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Published: Sunday, 8/12/2001

In these rooms, one will wish to be a kid again

BY MIKE WILKINSON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Ethel C. Wright would be proud.

More than 60 years after the longtime head of the Children's Library at the downtown Main Library fought to keep the children's area out of the basement, extensive renovations and an expansion make it clear that the area still holds a revered place with library officials.

With more than four times as much space as the old area, the children's section now takes up nearly the entire second floor, jumping to more than 13,000 square feet. Library officials hope the area will become a magnet for children and their families from throughout Lucas County.

“That is a goal, to make this a centerpiece and a destination,” said Nancy Eames, manager of the children's library.

It looks like a goal that will be easily met.

Librarian Nancy Eames has a greatly refurbished children's section. Librarian Nancy Eames has a greatly refurbished children's section.
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With more than 30 computer stations, a high-tech meeting and puppet room, book-shaped couches, and artistic touches - you'll find a Cadillac, a mummy, and a spaceship there - the children's library will dazzle youths and adults alike.

There's a six-foot by three-foot aquarium. A Cat in the Hat. Mushrooms to sit on. You'll find a giant and a dangerous dinosaur. And the library made sure to retain its colorful panels of Vitrolite glass, depicting epics, fables, and myths, albeit with a few construction-caused cracks.

Ms. Eames is a proud successor to Miss Wright, who worked for the library from 1918 to 1955, and was the head of the children's library for many years. In the late 1930s, as the downtown library was being designed, she discovered that the architect's plans called for a spot in the basement, Ms. Eames said.

Upset, she talked with the architect and made sure it got a less musty locale - the second floor. Libraries being what they were at the time, it still had its own entrance, lest the children make the mistake of entering the rest of the library, where they weren't allowed.

Space aliens greet young readers to the Children's Library's main room. Space aliens greet young readers to the Children's Library's main room.
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So much has changed. Children and adults now share the same entrance. And children are an obvious focus of the library.

The expanded space will offer more programs, with many during the week, Ms. Eames said. Instead of relying on weekend programs for preschoolers and young readers, the children's area will offer computer classes and special events for children of all ages. Tours will be increased and there will be more family-oriented programming.

One of the first special programs will likely focus on Harry Potter and the upcoming movie based on the best-selling series of books about a magical child and his adventures in wizardry.

“We've planned a lot of big special events,” Ms. Eames said.

Throughout the children's area, in large part funded with support from the Stranahan Foundation, three-dimensional artwork pays playful homage to many of the characters who have entertained child readers for decades.

A 260-gallon salt water aquarium, with blue damsel fish and other aquatic life, sits below the signature character from the children's book The Rainbow.

Toledo's own Mildred Benson, a Blade columnist and author of the original Nancy Drew stories, is also honored. A relief diorama of a girl holding a clock represents The Secret of the Old Clock, written by Ms. Benson.

And what Ms. Eames suspects will become a coveted spot is the front seat of a 1950 gold Cadillac that sits along one wall, a reminder of the 1987 book The Gold Cadillac, which is about two Toledo girls who discover racial prejudice for the first time on a trip to the South.

After years of planning, months of building, and weeks of moving, Ms. Eames knows that the truest barometer of what works and what doesn't will be the kids. She expects they'll be busy at first.

“I can't wait to see kids in here,” she said.



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