Camas library sets sights on early learning center

Plans call for turning storytime room into space for youngest patrons

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Camas Library Director Connie Urquhart holds a fundraising barometer inside the library's storytime room Jan. 17, 2019. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record files)

Parents of young children and frequent patrons to the Camas Public Library may soon notice a few changes happening inside the library’s storytime room.

“We are converting the storytime room to a comprehensive early learning center,” explains Camas Library Director Connie Urquhart.

According to the library’s own literature on the early learning center, meant for children ages newborn to 5 years, the new center “pick up where storytimes leave off, providing a space for adults to read, talk, sing, write and play with their child anytime the library is open.”

Urquhart helped establish similar spaces when she worked for the Fresno, California library system, and said a dedicated early learning center can help the whole community.

“Even if you don’t have kids, this is building a better tomorrow for our community,” Urquhart said. “This will help build a love of reading. Children can start to associate the library and books and reading with something positive.”

At the heart of the center is the idea that families and caregivers can access the library’s range of early childhood toys, books, games and other literacy-based resources throughout the library’s open hours — instead of having to wait for one of the library’s storytime sessions.

For working parents, or families with children who have sensory concerns, Urquhart said, the new center will offer flexibility in scheduling trips to the library with infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Instead of waiting to attend one of the library’s 11 storytimes, the families will have a dedicated space for their children to find books and learning-based toys and activities geared toward the library’s youngest patrons.

Urquhart said many parents have made lifelong friendships through their visits to the library’s storytimes and have bonded over parenting very young children. Likewise, the children have a chance to get out of their homes and socialize with other youngsters.

“I’m a huge advocate for them,” Urquhart said of library-based early learning centers.

The library and its foundation are still fundraising for the new center, but have already collected enough funds — roughly $25,000 — through donations from groups like 100+ Women Who Care Clark County and the Norman C. Danielson Foundation to purchase learning-based toys for the new early learning center — dress-up materials, puppets and books for preschoolers, soft toys and pillows for the infants and climbing mats and developmental materials for the toddlers.

Now, the library must raise another $70,000 to give the storytime room a needed makeover with a fresh coat of paint, new bench seating throughout, a new storage unit for the toys and activities, “oversized, comfy chairs for adults and children to read together,” and new carpet tiles that can easily be cleaned or replaced.

“We would also love to have a mural in here,” Urquhart added.

The library director was aiming to have the early learning center completed before the two library employees who had worked the most on the project — Debbie Chevron and Karen Nicholson — retired in early January, but said the new goal has shifted.

Now, the library hopes to fundraise throughout 2020 and have the center ready to go before the end of this year.

Urquhart said the library is open to a variety of donations: from the big-name donors who might want to give a large contribution toward the center and see their family’s name on the room to community members hoping to donate a specific item to the new center.

“We will soon be unveiling a registry for the early learning center,” Urquhart said. “It will work much like a baby or wedding registry, and patrons will be able to go online, choose an item, purchase it directly, and it will be shipped to the library with their name as the donor — unless they choose to remain anonymous. It gives people the added bonus of being able to walk into the room and point to an object and say, ‘It’s because of me that this is here.'”

To learn more about the library’s efforts to create an early learning center, or to donate directly to the fundraising efforts, visit ort/camas-library-projects.