If you pass by the White Branch Library, you might see adults and children alike sharing soccer balls, hoola hoops, or other sports equipment out on the lawn. That equipment is now available for kids to borrow from the front desk as part of a pilot program by the Onondaga County Public Library, and Trinity Health’s “Transforming Communities Initiative.”
Syracuse Parks and Recreation Commissioner Julie LaFave says play is a vital learning process, natural for a library to accommodate.
“Play is not just kicking a ball, it helps them make decisions... with their communication skills... their creativity. Sometimes the best ideas are born in the park or in the lawn in front of a library. You know, I drove up and I expected to see a lot of kids and I couldn’t be happier to see adults because we as adults forget how to play... to just laugh and talk to strangers.”
Through the pilot program, equipment will be available at the White Branch Library on the Northside, and at the Mundy Branch Library on the Westside. Kids who want to rent out equipment for the day need only ask at the circulation desk, no library card required. It will be theirs to play with until the library closes for the day. LaFave says this program is one more step in the ongoing process of making sure community members have the tools that will best fit their needs to get outside and stay healthy.
“Kids sometimes prefer to be on mobile device or they prefer to be on a TV; they aren’t getting out as much. So, we’re looking at trends to see how we can catch up with it. Kickball programs aren’t as popular as they used to be, but what can we put in its place? Cricket... we’re here in the Northside (of Syracuse) where there’s a population (for whom) cricket is a sport. It’s not necessarily a sport popular in the United States but, how can we integrate that here to serve the trends of our society?”
The Northside has a robust and growing community of refugees from all around the world. Families from many countries, including Somalia, Nepal, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq have been resettled into the neighborhood surrounding White Branch Library, and the librarians have had their work cut out for them integrating them to their new community. Onondaga County Public Library Director Janet Park says the new sports equipment program is just one of several that helps these refugees feel at home.
“Somehow despite not knowing the language, the staff here connects with them and they run E.L.L., English Language Learner Classes in their community room upstairs and they are packed. Then they started a sign language class for adults. I think this is a very welcoming branch and they feel at home here.”
The sports equipment donated by St. Joseph’s Health employees, the YWCA’s Soccer for Success program, and Syracuse University Recreation Services will be available throughout the year. Park says the folks at the county library hope to eventually expand the program to other branches, so that everyone who uses the public libraries can nourish their bodies as well as their minds. She had some encouraging words for participants on Thursday to stay motivated.
“Let’s get active, let’s get our bodies moving and then when you’re tired, c’mon in and a read a book.”