Family Place Library celebrated at Maud Marks Branch Library

Two-year-old Michael Stanley didn’t wait for the ribbon to be cut at the George and Barbara Bush Family Place Library at the Maud Marks Branch Library on Oct. 31.

He excitedly ran into the special place filled with a kitchen, dress-up corner, dolls and other toys to promote interaction between parents and their toddlers.

“You see they’re very eager,” said branch manager Akhila Bhat, as she laughed at his excitement and was joined by parents and staff who attended the grand opening of Family Place Library, a one-of-a-kind space specifically for families of young children

Michael’s mom, Barbora Stanley said they are regular visitors to the branch library. “He just loves it,” she said. “It’s beautiful,” she added, referring to the Family Place Library. “They did a great job.”

Last summer, Harris County Public Library officials announced that Maud Marks and seven other branches in the system would sharpen their focus on families and young children developing early learning skills.

Development of the George and Barbara Bush Family Place is made possible by a $200,000 grant from the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation with a matching gift from Phillips 66.

“I think it is wonderful that Katy’s Maud Marks Library Branch is one of only eight branches in the Harris County Public Library system to have a Family Place Library,” said Rick Ellis Katy Area Chamber of Commerce vice president, who attended the grand opening. “This facility is a perfect attraction for the Katy area’s burgeoning population of young, growing families with toddlers at the perfect age for the library’s unique offerings,” he added.

“Mrs. Bush championed family literacy for more than 30 years,” said Julie Baker Finck, president of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, on Thursday.

Bringing Family Place to public libraries is a fitting tribute to her legacy, said Finck as well as a great service to families in neighborhoods where the libraries are located.

She explained Family Place, modeled after a national initiative, provides a setting with the necessary tools to equip parents to better serve in the role as their children’s first and most important teachers.

Bhat speaks of the Family Place program introduced initially at one of the system’s northwest branches several years ago. “They saw a very high success,” she said. Kids wanted to come to the library; families came, she said. There was interaction between parents and child.

Since the grant was announced last summer, Bhat said she and another staff member attended training in Long Island where Family Place Libraries started in 1996.

“The Family Place Library is open all day,” she said, “and doesn’t need a meeting room.” Sometimes people are unable to attend storytime, she continued. But the Family Place space is always here for everyone to use; they can come over the weekend, afternoons or evenings.

Since last summer, the Maud Mark branch also had to rearrange its space, taking away some shelving and putting books in different places to accommodate the Family Place Library.

“That’s what libraries are about now,” Bhat said. “They’re becoming very family-centered places like community centers. We’re arranging our space to accommodate the new trend.”

During a brief program prior to the grand opening, Bhat said a child’s brain is about 90 percent developed within the first three years of life.

“This early brain development has a lasting impact on a child’s ability to learn and to succeed in school and in life,” said Bhat. “The Family Place Library is intended to provide a safe environment where youths can play in meaningful ways with toys selected to stimulate their brain development.”

She thanked staff and Friends of the Library for their support and help.

The program also included Jennifer Schwartz, programming services manager, Harris County Public Library. “I’m so proud we’re now able to offer eight Family Place Libraries throughout our system and by next year we’ll be able to offer 12 libraries.”

She thanked the literacy foundation and Phillips 66 for their continued support enabling the system to expand Family Place Libraries. The seven other branches selected along with Maud Marks Branch are Barbara Bush, Octavia Fields, Parker Williams, LSC-Tomball, Clear Lake City-County Freeman, High Meadows and Jacinto City.