MT. PLEASANT — Students and children in and around Henry County can soon look forward to an interactive learning space at the Mt. Pleasant Public Library. After approval by Mt. Pleasant’s City Council at its Sept. 25 meeting, the library is now authorized to make use of a recently vacated 2,800 square feet office in the lower level of the Civic Center building, where the library is also located. The space, which includes three smaller rooms and a large open central area, was formerly rented to the Area Education Agency (AEA) by the city. The agency moved out of the building on July 1.
Following the AEA’s departure, City Administrator Brent Schleisman reached out to the library about potentially taking over the space. A committee meeting was held following the vacancy, during which Schleisman provided options and considerations for uses of the office area. For the meeting, the city administrator asked library staff to mock up a plan on how they would use the area. The city council meeting agenda also noted that the “request comes with no extra expense to the City General Fund.”
“With the make up of the building, there’s not a lot of room for them to expand … and it was the perfect opportunity for them to gain some square footage,” Schleisman said, explaining why he thought of the library when the area became open.
“The library is such a great service and their kids activities are fantastic … [this new space] will give them an opportunity to continue their great work … they’ll get to dream a little about what to do. I’m really excited for them,” Shleisman said. The city administrator also added that the library often helps young kids “get their learning process going” and provides opportunities for people in the community who “may or may not have access to computers and books.”
“Traffic flow is very steady to the library … this new addition will obviously be great for our community but can also affect a greater population as well,” Schleisman continued.
Library staff are excited about the new space and being able to expand what they can offer to the community. Jeff Meyer, who has been working as the director of the library for seven years, said he has been looking for an opportunity to bring new interactive programming to the library for some time. His vision for the area includes creating museum-like activities with rotating themes that will make learning fun for local children.
“I’ve always loved museums and I think there’s a huge opportunity for libraries to be not only a depository of information but also to have a learning attraction … The Mt. Pleasant library in the 19th century when it was first started, also started as a museum. It had specimens that had been stuffed and different museum pieces,” Meyers said.
Currently, Meyers and his staff are working on submitting proposals for grants designated for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs. The director noted that most of the new programming will be centered on science and nature. With the grant money, the library hopes to purchase educational materials and kits children can have a more hands-on experience. As part of the interactive exhibits, the library also plans to install a new projector in the main room.
“The three themes we’re thinking about right off the bat are robots, planets and dinosaurs,” Meyers said, noting that the library is planning to purchase robot kits for children to make their own robots. Meyers also mentioned that he hoped to designate a specific room for Legos.
“The goal will be to have a free field trip for kids … schools would be able to schedule a time and could bring classes full of kids. The area could easily accommodate large numbers of kids and there’s enough space for kids to have lunch,” Meyers said. In addition to the three rooms and large central space, the office area also has a built-in kitchenette and bathrooms.
“We want to make learning wonderful. Learning is a fun and exciting adventure. Sometimes we forget how fun it is and museums are so neat,” Meyers explained the library’s decision in utilizing the new area for interactive activities. Meyer’s hope is not only to provide educational activities but to encourage kids to continue exploring concepts through books and “marry those two” things together.
The director aims to have the new programming catch on with schools across southeast Iowa and that districts in Washington and Fairfield also will visit and take advantage of the space as well.
The new exhibit adds on to the library’s existing children’s programs. Beth Kerlin, the new children’s librarian, travels to local schools to read to kindergarten and preschool classrooms once a month and works with middle and high schools in the area to do a weekly book checkout program.
Kerlin hopes the new exhibits and activities will get even more children involved with the library.
“They can spread their wings a little … it allows the kids to broaden their horizons and explore new ideas and concepts. It’s about giving them a safe environment to learn as well,” Kerlin said.
Meyers said he is unsure when the new space will be ready as it depends on when grants and funding becomes available. Once the funding comes through, the library will begin purchasing materials and installing equipment into the new space, which leaves the official opening date up in the air. However, Meyers hopes the space will be ready by next spring.