Library’s children’s area gets vibrant makeover

The renovated children’s area of the Alachua County Library Headquarters.

DOUG FINGER/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 3:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 3:06 p.m.

An inquisitive monkey, a bear, a spider, an owl, a cat and a mouse were some of the critters that have made their home inside a tree canopy at the Snuggle Up Center inside the children's area at the Alachua County Library Headquarters.

And they were all in plain sight during the grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour of the rejuvenated children's area.

But don't worry, children were not harmed and the critters are not the breathing kind.

The nearly 30 people who attended the ceremony and tour held last Wednesday appeared thrilled with the rejuvenation project and the Snuggle Up Center with critters peeking through the tree canopy's foliage.

In her welcoming remarks, Shaney T. Livingston, director of the Alachua County Library District, gave a brief history of the children's area, which she said has not been renovated since the library opened in 1991. She said a Snuggle Up Center with limited space was created in 2005. The old library was located across the street in the building next to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Garden.

"With thoughtful planning, lots of painting and hard work, plus generous donations from our Friends of the Library and the Alachua County Library District Foundation," said Livingston, "we have made this a welcoming place for children and families to bond and discover."

Livingston said the cost of the nearly 8,500-square-foot children's area rejuvenation project, including the Snuggle Up Center, was $207,123. The Snuggle Up Center was created by High Springs-based ThemeWorks, a company that creates artificial environments and interactive exhibits and props for museums, theme parks and other projects.

The children's area rejuvenation includes brightly colored furniture, early learning computers and wall games, new tables and chairs, new carpet, ceiling tiles, painting and soft padded carpeting.

Under a tree canopy, the Snuggle Up Center also features soft-padded carpeting for sitting, comfortable furniture, books for young children and parenting books.

The Storyhour Room also got new carpet and is getting a paint job. Livingston said the rejuvenation of the children's area completed a three-year renovation project at the library headquarters that began in 2010 with the main lobby, Teen Space, with computers and gaming space, in 2012, and last fall with the adult section, which includes a new quiet reading room, more meeting and study rooms, public computers arranged for more privacy, and the collection rearranged for easier access to popular material.

Speakers at the ceremony included Alachua County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson, who is also the chairman of the Alachua County Library District Governing Board; Dr. Sheila K. Dickison, chairperson of the Alachua County Library District Board of Trustees, and Gainesville city Commissioner Randy Wells, who represented Mayor Ed Braddy who was unable to attend.

Pinkoson praised Livingston, library personnel and the children's area/Snuggle Up Center, which he said will enable children to visualize as they read.

Wells reflected on the importance of libraries and spoke about his children's love of reading and of coming to the library.

Dickison called the children's area "the most wonderful thing to see." She also quoted verses from "A Child's Garden of Verses" by Robert Louis Stevenson.

The children's area and Snuggle Up Center garnered high praise.

Phillis Filer, public services administrator for the branches of the Library District, said it will inspire children and stimulate their imagination and visualization.

"It takes you back to a time when you were a child and you read a story," Filer said, "but now you can visualize and imagine you are sitting in the forest seeing the characters."

John Alexander, executive director of the Reichert House Youth Academy, called it creative and intriguing. "It gets the kids out of their normal experience and takes them to another place," Alexander said.

Lyn Rivers, who brought her "reading buddy," 2-year-old Daysha Rashard, called the children's area beautiful and wonderful.

Florida Bridgewater-Alford, director of campus communications at the University of Florida, reflected on her children's love of reading and visiting the library.

"When we came last week, we were amazed at how vibrant the area has become," said Bridgewater-Alford. "My son absolutely didn't want to leave."

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