Fort Worth Public Library Opens Dedicated Youth Branch

The Reby Cary Youth Library opened in August with more than 8,000 square feet designed for and dedicated to children.

 
Photos by Kristopher Rowberry


The perfect children’s section in a public library encourages curiosity and exudes comfort by combining enthusiastic staff and a just-right collection with art, technology, play, and whimsical-but-functional furniture. It is escape and destination.

Now, imagine an entire branch.

Welcome to the Reby Cary Youth Library in Fort Worth, TX.

Opened on August 14, the 8,122-square-foot branch of the Fort Worth Public Library (FWPL) has play stations where kids can dress up and pretend to be various professions, STEAM kits, a makerspace, and nearly 16,000 titles. “Teen Librarian Toolbox” (TLT) founder and blogger Karen Jensen helped create that collection and wrote about it in a post for TLT.

“My role was primarily to select the books and build the collections, and I had help doing that,” wrote Jensen, who is a collection development librarian for the FWPL system. “But every single book in this library for these kids is a brand-new book, hand-selected to build the very best of collections with them in mind. The day I showed up to start helping to unbox and shelve those books, I knew that I was getting to be a part of something profoundly amazing.”

The library branch’s creation began with a 2014 bond, which voters OK’d for a new library. Like that vote, the ­decision to make it an all children's branch predated Manya Shorr’s arrival as library director.

“My understanding is that as the city and the library started to look more deeply into this neighborhood, they ­realized that there were so many schools in the immediate area,” she says. ­Looking closer, they noted that the students in the schools “weren’t testing well,” she adds.

“So it just became more and more clear that it was time to build a children’s specific branch. Up until that point, we had to fit children’s spaces in among everything else. This was ­really freeing for us to be able to build the ­entire library just for kids.”
 


Each design decision was made with kids in mind: every piece of furniture, light fixture, public art installation, and outdoor element. During the ­design phase, there was a public process to name the branch. Cary’s name was submitted repeatedly, with the help of a campaign by a local fraternity, which then helped the late educator and civil rights pioneer win the vote to have the branch named in his honor.

Cary was the first African American elected to the Fort Worth Independent School District’s Board of Education, and the first African American professor at the University of Texas, Arlington.

When searching for a branch manager, FWPL looked nationally, only to find the right candidate already on staff. The job went to Javier Rodriguez, who was manager of Fort Worth’s Northside library when he applied for the job.

“The purpose of this library totally caught my interest,” says Rodriguez, who had also been a classroom teacher and school librarian in Puerto Rico.

“Javier was by far our best applicant. He’s made for this particular position,” Shorr says before mentioning an added bonus to the hire—Rodriguez spent 12 years in Puerto Rico as a professional clown. He came out of retirement to do some magic for kids at the Reby Cary branch grand opening.

Since that original celebration, ­Rodriguez has watched wide-eyed kids enter with appreciative adults (no adult is allowed into the branch unless accompanying a child).

“They’re just amazed,” says ­Rodriguez. “We see that expression like ‘Wow, there’s no place like this one.’ It’s the first time [they] see something built this way. ­Parents say, ‘We love coming here, ­because our kids can be kids.’

Grandparents visiting from Arizona brought their grandchildren and told Rodriguez they had never seen anything like it, calling it “amazing.”

So far, the local patrons seem equally impressed and excited.

“I came from the DC Public Library, where I opened branches, and I’ve never seen a response like I have seen to the Reby Cary Youth Library,” says Shorr. “Because it’s not just a library for this neighborhood. We really designed it to be a destination library for the ­entire city, and frankly, the entire region.”

Shorr says the library was built to be the “showpiece” of a neighborhood ­revitalization.

“We know that we’re going to have at least 100,000 people a year come through the doors,” she says. “They’re going to want somewhere to eat. They’re going to want somewhere to shop.”

At the heart of that will be Reby Cary branch, where children will find a ­carefully curated collection just for them.

“We spent months working hard to build a balanced youth collection that had a good representation of the old and new for these kids,” wrote Jensen. “We ran reports of statistics, combed through lists, and crunched all the data. We worked hard to find books that ­represented every single possibility, ­every single kid, that we could find.

“If collection development were a symphony, this collection would be a magnum opus.”

Author Image
Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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