Saturday, November 7, 2015

Partneribng Libraries and Parks to Better Meet Community Recreation Needs

Nothing for Us

The other day I was talking to a fellow in my neighborhood who was  in a wheelchair. We talked  about the activities offered   in the parks in our neighborhood, we agreed  they essentially offered none  for him as a wheelchair person, and none for me as a senior citizen.

Something for Everyone

I then pointed to  the library that was right across the street from where we were talking. It was far smaller then any of the parks in our neighborhood, yet offered us and the rest of the  community a choice of thousands of "recreation objects" ( better know as books and magazines). I said to him rather then parks being based solely  on installing  a small number of high usage fixed equipment  elements , what if our parks additionally  offered  a  library type  parkhouses stocked with all sorts of  recreation  equipment so as to offer something for everyone? He agreed with me this would be a good idea. Here are 4 ways to implement this a Library-Parks Parkhouse Model

1-Parks with a Staffed Library Parkhouse in the Park
2-Parks with a Library Near the park acting as Parkhouse
3- Recreation Equipment Lockers in Parks near Libraries
4-Recreation Equipment Lockers in Parks distant from Libraries

The Importance of Loose Parts and Movable Objects

How would you define disability?

Something that limits you due to x, y or z.  Everyone has a disability of some sort.  No one's perfect.  Everyone has a flaw of some type.  In terms of ADA, we should all be treated the same, because we are all disabled. 
 -Christopher Noel, NYC Parks ADA Accessibility Coordinator

The ADA covers making parks accessible , it doesn't really cover making them inclusive.

Inclusion and Exclusion

Features Inclusion
An exclusive park is one having offerings for only some people not all people.  , Inclusive is having offerings for all of the people. There is a park down the block from me it has a basketball court,chess tables, a jungle gym, a volley ball court, benches and several sidewalk games. It is inclusive if you want  to play Basketball, it is exclusive if you want to  play ping pong.  Fixed equipment only parks are usually features exclusive.  Library-Parks Partnership model parks are by nature   features inclusive, if they don't have any offerings to suit you, new offerings can be easily added. 

 Social Inclusion
. My current thought is  Inclusive activities allow anyone to join in . Exclusive activities mean you can't join in.  A soccer game using a audible soccer ball turns an activity that excludes the  visually impaired to one that is includes them.

 Loose Parts/ Movable Equipment

Loose parts are objects and materials that children can move, manipulate, control, and change within their play. With endless possibilities of play, they provide a high level of creativity and choice and develop children’s imagination. Children often prefer playing with boxes, sticks, rocks, water, sand, and ropes that can be manipulated in whatever way they choose over traditional toys that have limited flexibility and play value. It has often been observed that children presented with a gift will play longer with the box than with the toy that was in it  link

 RMIT University, Australia

  RMIT University researcher Brendon Hyndman found  the children were more inclusive when they played with everyday objects, compared to times when they used conventional playgrounds. Picture: 
Jay Town

"Conventional playgrounds are designed by adults - they don't actually take into consideration how the children want to play, how the children actually direct their play."
"Schools are putting all this money into designing playgrounds, and requiring all this funding,'' Mr Hyndman said.
"This is a very cost-effective, simple idea and it's just showing a range of benefits that have been even better than your fixed, conventional playgrounds."  link

University of North Carolina
 A recent study of daycare-center playgrounds found that when kids had access to items like balls, hula hoops, and jump ropes, they were more active than when they had only stationary structures to play on... Typical playground equipment does help develop certain motor skills, like climbing," says study coauthor Dianne Ward, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "But kids play harder and longer when they have more portable playthings around."

People Places -UC Berkeley
 The authors of the book People Places  made the statement  "The natural environment of a park is not enough to attract some elderly users, but a park with many activities can simulate social exchange and provide a sense of belonging"  Put another way, a bench is not enough to attract some seniors to a park.


There are many types recreation children  need . Fixed equipment only playgrounds  often only offer active (and then only some types of active). Library-Parks model playgrounds are far more inclusive.

A staffed parkhouse can store all sorts of play equipment for the abled and the disabled. I did ain person  survey of able residents of the Midtown South Area of Manhattan.  Here are some of the equipment they reeuested.

Most requested activities
New York Times
Ping pong,
Exercise Bikes 
 Jump Rope,
 Hula Hoop
Wall Street Journal
Pool Table
Air Hockey
Gian Screen TV
Horse Shoes
Board Games
Comic Books
Rocking Chairs
Swing Seats
Nok Hockey
Squeeze Balls
Daily News
Corn Hole (note 1)
Power Bands
Least Requested acrtivities

By giving area residents a listt of possible equipment they want, you can create a starter collection for the parkhouse. Once the parkhouse is up and running, it wiull continue to organize itself through the requests of its usres.

Not so special special needs equipment
As some of the above examples show  "special needs” recreation  equipment  often  need not be special, they just need to be available . Here's a few more examples puppets  and   Lego  for autism,  a hula hoop for the blind , Parkinson disease, and stroke victims ,   and  Bilibo for Downs Syndrome,and  horse shoes and table games for seniors.

Special  recreation equipment  for special  needs
 These types of equipment can be purchased on demand and stored in one of the 3 Library Model Recreation Parkhouses as needed.

Special needs equipment that the Library-Parks model could lend include...

Audible balls for the visually impaired

Tandem Rocker

 Braille typewriter

2-Parks with a Staffed "Library"

- Parks  that  offer  staffed parkhouses(libraries of recreation objects) that  lend portable recreation equipment, including special needs recreation equipment. You stop by the parkhouse, check out  the equipment and use in  the park.

Rockefeller Park Recreation Library (better known as the Rockefeller Park Parkhouse)

This is the parkhouse at Rockefeller Park a NYS park in Battery Park City. Parkgoers can go up to its window and borrow active and activities recreation equipment for all  ages and many  abilities

These are photographs from  Rockefeller Park, a New York State park located in Battery Park City. In addition to high usage  fixed equipment based playspaces, it also  has a staffed parkhouse than  lends  scores  of recreation items  that are able  meet the recreation needs  of  a wide range of  ages and abilities .   

Some items like ping pong paddles are greatly used others and other items , like some of the  board games, are seldom used. Doesn't matter that some of the  items  are seldom used, what's important is that they are available for those small number of people who want them, so as to offer something for everyone.   Unlike fixed equipment only parks, the Rockefeller Park parkhouse  can add new equipment offerings in days rather then decades.  

For Conservancy Parks and Business Improbvement Districts with fund a Recreation Equipment Library in the Park is affordable. Here are links to some that exist and some proposed ones...

Flatiron Playspace
Union Square Playmarket

Central Park Visitors Centers

Unfortunately due to lack of funds for staff, "something for everyone"   staffed parkhouse libraries  are not going to beimplemented very often.

 What follows are  alternatives that have the potential to make them far more common.

3-Public Libraries  Near Parks Offering Sports and Recreation Equipment 

As it turns out there are thousands of  staffed libraries around the world that are either adjacent or nearby parks.

Libraries near parks   are a great place to offer recreation equipment for use in the  park. Here's several examples where this is already occurring...

West Torrens Library Australia
"We are lucky that we have a park right outside our windows. Staff have been known to tell a bunch of rowdy kids to take a ball, go out to the park and work off their excess energy before they come back inside and sometimes the youth staff will start or join in the game for a little while - its all part of building good relationships".

Sacramento's Belle Cooledge Library lends Ping Pong paddles for use in adjacent Belle Cooledge Park.
  The paddles were donated by one of their city council members. A sign in the library lets patrons know about the paddles. They currently circulate around 52 times a year.

Maine Library 
 “Our Library checks out basketballs to be used on the courts near the library.  We also have frisbees, jump ropes and hacky sacks available to borrow. The balls have been replaced many times through the years and have resulted in much good will with the kids after school. When they (the kids!) start bouncing off the walls, we suggest they bounce a basketball instead. .”  Maine Library 

The libraries I contacted do not work with their parks department counterparts on recreation equipment lending. If they did and if libraries get permission to hang  large banners  at parks it can make  this idea  work even  better 

Interlibrary Loan
A branch library may not have room or funding to stock all the types of recreation  equipment needed  to  cover all special needs  For example the Cuyahoga  Ohio County Public Library  has solved this problem for toy borrowers. They  offer more than 700 different age appropriate toys, including toys adapted for children with special needs. Items may be requested online for delivery to any one of their 25 branches  link  

Many branch libraries would be hard pressed to store 700 objects like these. .But by  having on premise a core of commonly requested equipment,   a branch library  can meet the most requested "recreation objects"  in real time, and act as the delivery  location for other  requested items. 

4-Recreation Equipment Lockers in Parks Near Libraries

Public Libraries near parks  sometimes have no room,  or funds  for lending recreation equipmentHere is another Library-Parks Recreation model, that involves Public Libraries simply lending keys to lockers in nearby parks. 

-Have  parks departments    install equipment storage lockers in  parks  near libraries

-Each locker has one  or  several related  recreation   items in it.

 - Items in  each locker will be geared to a specific recreation category(baseball, gardening tools , childrens toys) , or  special need(autism , wheelchair,  visual impairement   etc) .  

-The lockers  would be stocked with  multiple copies of  high demand items, single copies of lower demand   items.

-You go to library to check out a  locker key with your library card.  

-For most items keys must be returned before library closing. For some special needs items checkout would ; be for longer periods.

-Library responsible for keys/lending/fines

- parks department responsible  for locker installation/stocking/maintenance.. 

-Rarely requested items 
 These would be requested from the library catalog online and brought to the lockers on an as needed basis. There are a number of ways to get items to the lockers,based on delivery volume,  the most cost effective might be to  simply contract with USPS, UPS or Fedex Ground , to deliver items to  lockers, then have the person who delivered the ite drop an envelope with the locker key into a nearby  mailbox.

-Installing some  large lockers in parks will allow for the checkout  of larger/heavier  items,                                                               


Corn Hole

 foosball table with wheels

Basketball for Kids

Special needs tricycle 

-Additionally schools, community organizations,   and special needs groups/individuals     can checkout keys to empty lockers, to store their own recreation equipment on site at a park.  By allowing groups  long term access to a large locker in a park inclusive play ,  becomes much easier to achieve in our parks.

5-Recreation Equipment Lockers in Parks Not Near Libraries

When Public Libraries are adjacent or near parks equipment/key loan can be for just the day. When distances from library to park are further:

-equipment may be borrowed for longer periods

-it may be possible to return keys by mail

  I surveyed  a number of librarians who lend recreation equipment  about the issue and they did not find this a worrisome issue.

 I'm sure books and DVD's  are stolen from libraries  at times It's part of the cost of running a library. There are ways to minimize theft.For instance, 

-The Mc Arthur Library in Biddlesford Maine, does not leave recreation equipment out, they leave laminated pictures of the equipment out. You go to the desk with the picture and they give you the item. 

-Leaving  portable  equipment out in a park or library , it can easily get stolen. The locker system, assures  that only the person with a key to a locker can steal the item in the locker. To put it another way the equipment in the lockers can be stolen by a far smaller number of people  then books and DVD's  in a open stack  library. 

6-Getting  Libraries and Parks to Cooperate 

  "Current parks-libraries partnerships are relatively tenuous and unsystematic. Traditional institutional self-identities and definitions compound the effect of other barriers, such as professional protocols, that isolate staff and keep people within their boxes and individual funding streams. Too often parks and libraries compete with each other for funds instead of looking at collaborative ways to solve citywide issues and encourage development."
. -Libraries of the Future

 Eli Neiburger, deputy director  Ann Arbor District Library which offers a Unusual Stuff to Borrow Collection

Ann Arbor District Library
Usage Statistics of Recreation  Equipment 4/2/2015

                                     Number          In Use     % In use
Tumbler Tower               4                     4             100%
Marble Bowl                   5                     5              100%
Giant Checkers               2                      2              100%
Mini Ping Pong               5                     4               80%
Kubb                               5                     0               0%
Skittles                            5                     4               80%   
Rollors                            4                     2               50%
Two way radios               3                     3              100%
Metal Detector                4                     4             100%
Giant Dominoes              4                     4             100%

Robin Bolewski of the Marcellus Free Library.  told me something to the effect that when she first broached the idea of a Little Free Library in the town  park, the parks dept said “No Way”. The library director then brought the idea to “their boss”, the town council who said great idea, lets do it.  After the Little Free Library(above)  was implemented in Marcellus Park, this had "broken the ice" and other cooperation between Marcellus Park and the Marcellus Free Library  is now  occurring.

The mission of libraries has historically been for learning and the mission of parks has been for recreation. By allowing parks and libraries to support each other in their missions  residents of our community can greatly benefit.