Remember when libraries were hot, dark, intimidating corridors of towering books, where radiators hissed so you could hardly sweat through your twenty-first Hardy Boys adventure? Remember the vigilant, disapproving librarian who chastised your every rustle with a sibilant, stinging "Shhh"?
Times have changed in library science and libraries, but perhaps most vividly at the Noyes children's Library in Kensington. Enveloped by red maples and yellowing oak trees, the reassuring clapboard building with green shutters, festoons of carved gingerbread and shingle roof signals the fun is just beginning with its "NoYes Library" sign. A glance through the glass entryway may show a librarian moaning out a spook story or demonstrating speaky body movements for an indoor bear hunt. Built in 1893, Noyes is a rococo time machine that Launches children on a "Great Cosmic Megagalactic Trip" of outer-space travel through films, plays and dance or a "Marco Polo Festival" discovery of Japan and China with kites, crafts and Japanese street theater.
The creators of Noyes Library, Crosby Noyes and Brainerd Warner, followed the English subscription system. Originally there was a membership fee of $1, and records of the period show expenses of $5 a month for the librarian's salary. In 1951 Noyes joined the newly formed Department of Public Libraries for Montgomery County, and recently the library was designated an Historical Site by the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Subscription fees are past history, but trustees still control funds for special equipment and materials. Today Noyes has the special mission of serving the needs and interests of young children.
"The Noyes philosophy," head librarian Nora Caplan says, "is to keep children happily involved. Books are our central theme but we create activities, crafts, theater to bring out the excitement of literature. Everything at Noyes is kid-size. We want our minipatrons to know that libraries are not scary, intimidating institutions." What child could resist straddling the hand-car-ved alligator chair, leaning back against the creature's tail and listening to Kipling's "How the Elephant Got His Truck"? The carved, polished animal chairs, gingham bulletin boards and low displays to be touched and handled all proclaim to the child a clear welcome.
Pre schoolers, sometimes excluded from most libraries' story hours, have an especially designed program the second Tuesday of every month. In November, these little ones will learn to recite an Indian tale using Indian sign language and master Indian picture writing before they learn hteir ABC's. In December penny theater, an English plaything favored by the young Winston Churchill, will offer its audience another view of favorite stories. In Great Britain, cardboard model theaters were sold "a penny plain or tupprnce colored" to children who then enacted their storybook favourites with home-drawn characters and scenery. For durability Noyes librarians built a wooden model, but they trace and cut out paper figures for such favorites as "Where the Wild Things Are" and "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," January is Pancakes and Syrup month, with Paul Bunyan stories, imaginary trips to a maple sugat farm and syrupy gastronomical treats to make.
Noyes' "please touch" policy inspires such easy science-related activities as preschoolers' Smell and Tell, in which parents and children pass around opaque jars with perforated lids tomatch the pairs - the two jars of cinnamon, the two jars of lemon peel and name the contents.
Another popular and educational activity - and one that none but the most dazed, doting parents would ever allow inside the house - is Sink or Swim, in which two washtubs full of water and piles of familiar objects are set out. With much sloshing and laughter, the kids guess whether the spool, thimble , sponge or cup will float or sink, and why. An in-house bulletin reminds the librarians they "shouldn't be overly anxious if some objects get broken or lost." Quite change from the days when books were doled out reluctantly for fear they would be damaged or lost.
"Our library is a catalyst and that's exciting" Caplan - called the Think Machine by her co-worker - says. "The '60s and '70s showed us a need for more family programs and we've based manyu of our programs on this concept. At Noyes, we push shared pleasure." The new Discovery Centers, where a collection of one-theme materials such as game, tape cassettes, art prints and posters inspire kids to test their talents and curiosity, also offer idea sheets with home follow-up activities for parent and child. For instance, the caterpillar-to-butterfly center tells how to make a butterfly puppet from a paper bag. With help from a parent, cut a hole large enough for two fingers. Paint a butterfly body and wings below the hole, and paint two fingers to match. Stick the fingers through the hole as antennae and fly away.
In the "Parent as Teacher" section, the library posts additional home activities as well as up dated kid tours of Washington. The library also keeps a file of individuals and services in the community that are willing to share talents with the library - aero-nautical experts who will sponsor and judge paper airplane competitions embassy officials who will conduct "trips" to the Orient; and arctic explorers who will thrill children with the adventures of the icy continent. The library shares this list with parents.
Caplan points out that the demand for special program is great, and urges parents to call at the beginning of the month for program information and pre-registration.
Noyes is such a joyful place," adds barbara Covington, children's librarian. "I remember my first preschool program. One little boy approached me afterward and gave his overall evaluation. "Mmmmmm. This place is a goody, Miss Librarian."