Introducing the New Children’s Discovery Library at Providence Public Library: The Story Starts Here!

[ 0 ] January 26, 2012 |

The Providence Public Library children’s room has transformed into the Children’s Discovery Library — The Story Starts Here!  The new Children’s Discovery Library officially opens on Saturday, January 28 at 12:30 pm with a ribbon cutting, special guests and activities. Parents and children will have the opportunity to learn about and explore the new Children’s Discovery Library space, free and open to public. Activities include face painting, refreshments and prize drawings.

Boys Sharing

To create Rhode Island’s latest family learning destination, Providence Public Library (PPL) contracted Providence Children’s Museum, which has earned both a national reputation for the excellence of its exhibits and the popular acclaim of generations of southern New England’s children and caregivers.  The artful re-imagining and design of PPL’s children’s library has resulted in a captivating and enriching environment for early learners. We love collaborations and are excited to see and play in this new space!

Children Disccovery Library Entrance

A Conversation About the Children’s Discovery Library

Anne Kilkenny, the Library’s Early Childhood Services Coordinator and Children’s Librarian, and Children’s Museum Executive Director Janice O’Donnell and Exhibits Director Robin Meisner spoke about the inspiration for and process of creating the new space.

How was the project conceived and what are the Library’s goals?

Anne: The Library wanted to create an interactive early literacy environment that would be accessible to everyone and become a destination for children and families in Rhode Island. We took inspiration from the Baltimore Public Library’s early childhood area.

Alphabet Boxes

Why was Providence Children’s Museum interested in this project? What are the benefits of this collaboration between two community institutions?

Janice: Partly because creating interactive learning environments for children and families is what we do. Second, because it’s the library. We’re colleagues, we share resources and always have — we’re partners in the world of informal learning so it seemed pretty natural. The Museum is committed to outreach — going beyond our walls and sharing our expertise in informal learning and environments is part of our strategic plan. It was definitely a big leap but it was intriguing and it felt right to try it.

Anne: The Library has three pieces to our strategic plan and one is early childhood. To be able to stretch our boundaries a bit and bring in an interactive environment was something we really wanted to do and a natural partnership. The Museum’s staff are the experts in the field and we do have this ongoing and very strong collegiate relationship. Collaborating is the way to bring these kinds of experiences to children and their families.

Janice: We want families to understand that their libraries and museums and parks and playgrounds and zoos are resources in a community for them to make use of. That’s what makes a culturally aware citizen.

Anne: It builds a sense of community. So many children are in isolation much of the time — it’s important for them to be out and able to just play.

Janice: Especially in places meant for them that are respectful and beautiful and thoughtful.

Robin: Topically, there’s a nice connection for the Museum because we have book nooks in all of our exhibits and we bring books into what we do but we don’t teach literacy. Partnering with the Library, where it’s about books and literacy and giving families those supports is something that we don’t really do in the same way at the Museum.

Anne: And we’ve said all along we’re not trying to be the Children’s Museum. We complement one another.

Why was Providence Children’s Museum’s proposal selected?

Anne: Because of the obvious thought and time that went into every detail. They kept our focus, learning objectives and components, and mission at the forefront of everything they did to the minutest detail. It was the finest caliber that we could have imagined and there really wasn’t any question.

Talk about the process of planning for this new space.

Anne: Putting the RFP together, the process was to think about the goals and objectives of this space. What did we want it to look like, to sound like, how do we want people to feel when they come in to the room?

Janice: The library’s RFP was excellent — it was such a thoughtful document. There’s so much work that goes into defining goals and purpose and audience. It was fun and exciting and a challenge to respond to but we didn’t have to guess what the Library wanted.

Robin: There were some design challenges for us, being the first project we’ve done outside the Museum. We’re used to designing and fabricating for a space we know incredibly well, so we found ourselves coming over a lot to check things or to measure again and again. And we had to remind ourselves throughout that the space was primarily about books, and all of the other activities were meant to support storymaking and literacy and preliteracy skills.

Birch Forest

What’s the story of the birch tree?

Janice: We knew we needed an open-ended area for pretend play. Since so many children’s stories happen in the woods, we decided on a forest. We wanted it be a birch forest and to use real birch trees as a unifying design theme. We did some woodland scavenging with no luck and then the hurricane hit and took out one of the birch trees in the Museum’s Children’s Garden. So the tree that welcomed children to the Children’s Garden will now welcome them to the Children’s Discovery Library.

Reading AreaWhat’s your vision for this space? What do you hope to see once it’s open?

Robin: I’m really excited to see kids and families in the space and to see how it changes. I hope there is more storymaking and storytelling and that some of the things we built inspire kids to go back into the books.

Anne: That it will give parents or caregivers and children more time together without distractions, to read a book, do an activity, tell a story. Just to spend some quality time together — quietly, creatively, imaginatively — and have some fun. That doesn’t always happen in this wired world we live in. And I hope that people who haven’t been to the Library before will come.

Janice: My vision is that visitors to the Library will see play as a literacy activity. That children’s play — especially pretend play, storymaking — does build literacy skills. It’s often dismissed as frivolous and it isn’t. It’s critical.

Celebrations Continue…
Anne: We are planning some special grand opening programs to be held during the days/week after the official reopening, beginning with a Sparky’s Puppet Show — “Old Favorites” on Sunday, January 29 at 2 pm and a visit from the Roger Williams Park Zoomobile on Sunday, February 5 at 2 pm.

Complete event information may be found at – check our Calendar of Events.

Category: community news, education + schools, free / cheap, kids, local venue, preschool, Providence Children's Museum, special events

Children's Museum

about the author ()

The mission of Providence Children's Museum is to inspire and celebrate learning through active play and exploration. The Museum creates and presents interactive play and learning environments and hands-on programs for children ages 1 - 11 and their families. Located in Providence's Jewelry District. Museum educators and other staff contribute monthly articles about topics related to children's play and learning. Articles advocate for the importance of play to children's healthy development and are full of great ideas and resources, activities to try at home, and much more. For additional ideas and resources, visit the Museum's website and blog. Also join the conversation about the need for play on the Museum-hosted PlayWatch listserv (

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