Muskegon Area District Library Pursues New “Storyville” Project For Kids Ages 0-5

Andrew Trzaska | December 15, 2013

Last week, Muskegon County’s board of commissioners learned more about Storyville, the Muskegon Area District Library’s new early literacy initiative.

Intended for children ages 0-5, Storyville creates an environment where children can appreciate reading and literacy before formal schooling. The theory is that early exposure to reading and books will lead students to learn better and achieve higher. The idea was first developed in Baltimore, which MADL representatives visited to develop their local plans.

MADL Director Stephen Dix and Assistant Director Richard Schneider spoke at Tuesday’s meeting on the topic of Storyville and its planned features.

The idea grew out of a 2010 MADL planning session, which saw the need to improve early child literacy to combat Muskegon County’s high illiteracy rate. Local nonprofit Read Muskegon estimates 18 percent of Muskegon residents are functionally illiterate.

In the long term, higher literacy rates may lead to other outcomes as well, according to Schneider. He noted that it was interesting that Storyville would be built at the same time as the new County jail.

“There’s 11,000 kids in Muskegon County age 0-5,” said Schneider. “If we can get them into Storyville, maybe they won’t end up in the jail.”

Storyville furniture will be kid-sized and the space separated from the rest of the library, so these small children feel comfortable and safe in Storyville. Yet, it is not intended as a playground or museum, according to Schneider.

There will be learning areas themed after real-world spaces, including a mail room, a store, a construction zone, a theater, and a garden. Different segments of the space are targeted toward different ages, with books all throughout.  There are even books for parents, about raising children and teaching their kids.

“We need a place for the parents to be the child’s first teacher,” said Schneider

The overall cost of the project is expected to cost $2 million for construction at the Norton Shores branch of the library system, which was selected because it has space to grow in the wooded areas surrounding the building. There will be $125,000 per year for annual operation costs.

There has been some controversy over Storyville in September, when the MADL board voted to move forward with fundraising with a less-than-unanimous 4-3 vote.  Fundraising has continued to the present day, with half of the money likely to go toward the construction of the addition and the other half to go to the creative design of the interior.

Quinn Evans Architects, based in Washington DC, Wisconsin, and Michigan is the architect working on concepts for the project.  They are known for adaptations of historical buildings, and the MADL Storyville will likely be designed to look like historic sites around Muskegon County.

County commissioners did not need to approve anything at Tuesday’s meeting, but did unanimously vote to write a letter of support for the project.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst