STEAM Takes Center Stage at Queens Children’s Library Discovery Center

In 2003, the directors of the New York Hall of Science and the Queens Borough Public Library envisioned a new model of children’s service to the community. The result was Science in the Stacks, an “integrated, multi-sensory, self-paced informal learning environment” that would link content-related museum exhibits and library materials and resources. The Children’s Library Discovery Center officially opened in September 2011 and serves as a model for exemplary hands-on learning environments for children. Below, Assistant Library Director Sharon Cox describes the space and its many uses.

Getting an up-close look at bugs.

Funding and Partnerships

The Children’s Library Discovery Center was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation, as well as other sources of public and private funding. We worked with our partners, Exploratorium in San Francisco, The New York Hall of Science and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, to bring this vision to reality.

Multiple Spaces for Multiple Needs

The Discovery Center is 21,000 square feet, 14,000 square feet of which is public space. The two floors of public space offer resources for schoolwork, pleasure reading and lifelong learning.

The first floor includes a reference desk and circulation desk and features Exploration Plazas, where our exhibits are displayed. We have 39 hands-on interactive exhibits, and they rotate depending on various themes, which include Forces in Motion, Living Systems and Perception. The interactive science exhibits bring scientific exploration to the library and feature content areas that support science education.

The first floor also has an Early Childhood Area, which is dedicated to serving children from birth to 5 years old and features AWE computer stations, early learning materials and an aquarium. The fiction collection for grades Pre-K through 6, as well as a separate section of nonfiction materials for children up to 3rd grade, is located on the first floor as well. There is also a seating area with child-size furniture where children can do their homework or leisure reading.

The Center’s learning aquarium.

Practicing engineering in the early learning area.

Using recyclable materials to build houses.

The second floor features a Cyber Center with 18 computers and 22 laptops. This is a multipurpose room where numerous hands-on and interactive programs are conducted, including those focused on technology, early learning, and arts and crafts. There is a reading table where children read and participate in our Homework Assistance Program as well as other creative programs. Window seating is located on both floors of the Discovery Center.

3 Types of Programming

1. Traditional Library Programming

At the Children’s Library Discovery Center, we serve children from birth to 12 years old. Programs are offered on a daily basis, with the great majority of the programming initiated and conducted by staff, but we have outside presenters at times as well.

Enjoying storytime in the park.

Learning about nests.

We have increased the level of our traditional library programming, offering programs such as Timeless Tales, Mother Goose Time, Toddler Learning Center (TLC), Kick-Off to Kindergarten and Family Place. All of these programs focus on literacy and the early development of children. We also offer many programs for school-age children, including Arts and Crafts, Maker Programs, Book Clubs, technology programs, such as coding, and Homework Assistance.

Engaging Children’s Spaces

You’re inspiring children every day through your story times, activities, and programming. Discover new ways to foster exploration, discovery, and a love of libraries with spaces that delight young learners. Want to learn more? Download the Vibrant Children’s Environments PDF.

2. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Programming

Our STEM programs are conducted by the Discovery Team under the guidance of the Interactive Exhibit Supervisor and cover various science topics. Programs include Discovery Cart Activities (conducted in the public space using portable discovery carts); Saturday Science Labs; Science Career Day; Science Fair Clinics, where ideas for science fair projects are presented; and Discovery Day, a STEM-focused street fair that originated as an introduction for the community to the programs and services at the Discovery Center.

Building robots.

Exploring circuitry and conductivity.

Exploring 3-D printer technology.

Learning about the size of the human heart.

Exploring the science of plants.

3. Discovery Center Tours

During the school year, from September to June, we have daily class visits from schools, mostly from Queens but also from the other boroughs in New York City. Teachers can bring their classes for a range of programs, including STEM activities and traditional visits that introduce their students to the library. We also have a steady stream of international visitors from many countries around the world, as well as others in the library and education professions who are interested in learning more about this new model of service to children.

Advice to Others

When developing a space similar to the Discovery Center, there are several key elements required for it to be successful:

  • Having a comprehensive programming plan in place from day 1.
  • Having enthusiastic, innovative staff dedicated to this new model of children’s services.
  • Having an outreach plan to promote all programs, resources and services to the community.
  • Developing sustainable partnerships that are beneficial to all parties involved.
  • Establishing sustainable funding to maintain the center at a high level.

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Want to learn more about the Discovery Center? See more photos and hear from the architect in this article from FloorNature: Interview with Juergen Riehm, 1100 Architect.

Plus, see more inviting children’s spaces designed by Demco.

Author

Sharon Cox

Sharon Cox

Assistant Director Children’s Library Discovery and Teen Centers at Queens Library
Sharon Cox is the Assistant Director of Queens Library's Children’s Library Discovery and Teen Centers. She attended Pratt Institute where she received her Master of Science, Information and Library Sciences degree in 2003. She also received an Advanced Certificate in Public Library Administration from the Palmer Institute for Public Library Organization and Management at Long Island University. In her role as Assistant Director, Sharon is responsible for directing all public service operations, programs and staff. She helps develop system-wide training with a focus on science, technology and engineering concepts for staff serving youth. Sharon has established the Children’s Library Discovery Center as a key resource for children’s librarians throughout Queens Library and beyond. She also conducts outreach to children’s science museums, science centers and cultural institutions to develop partnerships to further enhance STEM programming.