Youngstown Library Unveils Family Engagement Area

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Aimee Fifarek didn’t hide her satisfaction with the scene she witnessed in Main Library’s new family engagement area Monday morning.

Just minutes before a scheduled ribbon cutting, the director and CEO of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County watched her librarians share songs and finger plays with children from the YMCA of Youngstown’s day care and Wee Care Day Care and Learning Centre’s Youngstown State University branch.

“Finally, our target market gets to use the space,” Fifarek said.

The opening of the family engagement area, which cost approximately $1.4 million, represents the most recent phase of the $25 million renovation of Main Library that began last summer. Libraries used to have what were called children’s areas “but we know that the best learning happens in families, so we want to make sure that family members of all ages are welcome here” Fifarek says.

“This is an expansion of the small children’s area that used to be here at Main but it includes so much more,” said Erin Phemester, PLYMC’s chief experience officer.

At 4,380 square feet, the family engagement area is nearly three times the size of the approximately 1,500-square-foot children’s area it replaces, according to Courtney Angelo, marketing manager.

“The children’s space before was literally a corner,” Fifarek remarked.

Features of the space include a storytime corner, a playscape featuring a tree house and lighted peg board station similar to a Lite Brite set, a do-it-yourself space that will feature options from sewing machines to a 3D printer, a hands-on STEM area, a 560-square-foot dedicated teen space and a recording studio for audio and video, complete with green screen.

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Gallery images include pictures of the Library’s mascot with students from the YMCA of Youngstown’s day care and Wee Care Day Care and Learning Centre, Library Director and CEO Aimee Fifarek cutting the ribbon to the family engagement area with students, the interactive play and learning area, and the story time area.

Library personnel also are in the process of talking with the public about what else can be added. That includes discussions with representatives of vocational and technical schools about what kinds of skills are needed for jobs, Phemester said.

“We’re hearing mostly numeracy, so we’re looking at things that will help promote measuring and basic math skills,” she said.

At Monday’s opening, kids were taking advantage of various hand-on options in the STEM space, including using Ozobots – small robots that use simple coding to be made to follow a path – and snap circuits, which teach basic electronics, engineering and circuitry concepts.

“Scientific method at work right behind us,” Phemester said.

“The children and the young learners in our neighborhood are the ones that have been most shortchanged by this building in the past,” Fifarek said. “We had wonderful North Library back in the day and had to close that, and so just a small corner of the main library was devoted to youth learning and hands-on learning, so we were really excited to put our youngest learners front and center, as well as our hands-on learning environment.”

Parents who attended Monday’s ribbon cutting were pleased with what they saw.

Haneen Ali-Samad of Boardman, who was there with her three-year-old son, said the family engagement area makes the library “a destination place,” especially given its proximity to the Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology.

“It’s a great addition to Youngstown,” she said.

“It’s pretty great,” affirmed Nicole Thompson of Youngstown, who attended with her son and daughter. The three of them explored their creativity in the STEM area.

“My son loves to do hands-on things. That’s right up his alley,” she added.

Thompson said she and her daughter spoke to one of the library staff about the new, 560-square-foot teen room. They also were told about the DIY space and the culinary programming that is going to be added. “We look forward to all that stuff,” she said.

The celebration took place as contractors continued their work on the rest of the building, with a late spring-early summer completion anticipated for the project. The renovation of the second floor is “pretty far along” and the space should be open for use by the end of the year, Fifarek said. Foundations are being laid on the 6,000-square-foot addition being constructed in the old parking lot space.

“If you drive by Wick Avenue, you’ll probably see the gaping hole in the front of the building where the ’50s entrance was,” she said. “That has been completely torn down and we are going to be rebuilding the historic stairs in that location so once again you will be able to come up the stairs of the library.”

Pictured at top: The hands-on STEAM Learning Area in the new family engagement area of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County main branch.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.