A Children’s Section for All Those Young at Heart


words: Jillian Power

photos: Lauren Zawatski

If you’re looking for Carnegie Library’s Children’s Section, make a right at the entrance, walk through a tunnel of drawings and arrive at the familiar smell of old books. If giggles and little stomping feet greet you, you are in the right place.

Don’t let the scattered blocks and colorful covers fool you. There’s something for everyone here, from Japanese manga and pop-up books to entire sections’ worth of children’s folklore.

Debbie Priore, a reference librarian turned children’s librarian, spends her days at the Children’s Section in her chair, on her feet or wherever else she’s needed to find just the right book for a child. If you’ve ever been asked by a child to help them find something specific, Priore’s experience with a young artist may sound familiar to you.

“I was once approached by a little boy who was looking for a book specifically on drawing, and after I showed him some of our beginner books, he said he wanted books on scary drawing,” she recalls. “So we showed him that. There’s a certain excitement about it.”

Shortly after, a young boy approaches her, deflated, and asks, “Has it been two hours yet?” After coaxing him toward the books about outer space, she explains that the boy’s mother had dropped him off with his grandparent and insisted that he “would not be sitting in front of a screen all day.”

Childrens_2Getting children to read, according to Priore and Patti Kelly, who manages the department’s operations, means helping them find the right book. Amy, a part-time librarian who asked that her last name not be used, knows this well. The amount of books in the department could overwhelm some adults, but the children often seem to know exactly what they’re looking for, no matter how specific.

“I once had a little boy come up to me and ask for a book on telescopes, trucks and wheelchairs, in that order,” she says. “Another kid asked me for a book because they wanted to know what toilet paper was made out of. Ultimately, I gave them the book ‘Why Fish Fart,’ which they were very pleased with. Kids always ask me questions, they just use their curiosity so well.”

For others, such as Dawn Bisi, it’s a matter of convenience to be at the library so frequently. Her two sons, aged three and seven, find themselves in the children’s section each week. Whenever she leaves the department, her arms are full of beginner chapter books and picture books while her boys explore nearby.

“I love to read, my husband loves to read, so we’d really like to instill that same love for reading in them,” Bisi says.

Kelly and Priore are both pleased to see teenagers, college-aged students and educators in the section. Priore spoke highly of a college-aged man who was tutoring children at different reading levels, and who had asked her for her recommendations.

For Nonie Heystek, a librarian of two years in the children’s department, a stuffed unicorn served as a reminder that children aren’t the only ones who become involved with the library.

“I saw this dad walk in to return some books,” Heystek recounts. “You know, he’s in a suit, like he’s coming from work, he’s got his briefcase at his side … sitting on top is what must have been his daughter’s stuffed unicorn. It just made me smile, I had to get a picture.”

Childrens_3Kelly is the quiet force behind the department. Her office is surrounded with old and rare books, most of which date back to when the library first opened its children’s section.

She keeps them for restoration purposes, but by no means are they the only books she cares for. She is constantly updating and refreshing the books in circulation.

A small set of shelves holds the world literature section. The reason it exists, Kelly explains, is not just for the sake of encouraging children to learn a second language. It serves a more meaningful purpose.

“Some parents want to read to their children in their own language, and some even want their kids to begin reading them themselves,” she says.

That makes the children’s section so special isn’t the small wooden chairs or the iPads stationed where computers may have once lived. It isn’t made special by what we, as adults, attribute to it.

As parents interrupt two kids who are playing with blocks on the floor, the boy and the girl run through the room away from them. When one is caught, he whines, “But I don’t want to go!”

Another boy runs into the section ahead of his mother, making a beeline for the seasonal picture books. Two mothers are talking while their two toddlers lounge on the carpet. An older woman is asleep in a rocking chair.

The children’s department at the Carnegie Library is special because, even with more screens vying for our attention, the book return is always full, the checkout desk perpetually busy.