Tuesday, December 7, 2010

PALS at the Rancho Cucamonga CA library

Justine Roberts, Principal

Last week IMLS tweeted a video put together by clients of ours, the Rancho Cucamonga Library in southern California, about the PALS (Play And Learning Islands) which we designed and built.  The video is great and features library director Robert Karatsu who says: 

"We really think that our PALs in a small way start to bridge the worlds of public libraries (who are good at early literacy and programming) and children’s museum (who are so good at interactivity and sparking creativity among other things.)  Our missions are so similar that it just seems natural to try and find more common ground."

As their name suggests, PALS are free-standing and movable elements that contain hands-on inquiry-based activities.  They live in and among the stacks of the Rancho Cucamonga, CA library.  And in fact, the PALS are intended as an encounter with interactive playful learning as a complement to the more expected cognitive learning libraries support.  The PALS bring together a combination of interactives + library materials (books and media) + supporting materials about learning through play.   Although they can be docked in the children's room, they can also be located outside, or placed strategically for users to discover as they browse for books. We have uploaded photos to our facebook site from the opening.

The PALS are essentially a smaller, fast-tracked part of a larger vision for a children's museum in the library.  In the first phase we completed a community needs assessment and master plan for a children's museum addition.  After completing that work, the library wrote a grant to move forward with the PALS as a way to build staff capacity and pilot some of the ideas about bringing play into the stacks.

In thinking about the design of the PALS we considered the scale of the library and the space available for activities. Each PAL is about 25-50SF.  Each is designed to support a range of play styles including imaginative play, experiential learning, constructive play, aesthetic exploration, and creative problem solving.  Their topics range from science and engineering, to visual and performing arts, to history, and to environmental science.  Although the themes were selected to support the interests of library users and staff, the library believed the PALS would spark additional interest and demand in these areas.  So prior to installing the PALS the library developed their collections on these specific topics - including 500 new books.

The PALS require minimal power, water and lighting. Overall, the PALS are low tech, modular, and portable.  They include space for books and graphics, and utilize green, sustainable materials.  The PALS’ are designed to not need crates for transportation or storage, but smaller units have their own tops which allows them to be "closed" like a “suitcase”. 

The PALS may be small but the vision is ambitious. For the Library the PALS have the potential to expand the range of learning styles and services available through the library, making the library more inviting to families, more inclusive, and more relevant.  In addition the goals included:

     *Pioneering new ways of engaging families in learning in libraries, using interactive museum exhibits as inspiration.  

     *Creating a scalable model which could spread to other libraries.

     *Offer activities that tie into the big themes of literacy, arts and culture.   

     *Change how people think of the library by expanding and enriching the library experience.

     *Support literacy through layered activities that allow users with many interests and skills to be successful.

     *Make the library more family friendly.

Goals for visitors included:

     *Providing experiences that motive users to learn, light a spark of interest, and build self-confidence about creative exploration.

     *Help families realize the role of play in the learning process.

     *Encourage families to consider the library the hub of the learning community, not just a place to borrow books.

     *Increase access to playful activities, the time people in the community spent playing, and broaden the types of playful activities they engaged in.  

     *Bring joy into families lives.

The PALS create a unique blend of reading, browsing and doing at the Rancho Cucamonga library. They are an experiment that is working. 

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