Those who enter Princeton University's Firestone Library may not realize that it contains the Cotsen Children's Library and Bookscape gallery, designed to imitate and excite the imagination of children and transport mature visitors back to their childhood.
The Cotsen Children’s Library, created through a gift from Lloyd E. Cotsen, Class of 1950 and Charter Trustee Emeritus, contains children's books, manuscripts, original artwork, toys and prints spanning the 15th century to the present day. Researchers from all over the world come to visit the collection containing works in over 40 languages, and Princeton students work with library staff on programming for children. The library is part of Princeton's Rare Books and Special Collections.
The gallery contains a large glass wall where visitors of all ages can peer at the some of the rarest books in the collection on the other side. The space is also home to a two-story bonsai treehouse where children and hide, explore and read their favorite stories.
"Our mission is to promote a love of literacy in children," said Cotsen Education and Outreach Coordinator Dana Sheridan. "It's so wide open and marvelous and there's so much room for creativity in there."
The library offers programming that is open to the public and free of charge. The library hosts Saturday events, workshops, performances, a creative blog, an annual writing contest and award-winning webcasts with children's book authors. Additionally, the popular Cotsen in the Classroom program brings collections-based educational programs to local K-5 classrooms. Some regular programs include:
- Tiger Tales, children ages 3-5: involves reading a picture book and creating a take-home craft based on the story.
- To Be Continued, children ages 6-8: consists of listening to a chapter book as well as participating in an activity.
- Cotsen Critix, children ages 9-12: includes discussing books, participating in numerous literary activities, and hearing from guest speakers such as writers, illustrators and artists.
"I consider literacy to be fiction and nonfiction," Sheridan said. "I consider it reading, writing and research, and so I try to touch on everything in our programming to bring it to life. Sometimes it's whimsical and sometimes it's more academic."
Princeton students at the graduate and undergraduate level have the opportunity to work with the library staff on the programming as well as with the rare books collection.
"Working with the collection has really renewed my love of the different worlds you can enter when you go into a library and the sense of adventure that books can bring to you," said senior Melody Edwards, a religion major.
Prospective English major Joani Etskovitz, a sophomore, hopes to take what she is learning from working with the children into her career.
"When I come into this gallery, I see children scampering about with this sense of wonder about every facet of life and what I would like to do as a college professor is instill that sense of wonder in college students," Etskovitz said. "I want to show them that just because they are older and have to start thinking about careers, it doesn't mean they have to lose that sense of childhood wonder about learning."
To graduate student Miranda Marraccini, the gallery and collection are outlets to explore new things that she may not have seen before.
"As a graduate student, I spend a lot of time in libraries but often our focus as graduate students can get so narrow on what our special area of interest is," said Marraccini, who is studying in the English department. "Having another outlet, another library where I can find things that I didn't even know were related to what I am interested in, is fascinating."