Many of us can remember, as children, talking into an aluminum can, our voices carried on string to the ear of a friend. Youngsters at the newly remodeled Children's Department at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh are still talking to friends -- only their string reaches half-way around the world. The aluminum can is a computer now, networked with other systems around the globe through the Internet, that can bring their words to computer screens in places like Turkey, India or Japan.
On April 15, 1996, the opening of the new Children's Department and Technology Center marked the fruition of a project to create a family environment that incorporated what Director Robert Croneberger described as a balance between the traditional book library and new technology. Three new "Technology Centers" consist of 20 computers running Microsoft" Windows 95. Each computer has a CD-ROM drive and a wide variety of educational programs for users up to eighth grade.
The lure for children is unmistakable, for the computers offer an amazing world of new possibilities. Dallas Clautice, head of the Children's Department, contributed to the design of the new room and hopes to encourage new kinds of learning there, through the use of computers and CD-ROM packages like "Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing" and the Encyclopedia Britannica. Many of these programs represent a growing movement among software designers and educators to use interactive games to teach math, reading and foreign languages. Clautice notes, "A lot of schools are already using computers in their curriculum. We are bringing what we have up to speed with what they have at their schools."
Youth Services coordinator and project manager Molly Kinney says the designers wanted a room that would be "welcoming and enticing for both children and parents, and would also be a functional place that children could feel was their own." This philosophy is evident all over the room, as in the egg-shaped kiosk where designers thought children could hide away in a cozy space comfortable for their size. In a newly added non-fiction area, a chair and sofa encourage parents and children to sit together and read. Before, librarians used three desks to manage the flow of incoming and outgoing books, audio and video cassettes, but this has been consolidated into one streamlined station.
Each computer is connected to the Internet, so kids can gain access to the growing number of educational sites around the world. A youngster in the Children's Department can now communicate with someone else halfway around the world, talking in real-time or by sending e-mail. The Internet, via the World Wide Web, provides children with a limitless wealth of constantly changing information. Kinney notes,"Information is exploding around us. The Internet holds more information than all of the books we could ever hold on our shelves or could afford to buy -- it's a great investment for our kids to have."
The technology in the Children's Department has been there for only a short time, but young patrons are already drawn in. On one recent Saturday afternoon, eight-year-old David Wilson was searching the Internet for information on his favorite basketball player, Michael Jordan. Seven-year-old Gregory was busy playing "The Way Things Work," while his twin brother, Jeffrey, enjoyed "Winnie the Pooh." The twins' father, John Rosser, believes that the variety of software and access to valuable educational resources makes the Children's Department a useful community resource. He adds, "I think it really benefits the kids who don't have computers at home or who can't afford them."
Other additions include a large-screen television with a satellite feed in an area for both parents and children, offering educational programs otherwise not available. Video-cassette viewing stations allow families to view any of the 500 new video cassettes now in the collection.
The renovations to the Children's Department were made possible by gifts from the Three Rivers Lecture Series, the Friends of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and the Board of Trustees of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Benefactor Laura Cathon made a generous bequest to the new room. Thanks to diligent work by members of the library's automation staff and organizers of the Electronic Information Network, the vision of the new Children's Department has become a reality. On April 13, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh hosted a benefit, "An Evening of Culinary and Literary Delights," that included a visit by Governor Tom Ridge. Part of the proceeds went to finance the facilities of the new Children's Department.
To learn more about the Children's Department and Youth Services online, or visit other children's links, try these sites on the World Wide Web: Children's Department Homepage -- http://www.clpgh.org/CLP/Childrens/childrens.html or the Youth Services Homepage -- http://www.clpgh.org/CLP/Childrens/yskids/.
Mark Petruzzini is electronic editor of Carnegie Magazine.