Libraries are always magic. But some libraries are more magic than most. Some make it easier to slip into the dreams of books, of rows and rows of possible worlds, possible people, of the ink-and-paper scent of story. And that big green glass building on Assembly, with its spill of sunlight and green trees, the open floors of books, books, books – that’s the most magical place in Columbia.
It’s hard not to love a library. But there’s a lot more to Richland Library’s main branch than its books. Their Children’s Room is an award-winner. Low stacks of books, cheerful librarians (one of whom plays for perennial kid fav Lunch Money!), puzzles and giant stuffed animals make a child’s reading paradise. Some tables are covered in paper, with crayons and scissors provided for busy hands. Board games cover others (think Connect 4! and toddler-friendly puzzles). And maybe best of all, Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things grace the walls – at ten feet high. It’s the only place in the world he allowed them to be used as decoration. We’re that lucky.
Yeah, the space is pretty awesome. But did you know they have almost-daily programs for kids of all ages, both morning and evening – all for free?
Almost every morning sees some kind of storytime – which takes place in the special Storytime Room. If you’re lucky, some puppets might join in. Every storytime includes books, songs and fingerplays, and movement (more for toddlers, less for teenies). As soon as baby’s born, you can take him to Mother Goose Storytime (for babies under 12 months). It helps set a good foundation – not necessarily for baby; he won’t remember it! – but for you. With stories, songs, and play, librarians model how to help baby gain important pre-reading skills. And you get mommy hangout time. Because nothing makes mommy friends like singing “Where is Thumbkin” and realizing that yes, you do remember all the hand-motions to the Itsy Bitsy Spider.
There’s also morning storytimes for toddlers, preschoolers, and whole families. Those cheerful librarians lead them – and rock them. Sometimes literally. One of the favorite programs is Friday morning’s Movers and Shakers, a special storytime with lots of movement and song. Shakers and jingle bells are provided; sometimes special guests help with a rhythm. Life list of awesome: a roomful of parents unabashedly singing Bob Marley’s “One Love”, accompanied by African drumming, while kids clap along and look mildly confused.
But that’s not all. The Columbia Museum of Art runs its fabulous Hands-On Art program about once a month there (always packed and popular). It pairs stories with crafts, and is always fun, if a little chaotic. Like Movers and Shakers, it’s really popular – so get there a little early! Parking might be frustrating, too, so be sure to bring extra change just in case you need to resort to the meters.
Working mama? No problem! Monday evenings usually see a Reading Rumpus for all ages, sometimes with puppet shows and optional pajamas. Every Saturday morning there’s at least one storyime, too. And you can always come and play when there’s nothing scheduled. The librarians are great at finding books on your kid’s favorite topics (we usually ask for dragons or space), and there are also DVDs and kid-friendly CDs for checkout.
It’s not all routine, however. Coming up in the next month is Puppetpalooza (hopefully featuring everyone’s favorite Freddy the Frog), the Hopkins Elementary school choir, and Grow It!, which pairs storytime with gardening.
Not a Richland County resident or USC student? Don’t sweat it! For $65 a year – worth it if you’re a reader – you can get a library card good for the whole Richland Library system. But even if you choose not to check out books, the programs are free to everyone.
So have you been to the library lately?