A Downtown Amenity for Children Hiding in Plain Sight

Lawson McGhee Library, 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

While it might look quiet on the outside, if you enter the Lawson McGhee Library, take a sharp left and walk down a flight of stairs, it’s likely on any given day that you’ll encounter a sudden burst of joyous energy. It’s a trek that children and parents from all around the county take on a regular basis and it leads to the largest children’s literature collection at any area public library.

Cheerfully steered by Erin Nguyen, Children’s Services Manager for Knox County Public Library, the room is just the tip of the iceberg for county-wide programming for children. As of 2018, there were over 400,000 children’s books available for check out across the county. In that year, over 20,000 children attended one or more of the over 500 programs offered.

Children’s Room, Lawson McGhee Library, 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

Children’s Room, Lawson McGhee Library, 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

Children’s Room, Lawson McGhee Library, 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

The library is encouraging “Every Child Ready to Read,” a national program recognizing that so many children arrive at school significantly less prepared than their peers. In Knox County, only 40% of third-graders are reading on grade level. The program emphasizes supporting parents by helping them understand the literacy and pre-literacy skills their children need and helping them deliver those skills to their children.

Concurrently with this effort, the libraries have joined Mayor Jacobs in the Read Around the World initiative, with the goal of having children in Knox County read 500,000 hours during 2020, the rough equivalent of the time it would take to travel around the world 20 times. Handy passports are constructed and are broken into the continents. Reading about each of the continents is a bonus, and adults are encouraged to join in. The amount of reading breaks down to about 20 minutes a day for a total of about 10 hours a month for children across the county.

Children’s Room, Lawson McGhee Library, 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

Children’s Room, Lawson McGhee Library, 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

Children’s Room, Lawson McGhee Library, 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

Libraries across the county offer about 65 story-times per week. At Lawson McGhee, there are currently four different options based on age and they are offered from morning to evening. Wednesday morning is a particularly popular time for toddlers, and the Tuesday evening program at the downtown branch is the only evening program offered across the county. A number of parents pair the Wednesday morning story time with the Wednesday Market Square Farmer’s Market. Lawson McGhee also offers a craft activity, “Make It and Take It,” on Saturday mornings, which pairs well with the Saturday Market Square Farmer’s Market when it is in season. There’s one this Saturday with an African theme.

Planning is well underway for the Children’s Festival of Reading, coming up quickly on May 16. In addition to helping staff the reading room at Lawson McGhee, Nguyen is also charged with setting a schedule for outside presenters and musicians for the annual summer festival.

Children’s Room, Lawson McGhee Library, 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

Children’s Room, Lawson McGhee Library, 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

Children’s Room, Lawson McGhee Library, 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

The hope is to get even more children connected to their public library and to reading as a part of their daily life. Mary Pom Claiborne, Director of Marketing, Development and Communications, said that a major initiative is to get a public library card into the hands of all children in Knox County, an effort they are coordinating with the schools. She said they are about halfway to that target.

In addition to the books, there are other resources available. During my visit there were children being read to by parents, and children having a tea party, playing with stuffed animals, and more. The library also has a growing collection of digital books, Playaway Launchpads, available for checkout that are similar to iPads with apps and books loaded. Books with built-in audio files and Tumblebooks, which are animated picture books, are also available through the library’s extensive database collection.

Mary Pom Claiborne and Erin Nguyen, Children’s Room, Lawson McGhee Library, 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

It all adds up to a great resource for children and a fun spot to take the children or grandchildren when visiting downtown.

Comments

  1. This is so weird I was just thinking about this place last night. I used to go there when I was little. Back in downtown’s ghost town 90’s days. It’s barely changed a bit.

  2. Would love to see Knoxville branch out and develop a true book festival aimed at adults like other bigger cities such as Nashville. Perhaps U.T. could sponsor one and base it at the Convention Center.

  3. I think I spent at least a third of my life at Lawson McGhee public library as a child (the old library location) and I can recall, at the risk of TMI, being so engrossed in all the books that I would sometimes forget to visit the bathroom until it was too late, lol. I firmly believe that there is no greater gift one can give a child than the love of reading, an activity which has served me well throughout my 75 years of life..

  4. I’m not downtown a lot. I always fret about parking. Is there library parking close by?

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      There is a large parking lot across the corner. There is street parking on the block. One block away is the Locust Street Garage.

    • I might mention that all city garages are free after 6 pm and weekends (Sat.&Sun.). There are a few parking meter spaces right in front of the library if you’re lucky enough to find a spot.

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