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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Field Trip! Visiting the Kalamazoo Public Library’s Children’s Room

Grew up in Kalamazoo, I did.  Spent my summers inhaling the noxious fumes of the Kalamazoo River until they finally cleaned it up.  Learned "I Got a Gal in Kalamazoo" in school choir, as was a requirement of all good schoolchildren (hometown pride).  Walked its Celery Flats.  Drank its Vernors.  Patronized its downtown library.

Years ago the downtown Kalamazoo library was a crumbling fluorescent-lighted yellowing-tiled space.  It was kind of cool because if you went one floor up there was this awesome museum on the second floor with a real mummy hidden in a bizarre faux Egyptian tomb.  But the library itself?  The children’s room was okay.  Not huge.  Most of my memories involve the odd little teen space adjacent to the children’s area, where I was fully introduced to the great living works of Christopher Pike and his ilk.  Then, just as I was about to leave the city for my further ed-u-ma-kation, the library got a reworking.  A rejiggering.  A mighty expensive rebuilding effort that redid the core, but added all the modern accoutrements and necessities of a modern space.  Gone the dumb terminals and ugly facade.  Instantly it became Library Journals 2002 Library of the Year.  And into this new space we found:

A spaceship.

Honestly, I like it (sorry, mom).  I’ve a penchant for weirdo design, though, so maybe that’s why I’m fond of its neo-we’ve-come-to-take-your-women-to-Mars style.

I had not been back to this library since officially leaving the city, so I decided to take a trip to KPL and see how the services for the young ‘uns shaped up.  I was sort of hoping to run into the Youth Services fella in charge of the site.  Rumor has it that was one of the Fritz twins (small town, we are) and that the fellow attended my church.  However, he was not working the desk the day I appeared, so no proof was forthcoming.

Enter the room and a wonderful colorful carpet welcomes you into the space.

I headed straight for the information desk to see what kind of programs they had available.  They hand out these full-color sheets of information containing all upcoming programs for the coming season, shown here.  And I could see that they have a regular roster of four different kinds of storytimes in addition to regular performers, programs, game days (not video games quite yet), and movie nights.

The sheets also offer information about the artists responsible for the original artwork in the room.  One thing I’ve never understood about New York is the lack of original art in our libraries and children’s rooms.  Here we are in the cultural center of the world and we can’t even work up a single solitary mural?  And yes, my new children’s room has a mural, but it’s by a Brit who has never done a picture book and who didn’t think to include Harlem . . . but I get off-topic.  In Kalamazoo murals are present and accounted for.  David Small did one of the pillars, which satisfied my get-a-children’s-author-to-do-a-mural requirement.  And Conrad Kaufman (who once trading art with my mother for knitting) did the Alice in Wonderland mural in the storyroom. And this column is by one Barbara Thiery Buysee.

And this is the one by David Small.

They have a puppet stage!

A quilt containing various famous children’s literary characters (Small’s Imogene’s Antlers made the cut, I see).

A very clearly labeled area for new titles and gns.

Ample seating and great little rocking chairs.  Furniture that may last for more than two years.

Look at this little board book house!  So cute!

The tortoise I remember.  I think it’s been in the room for years.  I’m not sure who made it.

They have a Wanda Gag!

And a David Small.

Is that a Jan Pienkowski print?

Patricia Polacco art.

The stained glass windows have also been around for a while.  One Jamie Rife created them.

Picture books are nicely displayed above the shelves.

Picture books are also alphabetically arranged by the author’s last name.  Boo-yah!  That’s how it’s done, people!

Mucho seating.

And here’s the aforementioned cool storytime room. 

The floating smile is a little eerie.

I do like the tail that hangs behind it.  But I wonder how many preschoolers prefer not to enter this room because of the disembodied teeth.

I am convinced that this next design was taken from the old Parchment Library circa 1983.  Of course, I have no idea if that old Parchment Library is still around, but when I was a kid this exact foot-through-the-drop-ceiling look was behind the circulation desk.  Of course that doesn’t mean it isn’t still a cool (and low-budget) option for library systems that want to spice up their children’s areas. But credit where credit’s due!

Not many computers are in the children’s room, which is interesting.  I saw some kids on the adult floor using the PCs.

I love the mix of old and new titles on the shelves.  Check out this classic Hardy Boys cover.

Then I took a quick tour through the rest of the building.  Peer down through the center of the library and it looks like this.

Those of you looking for ideas for your display areas might want to take a tip from KPL.  This next photo was a great idea for a display.  In response to the current economic crises, the board systematically states how much free library services would cost you, piece by piece.

Oddly, books on CD looked like this.  And the ones for kids were with the adult materials in the basement.

VHS tapes alive, well, and circulating.

Here was the relatively small Teen Area.

They circulate comic books!

On my way out I noticed that by the door there are a whole host of colorful little book recommendation lists including this one:

They get incredibly in-depth, these colorful little book recommendation lists. 

At the start of this post I cheated.  I put up a picture of one of my favorite Kalamazoo gargoyles, perhaps implying that it appears on the Kalamazoo Public Library.  It does not, though it is library related.  The Kalamazoo Ladies Library Association (a couple blocks from the Public Library) definitely doesn’t circulate books anymore.  But they do allow this wonderful fellow to perch on their room with a tongue that acts as a spout. 

Matt and I slept beneath a quilt featuring his ugly mug created by my mom years ago.  I covet that quilt.

Many thanks to Kalamazoo for its magnificent children’s space.  And to all the great librarians that fill their hours there.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Gosh, now I’m going to have to take a field trip to Kalamazoo!

    Your fellow Vernor’s-drinking, Sanders hot-fudge-sundae-eating Michigander,


  2. Scope Notes says:

    Always nice to see the Mitten State getting some pub! Great photos. I love to see how other libraries are doing their thing. While my palate has yet to develop a love for the acquired taste that is Vernors, I do play a mean hand of euchre (which I am told is a mostly Michigander-related (and definitely unpronounceable) card game). Thanks for the post!

  3. I used to be quite the euchre fiend myself. Now let’s all talk about Petosky stones for a while!

  4. Euchre is easy to pronounce. Pretend you’re the heroine in a bodice-ripper and have just been kidnapped by the novel’s anti-hero. As you pound your (dainty) fists against his (broad, manly) chest, you shout, “You cur!”

    Peter at Collecting Children’s Books

  5. The Jamie Rife who did the stained-glass windows is the stepson of the Mary Rife for whom the autumn Mary Calletto Rife Children’s literature seminar is named.

    And hey, we own an original Barbara Buysee, too! Can’t imagine how we neglected acquiring a David Small… (Would autograph-doodles count, do you think?)

  6. Nan Hoekstra at Anokaberry says:

    I grew up in Kalamazoo too!!! We used to walk from the north side to the library every Saturday. I loved the little museum upstairs — remember the little suitcases about other countries that you could borrow? Wow – thanks for the amazing post!

  7. The audio books look like Midwest Tape’s new ones — they repackage them and sell them at a significant discount but can’t use many of the distributors’ original artwork. They are now working on producing their own “cover art” so they look more appealing. Thanks for all the great photos — I love seeing other MI libraries!

  8. Wait . . . Hoekstra… Hoekstra. Swear I knew a Hoekstra at one point. Mom, help me out here (and explain how we have a Barbara Buysee). Who do we know in town with the last name Hoekstra? Nan, I’m fairly certain I know someone related to you.

  9. Nan Hoekstra says:

    I wasn’t always a Hoekstra. In Kalamazoo I was a VandenBos. I knew Hoekstras there too but I wasn’t one of them. And now that I am a Hoekstra (for almost 25 years now) none of them are from Kalamazoo either. I hope you knew a VandenBos…

  10. I suspect you’re hearing an echo of the amazing, Smithsonian-quality Hoekstra’s Hardware, serving Kalamazoo since Titus Bronson was in diapers.

  11. Nan Hoekstra at Anokaberry says:

    I loved Hoekstra’s Hardware and what about Hoekstra’s Meat Market? They were everywhere those Hoekstras. I love Kalamazoo, my dad still lives there and one of my five brothers.

  12. Mom called it. I’m thinking of a hardware store (you see how my mind works). I knew lots of other “Vans”, though, due to the good Dutch population.

  13. Scope Notes says:

    Man, you go on a trip to Battle Creek to visit the grandparents-in-law for a day and look what you miss – mentions of Petoskey stones?! This comments section is so in my wheelhouse, it almost hurts (Petoskey High Grad ’99). I’m proposing an all children’s lit blogger euchre throwdown. Collecting Children’s Books and Fuse #8 Production vs. 100 Scope Notes and … hmm, I’ll think of a teammate.

  14. You’re on! But we definitely need a #4. Hm. Ruth McNally Barshaw had a blog at one point. And “Ellie McDoodle” took the cake for great oblique Michigan references. Let’s think about recruiting her.

  15. J.C. Phillipps says:

    I didn’t grow up in Kalamazoo but I went to college in Holland, MI so I feel like a neighbor. What a lovely library! I’m a nut over stained glass so I’d want to spend oodles of time in the children’s room. We’re lucky to have just had a great renovation in the West Hartford, CT main library. We got murals and a fantastic puppet theater. But alas – no stained glass.

  16. Oh, you went to Hope College? My sister went there. Small world.

  17. lisachellman says:

    This comment thread is hilarious… But yes, thanks for the tribute to KPL, Betsy! I totally want to work there when I grow up. When they reopened in 96 (?) with all the rainbowy hologram thingies, I fell in love. And I really like that their children’s department is above ground, unlike Portage’s which, while attractive and bedecked with Conrad Kaufman art, is in the basement.

  18. Stewart Fritz says:

    Hey, Betsy- Looks like you stopped by at precisely the moment I stepped out or something. I do indeed work at KPL now, although one other reason you may not have seen me in the Children’s Room is that I recently became the lead librarian for the Teen department(and, yeah, it’s a little on the small side, but we pack a lot of good stuff in down here)! Not only do we circ comic books, but you missed our enormous (and ever-growing) graphic novel collection. Next time you’re in town, take another trip downstairs and say hi. :)

    Thanks for the write-up…

  19. Stewart Fritz says:

    Oh, and my sister lives in Manhattan- I’ll have to stop by the NYPL on my next trip now that I know you’re working there!

  20. Absolutely! Stop on by. I’m always pleased to see more Michigan blood in this town.