you decide to visit the Art Museum, you can save money by parking on Mt Adams Drive and taking the short walk to the museum.

Bathroom Facilities: Yes, in two locations: next to the parking at Mirror Lake and by the Twin Lakes at the top of the hill.

Picnic Areas: There are designated areas throughout the park. Still, the Twin Lakes tables are the most popular destination.

Playground: There are two playgrounds in the park. The most popular one is located at the Twin Lakes and was recently renovated. The lesser known playground is by the pool by Playhouse in the Park and is a great place to let smaller children explore a play set without getting trampled by older children.

Other Amenities: The Gazebo by Mirror Lake is very popular. There’s now a paved walking path leading from there up to the Magnolia Grove which is another hidden gem. You could visit this park over and over again and have a new experience on every trip.

 

Look for a separate review of Eden Park’s Hinkle Garden in a future post!

*This is the fifth in the “Where We Play” series. If you’d like to contribute a park review as a guest blogger, send me a note at ejmcewan@gmail.com.*

Where We Play: Burnet Woods

 

Burnet Woods– Clifton

Overview: My introduction to Burnet Woods was through leading field trips as an educator with a local nonprofit. During the field trips, we stopped for lunch and a program at the Burnet Woods’ Trailside Nature Center, which is positively one of the hidden gems of our city. The park itself is 90 acres and includes multiple amentities, including the nature center which is (as far as I can tell, and am sorry to report) rarely open to the public. It’s the perfect stop for a quick hike near to downtown and is easily accesible by foot or by car from the Uptown neighborhoods of Corryville, CUF, Avondale, and Clifton.  We’re there a few times a year and the last time we went–as evidenced by the photos–was prime season for wildflowers and mulberries!

General Cleanliness: A few littered spots in the high foot-traffic areas. The trails are not super well-maintained, but it only adds to the “wild” feel, which I actually prefer. Some areas could use updating. (There has been a lot of talk about proposed improvements to the park.)

Bathroom Facilities: Yes, though I’m not certain of the open hours. According to the park map, there are three separate facilities.

Picnic Area: Multiple picnic areas, including covered shelters and a gazebo.

Parking: Street parking is available along the edges of the park and on a few access roads. There is no central parking lot.

Playground: There are two playground areas that I know of: one, near the nature center, with an older set of swings and a fantastic concrete slide; one near the Clifton Ave. access point with a more modern play structure. (Our usual hiking route takes us from one to the other and back again.)

Other Amenities: Our favorite parts of the park are definitely the concrete slide and the hiking trails. The nature center, as I mentioned, is worth the trip if you can figure out when it’s actually open. There is also a Stonehenge-style sculpture that we’ve never seen in person, though it’s visible from the road. And the pond is a very popular place for visitors.

 

*This is the fourth in the “Where We Play” series. If you’d like to contribute a park review as a guest blogger, send me a note at ejmcewan@gmail.com.*

Where We Play: Queensgate Playground

Queensgate Playground – West End, on Court St

 

* This is a guest post by Emily Benhase.

Overview: This is our neighborhood playground, less than a block from our house, so we frequent it often when the weather is nice. The city recently finished putting in two new (and very nice) play structures, as well as a set of swings. Plus there is enough open green space that I feel comfortable letting my children run free without having to worry about traffic. There are almost always other neighborhood children there, so it’s a great place to interact with the community and meet new people. It’s also close to the Lincoln CRC Pool as well as the Museum Center and would make a great place to have a picnic before or after a visit to either of those places.

General Cleanliness: overall fairly neat, especially the newer section. There is sometimes a little trash on the ground.

Bathroom Facilities: no bathrooms on site, although there is one portable restroom.

Picnic Area: There is one picnic table near the older playground and one near the new playground, as well as a lot of grass (some under trees for shade) for picnics

Parking: street parking, free

Playground: There is a small, older play structure on one end of the park. The other end has a new, fairly large playground, with swings. There is also a smaller structure for younger children, as well as baby swings. In between the playgrounds is a baseball diamond and an open, grassy field, perfect for kicking around a soccer ball or tossing a football.

Other Amenities: Located near the new play structure is a charcoal grill, which I’ve often seen groups using on the weekends. And it seems to be a popular spot for cookouts and birthday parties this time of year. There is also a line of trees that look perfect for climbing!

 

Thanks, Emily!

*This is the third in the “Where We Play” series. If you’d like to contribute a park review as a guest blogger, send me a note at ejmcewan@gmail.com.*

Where We Play: Mount Echo Forest

Mt Echo Park– Price Hill

Overview: Mount Echo is one of Cincinnati’s lesser-known parks and is located just west of downtown, in Price Hill. Back when I worked in East Price Hill, I often stopped at this park for some solitude. But, to be honest, I don’t think I ever got very far out of my car. The view of downtown isn’t always the best from the westside–due to the industrial areas in Queensgate and Camp Washington. But, even if it’s not the BEST view of the city, this parks hosts a spectacular view of the Ohio river and Kentucky, as well. It seems like this park is easily accessible to a few subdivisions in East Price Hill and there were a few basketball and tennis courts and a baseball field that I can imagine are frequently used. We walked most of the park, but didn’t venture onto any of the wooded trails. Maybe next time!

General Cleanliness: Most of the park was clean and well maintained, but the main playground area was a total disaster. (I’m thinking–hoping–we just happened to be there the morning after a messy fast food picnic, before Parks staff could get to it.)

Parking: A few parking lots.

Bathroom Facilities: Yes, though we didn’t check to see if they were unlocked.

Picnic Area: A few picnic areas, including a really nice covered shelter, plus a few benches and lots of open grass.

Playground: One older plastic playground and a smaller area on the other end of the park with swings.

Other Amenities: The Pavilion is really neat, as is the shelter. There are ball fields and playgrounds, as well as hiking trails. The open greenspace and overlook views are the strength of the park.

 

*This is the second in the “Where We Play” series. If you’d like to contribute a park review as a guest blogger, send me a note at ejmcewan@gmail.com.*

 

Related Posts:

Go Play Outside!
Go Play Outside: Alone?
Go Play Outside: In The Cold
Urban Families: How To Get Them & How To Keep Them
Where We Play: Lytle Park

 

Where We Play: Lytle Park


Lytle Park Central Business District (CBD)

Overview: Lytle Park is located in a historic district of downtown, just over a mile walk from our home. It’s next to the Taft Museum and just a few blocks from the Purple People Bridge (which leads to Newport, KY) and Sawyer Point. The park is neat, well-maintained, and has a fantastic view of the skyline. It feels like a truly “urban oasis.” The playground itself is a bit small and outdated and doesn’t keep my kids occupied for very long, but there is a large open field to run in and a few trees to climb. The park is used (mostly, it seems) by downtown workers on their lunch break and older, CBD residents walking their dogs. In the half-dozen times we’ve been to Lytle Park, we’ve never seen another child. The hallmark of this park is the historic bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln and the large, landscaped field. Even though it’s a small park, this would be a great side-trip for families exploring downtown or visiting the Taft Museum.

General Cleanliness: Very neat and tidy.

Parking: Street parking, metered.

Bathroom Facilities: Yes, though we didn’t check to see if they were unlocked.

Picnic Area: No tables that I remember, but many benches and lots of open grass.

Playground: Small, with no swings.

Other Amenities: The seasonal flowers are great. There is a large amphitheater-type paved area that we’ve never seen used. We also spotted a bocce pit and there is a small firefighters’ memorial in addition to the awesome Lincoln statue. There is a water fountain, too.

 

*This is the first in the “Where We Play” series. If you’d like to contribute a park review as a guest blogger, send me a note at ejmcewan@gmail.com.*

Choosing A Small Living Space

When considering housing options, one of the most common concerns among parents is space: physical space, square footage, acreage. For this reason alone, urban living is almost immediately crossed off the list of options. To move to the city may require sharing a building with neighbors, sharing bedrooms with siblings, or limiting outdoor space for play.

molinecourtMoline Court, Northside. photo credit

As the mother of a growing family, I understand this concern and I’m sympathetic. Our home has plenty of square footage for our family, but the space is not arranged very well. Currently, we only use two of our available bedrooms as sleeping spaces, which means that my two children share a room and Baby #3 (due in September) will bunk with us (as the other two have for their first few months) and then eventually with her brother and sister.

Three kids in one room.
In 21st Century middle-class America, that is simply absurd.

As our family grows, we get more and more questions about what we’re going to do with that new baby once she’s born. Reconfiguring our home to use 3 or more bedrooms will require a large financial investment and a lot of work (and time). For now, it’s not on the agenda. I like our current situation. And, apart from the logistics of different sleeping habits and bedtimes, it doesn’t bother me at all to have a bunch of young children sleeping in the same room. (Now, when they’re teenagers, this might be a bit trickier…)

Contrary to the popular belief of my peers, it’s not impossible for a large family to live comfortably in the city. It simply requires sacrifice, creativity, and wisdom about the best way to use a limited amount of space. Most urban families–those who live in the city by choice, not necessity–have reconciled their sacrifice of space for the sake of other benefits of life in the city. And, with a clever use of space (alongside purging unnecessary stuff and using good organizational skills), I think living in small space could actually be easier than a large sprawling home. (Imagine how much easier it would be to clean a house half the size!)

On a related note, I came across this article in Apartment Therapy last night. This woman only has two children, which is not really a large family, but she offers a good perspective on why choosing a smaller space is often not really a sacrifice, but is actually a good thing for family life.

What about you?
Have you considered down-sizing to a smaller space for the sake of a different way of life?
Do you already feel squeezed too tight?
Have you already given-up on small spaces?
For those living in small spaces, what lifestyle (and organizational) changes have you made to make it easier for living?

For some related stories (with great photos!) check out these other recent Apartment Therapy posts:

Emily’s Nursery Nook in the Bedroom
Something For Everyone
(a shared room for three boys)
Jack, Finn & Rowan’s “Undone” Room (another shared room)
Before & After: Closet Turned Nursery
A Small Space Nursery Triumph in Manhattan

And for general encouragement that small-space living can actually be great, check out these links:

Small House Bliss
Honey, I Shrunk The House
Tiny House Swoon