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Family fun abounds at the Northeast Regional Library

By Laura Ross
Photos courtesy of
Louisville Free Public Library

Rachel Smith, the branch manager of the new Northeast Regional Library, is not your traditional, buttoned-up librarian of yore. “I love working with children and asking, ‘Do you know who owns the library?’” she said, laughing. “They’ll say, oh, the president, the mayor, or such. And I say, no, YOU own the library.”

The new Northeast Regional Library located at 15 Bellevoir Cir. off of Ormsby Station Road in Lyndon officially opened June 24, 2019. The nearly 40,000-square-foot facility replaced the much-smaller Westport branch. Similar in size and scope to the Southwest and South Central Regional libraries, the Northeast Library houses more than 120,000 books and materials. It includes comfortable, quiet spaces for reading and studying, several meeting rooms, an auditorium, a coffee shop, a large children’s area and a separate teen space.

According to Paul Burns, communications director for the Louisville Free Public Library, visitors to the new Northeast Library checked out 81,177 items in its first month of operation in July. To put it in perspective, that number is equivalent to more than two-thirds of the branch’s total collection (120,000 items) and is the highest single-month total for items checked out from one LFPL location ever.

Since opening, the Northeast Library has averaged 64,000 items checked out each month, served more than 23,000 visitors per month, and seen more than 10,000 children attend library programs and events in the first five months. In November, Quills Coffee opened a coffee shop in the library, which has proved enormously popular.

Beyond the books, videos, music and periodicals expected, the Northeast Library offers a full calendar of programming each month for children, teens and adults. Unique to the library is its creative Maker Pavilion, which offers a creativity hub for hands-on learning.

The Maker Room features the latest in maker technology including a Makerbot 3D printer, Glowforge laser cutter, programmable drones, sewing machines and more. The Media Studio offers a sound booth for patrons to record podcasts and music and an area to create videos using green screen technology. It is also used to host a regular “Tween Improv” group. In the kitchen, chefs and other local experts host scheduled cooking classes and demos for the public. The entire Maker Pavilion hosts open hours, regular events and specialized classes, all of which can be found on the library’s website.

“What I love about the space is there are real high-end gadgets like the 3-D laser printer, but there’s also old-school button makers, sewing machines, a knitting machine and, of course, paper, pens, scissors and glue for all kinds of artwork,” said Smith.

“We ask people to go through a 30-minute presentation called Maker Pavilion 101,” she added, noting that safety is key when using the equipment. The space proved popular throughout the holiday season with families making handmade gifts. Library staff regularly teach sessions on software programs, photography and using the recording studios.

“The offerings are endless for the community,” explained Smith. “We even have a certified Bob Ross instructor who teaches painting each month, and we often turn people away from those classes because they are so popular.”

The demonstration kitchen features three ovens, gadgets such as air fryers and more. Smith spent months before the library’s opening talking with other libraries nationwide that have similar spaces. Area chefs and restaurants use the space to host cooking demonstrations and the library provides classes like a monthly “Vegan Table” cooking class and healthy eating programs.

The screened-in porch on the library’s south side allows for yoga classes, community meetings, storytelling and more. As spring approaches, said Smith, programming will ramp up for the porch area.

The family focus is one of the Northeast Library’s greatest strengths. “We have an outstanding children’s staff that brings a great deal of creativity and passion to what they do,” said Tonya Swan, children and teen program supervisor at the Northeast Library. “Our goal is to provide the very best programming using the latest in children’s educational pedagogy and technology. The Maker Space plays a role in that because of its resources, and staff use all of the great toys such as the Ozobots, drones and other things we have to teach coding.

“One of our most unique and popular teen programs is the Medieval Combat Society,” added Swan. “It was started by our teen library assistant, Chris Herde, who uses his history degree and background working at the Renaissance fair to teach teens combat strategies, swordplay and fighting skills. He also throws in some historical facts. All of the ‘weapons’ are specially padded and constructed to be safe.”

This is obviously not your grandmother’s library with dusty card catalogs and pure silence. “The library is full of conversation and laughter,” said Swan. “We are still a very popular study spot. There are lots of students who use the library – they just bring their noise-cancelling headphones and it works. I think that despite the less-than-quiet environment, people come because it is such a beautiful, inspiring space. The windows looking over the park make it feel like you are actually sitting in the park but with all the comforts of having a table and chair and charging station to support your work.”

The 13.5-acre park-like setting the library owns includes the Ormsby House, a landmark home that was once one of Lyndon’s historic farms. It will eventually offer space for additional programming, but the walking paths and heavily treed acres add a natural touch that can’t be found at any other Louisville library. The Northeast Library offers Nature Play on the third Saturday of each month for families to explore the park and engage in creative play and nature-based activities.

The library’s park will be center stage June 20 for an ambitious event called the “Longest Day of Play.”

“It will begin when the sun rises at 6:19 a.m. that day and will end when the sun sets at 9:09 p.m.,” said Swan. “Its purpose is to encourage children and their families to engage in the outdoors. We are partnering with many community groups to provide activities all day – everything from Eco-Graffiti, soccer, sunrise yoga, nature play, kickball and a mud pie kitchen.”

Before that, planning is already underway for a busy spring. In addition to regular storytimes, book groups, movie nights and more, the Northeast Library will host family weekends two Saturdays a month.

“We are planning a large Easter egg hunt with our neighbor, the Northeast YMCA,” said Swan. “We will also have regular programs such as Nature Play, TinkerLab, Teen Hang Time and the Page Turners Book Club for kids.”

Lee Burchfield, director of the Louisville Free Public Library, enjoys the Northeast Library’s success but advises that the community must embrace all libraries. “It’s essential that we recognize and celebrate the success we have had in building the regional libraries called for by the 2008 Library Master Plan,” Burchfield said. “But we still need to renovate the Portland Library and replace the Shively Library. The community has demonstrated that investment in libraries pays dividends. Now, we need to see that same kind of commitment to operations funding so that we can build on our success.”

After working 18 years in the library system, Rachel Smith sometimes wonders at her luck. “It strikes me now and again that I’ll come in and work inside, but I’ll go out at lunch and get out by the Ormsby House. I look back and think, ‘Oh my gosh, look at this amazing thing I’m a part of overseeing.’ It’s a privilege. I remember telling my mom years ago that I can’t believe they are paying me to do this work, and I still feel that way today. It’s so much fun.” V

For program and event listings, or to sign up for a free event newsletter, visit lfpl.org