Magic, Music, Mischief And One Historic Day
By Kurtis Kelly:
January 2, 2009, will be remembered as an historic day at the Estes Park Public Library. But first, a reflection on the long journey to this moment.
Before the late 1800s, a “children’s library” was virtually unheard of. Books were rare and expensive; few were printed for children. Libraries fortunate enough to have juvenile books filed them alongside the adult titles, and children who browsed the library were looked upon with suspicion. But by the 1890s, forward-thinking librarians recognized their role in education, and children’s corners began to appear in public libraries. Suddenly, something bright and cheerful was budding inside those somber halls.
In Estes Park, the Woman’s Club opened a community library in December 1916. By 1922, that group’s efforts created the “Estes Park Library” which opened in its Bond Park location inside a small building wrapped in stonework and stucco facade. On July 20, 1923, the “Estes Park Trail” announced a weekly children’s story hour:
“Three young ladies who are summering at the YMCA camp have volunteered their services to tell stories and will come down especially for the purpose. They will be delighted to meet the village children and also the children who are here as summer guests.” Their stories included folktales, Greek myths, and Robin Hood.
Time passed, a nation limped through a Great Depression, and in 1937 a young Ted Geisel walked with a heavy heart through New York after his first children’s book was rejected by publishers for the 27th time. A friend persuaded him to try again. And 47 books later, Geisel (or “Dr. Seuss”) proved something great: Children have “an inalienable right to mischief, love, and hope”, as his biographers Judith and Neil Morgan wrote.
Reading was now forever free to be fun, and children’s libraries grew and grew, in Estes Park too. The old Bond Park library expanded in 1969 and again in 1978, with the children’s room occupying the original 1922 room with its arched doorway.
By the 1980s, attendance at children’s storytimes and Summer Reading Programs was overflowing in the tiny children’s room, underscoring the need for a new and modern library facility. Children’s librarian Joanne Olson stressed the need for a separate and special children’s room. A new library building opened in 1991.
When Joanne retired in 1994, her assistant, Kerry Aiken, became children’s librarian. Like her husband Bob, she is a professional puppeteer, and Kerry began to incorporate dynamic new elements into storytime: puppets, songs, energetic activities. Attendance soared, and the storytime schedule expanded to meet the demand.
Melanie Kozlowski became children’s assistant in 2001, and a creative synergy immediately formed. As a team, Kerry and Melanie have won numerous state awards for their successful Summer Reading Programs, and the two have given numerous programs for Colorado librarians in offering successful children’s programs. The library’s 2006 strategic plan identified the youth services as a “center of excellence” to be celebrated and sustained.
While the “grown-up” part of the library has been expanded and remodeled over recent years, the 1991 children’s room has had no major enhancements. Until now. Today, we celebrate the Grand Reopening of a children’s room built on a grand legacy. The room shines brightly with improved lighting, fresh paint and new carpet, along with an updated and well-conceived floor plan that will welcome children, parents, grandparents and families for years to come.
And along with the new, you’ll find two features that newly showcase the 1991 vision. First, the well-loved children’s corner tree, created by Bob Aiken, has been restored by Bob himself and will continue to bring smiles to the young readers who curl up beneath it. Second, you’ll find the library’s entryway beautified by the very mural commissioned by artist Gary Keimig in 1991 to celebrate children and libraries. Visitors who stroll inside will immediately have the sense, “This is a library. Welcome, come inside, and be inspired.”
We’ve journeyed a long way. Join us in celebrating this historic moment today at the Children’s Room Grand Reopening party, featuring live music by Brad and Kathy Fitch at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Dr. Seuss would be proud.