You’ve no doubt heard the buzz about Calgary’s new Central Library. Yeah, it’s a $245-million architectural marvel, but what’s especially rad about this facility is how family-friendly it is. The children’s area is 12,000 sq ft alone and is chock-a-block with so many amenities, you’d be forgiven if you thought it was a science centre. Or a nursery school. But with 50,000 children’s books on its shelves, you know it’s still a library.
The new Central Library is dedicated to whole child development – all the way from babes to teens. To boost early learning skills, there’s a full-body play structure, a climbing wall and a cool net structure that’s often filled with toys. Basically, it’s a fabulous indoor playground.
Activity tables are set up with loose parts – these are a step up from LEGO, as the toys have been sourced specifically through educational institutions to help kids build specific skills. With loose parts, it’s a different learning experience every time you visit, with an aim to foster imaginative thinking. (Think wooden blocks, logs and shapes that bring nature inside.) To encourage imaginative play, there are creative areas kitted out with costumes and puppets. And of course, you’ll find plenty of cozy reading nooks.
Every detail of the children’s section has been carefully thought through
From tiny toilets to squishy flooring to padding on the handrails. There’s a separate family washroom and a dedicated nursing room, too. In the baby and toddler sensory play area, it seems every structure has been padded to avoid bumps and bruises.
The only thing missing is Engine 23, the retired firetruck that was the highlight of the old Central Library. Fret not! Engine 23 will have a new home at the Louise Riley Library starting in 2019. Even if you can’t make it to this swish library, there are early learning centres similar to what’s here at these 10 other libraries in Calgary.
Try to time your visit so it coincides with the daily drop-in storytime, which runs twice a day and helps to build early literacy practices. Storytime takes place every day at 10:30 am and 2 pm, except on Sundays when it runs at 12:15 pm and 2 pm. For caregivers with babes 12-months and younger, consider popping into Baby Rhyme Time. For the older set, Math Quest is a volunteer-run program that helps school-age kids with problem-solving and runs every day after school. For a full listing of programs and times, visit Library Connect.
For school-age kids
The top of the children’s library on Level 1 is where school-age kids will want to hang. Of note is the Questionairium that encourages inquiry-based learning. Themes rotate every few months. Currently, the focus is on what’s under water, with puzzles and games to spark curiosity to find out more about marine and lake life.
There’s also a virtual reality area based on Google Expedition. If you’ve got teens, send them up to their own section on Level 3, where in addition to books, they can hit the performance stage, gaming area and play a few boardgames – including life-size Jenga.
Right at the end of the children’s section (on the first floor) is a little cafe. Lukes (the same Luke of Lukes Drug Mart) serves up coffee from Victoria-based Bows & Arrows Coffee Roasters, cookies from Pretty Sweet and pastries by Manuel Latruwe. There’s plenty of tables and chairs to dine at (yes, in the library!) or you can grab and go.
For a more substantial meal, head to Lukes restaurant. It’s attached to the library, but has a separate entrance on 3rd Street SE. Chef Eric Hendry hails from Model Milk and Bar Von der Fels, but here his concept is more family-friendly. In a word: porridge. We’re talking all day oatmeal and porridge with a crazy number of toppings, plus kale risotto, dahl and a savoury chicken and mushroom congee. There’s no dedicated kid menu, but they’ll happily serve up half portions and prices.
Besides porridge, there are a few sandwich options, house-made bread and scones, plus croissants and cookies. Littles can sip baby-ccinos and there’s turmeric tonics for the adults, plus fancy lattes. High chairs and booster seats are on their way and baby change stations are in the washrooms. It can get quite packed during the lunch rush, so time your visit wisely especially if wee-ones are hangry.
How to get here
Our new Central Library is conveniently located just steps away from the City Hall LRT station. There’s stroller parking indoors and a sloped walkway on the west side of the building, so you can avoid the stairs of the main entrance. If you’re driving, there’s pay lots – with designated family stalls – to the east of the library.
Good to know
- Anyone can check out or return books here! You don’t have to go to your designated library to do so.
- The Central Library will be hosting the city’s family New Year’s Eve party this year. Bookmark this event for the family dance party and the countdown to midnight, which really begins at 9 pm.