As the weather gets cooler, we turn our attention from outdoor play spots to indoor ones. And NYC's libraries are some of the coolest no-cost places for kids to spend a day reading, thinking and learning.
Of course not all libraries are created equal. My family lives in Queens, which has more than 60 local branches, most with a nook, a room or maybe even a floor dedicated to kid lit. But late last month, the Children’s Library Discovery Center (CLDC) opened at the central branch in Jamaica, Queens, and it's a destination well worth traveling to.
The brand-new 14,000-square-foot, two-story building—which is actually located next to the central branch—is the second largest children’s library in the country. Featuring hands-on science, technology and math installations, learning labs and (of course) loads of books. the CLDC is aimed at children 12 and under. My preschool-age daughter and I went to check it out and were totally blown away.
One of the CLDC's most impressive attractions is its interactive floor map of Queens just inside the entrance way. It identifies the borough's neighborhoods, landmarks and library branches. Stepping on certain spots activates related sound effects, like jet engines for JFK airport or the crack of a bat for Citi Field. I saw a group of elementary schoolers hopping gleefully all over the map, looking for familiar places and listening to the noises. I enjoyed seeing a simplified aerial view of my neighborhood, which reminded me of how many amazing things are so close to my home.
The first floor has a section dedicated to preschoolers, with easy ramp access for strollers. An aquarium sits against one wall while the others are lined with board books. For seating, there are scattered flower-shaped cushions along with couches, chairs and, my daughter’s favorite, padded cubbies set into the walls. The floors are even radiant heated to make crawlers more comfortable. Four seemingly kid-proof computers are at floor level (no wobbly stools or climbing on chairs) and equipped with tons of learning software and games, but no online access. It was hard to drag my daughter away from this area!
The remainder of the first floor houses fiction books. Integrated into the stacks are tabletop science exhibits separated into two plazas. Each plaza contains several touch-friendly, museum-quality installations that let children of all ages explore, learn and challenge themselves. While most of these were geared toward kids ages 3 and up. my younger daughter enjoyed going from station to station, and I found some of the games and puzzles to be quite entertaining myself. She loved examining glass-encased bugs through a microscopic lens, and I had fun trying to steer my finger through a maze using mirror vision.
The second floor belongs to "big kids." All nonfiction books are here along with plenty of tables for studying and writing. For visitors looking to escape into a story, a reading lounge is a comfy place to settle in. And the Cyber Center houses 14 computers for Internet use.
The CLDC offers several free programs for children. Most require advanced registration, so be sure to visit the website for more info.
In addition to being thoroughly modern and aesthetically pleasing, the CLDC is quite eco-friendly. I noticed low-flow fixtures in the (beautiful and clean) restrooms, and plenty of daylight. I was also told that the finishes are low V.O.C., that recycled materials were used in the construction and that the housekeeping is green. Not surprisingly, the CLDC expects to achieve LEED Gold certification.
The facility is very orderly and staff is plentiful, which makes finding help a cinch. They're also sticklers when it comes to rules. My two-year-old can’t move from one spot to another at any pace other than full-throttle, so we heard, “No running!” every couple of minutes.
I can’t wait to visit the CLDC again. I think it's a treasure not only for Queens residents, but all of New York City.
Children’s Library Discovery Center at the central branch of the Queens Library is located at 89-11 Merrick Boulevard between 89th and 90th Avenues, 718-990-0767. Open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday 9am-9 pm, Tuesday 1-9pm, Friday and Saturday 9am-7pm, and Sunday noon-5.