Head into a library in Palmerston North and you’ll find more than books to borrow.
Awapuni Community Library, Te Patikitiki Library, Ashhurst Library and Roslyn Library introduced ‘Play Libraries’ last year to give tamariki and rangatahi access to play equipment.
Equipment at each library varies from group-play gear like giant games, skipping ropes, skateboards, frisbees, and sports gear. Items can be used either at the library, in local nearby spaces and reserves, or taken home.
“Libraries are a hub within the community, and each community library has collaborated with their local tamariki and rangatahi to develop their own collection of equipment,” says Awapuni Community Librarian Laura Clifford, the woman behind the initiative.
"We wanted to make sure we had gear that people actually wanted to play with, so this feedback was an important part of the project."
Thanks to Tū Mānawa funding through Sport Manawatu, and support from Palmerston North City Council, the initiative to get kids more physically active through play is proving a huge success.
“It's been neat to surprise our communities with an initiative they'd not typically expect from their local libraries, and to see strong interest,” says Laura.
“So many kids are excited to learn they can take the gear home with them and bring it back another day. The kids tend to spot the kit before their parents so we see plenty of confused faces when kids ask their parents if they can borrow a basketball.
“Balls and frisbees are most popular, as are the extra-long skipping ropes.
“One of my favourite parts has been seeing both adults and tamariki playing alongside each other,” says Laura.
“We included a set of elastics in our play kit, and it was really cool to see those set up in the library one day and spot a parent teaching their child the rhymes they played as a kid. We've also seen grandparents borrowing equipment when the grandkids come to town, so it really is for people of all ages.”
“It’s like bringing in more fun and encouraging more people to play and get out books because they're coming to the library more often.”
To ensure tamariki and rangatahi without library cards aren’t excluded, the libraries have adopted a simple honesty-based notebook system where names, items borrowed and return dates are recorded.
The libraries anticipated some gear loss, though there’s been less than expected. In fact, locals have been clearing out their sheds and donating gear.
Best of all, the libraries involved report tamariki and rangatahi who would otherwise spend time on devices are heading outdoors and increasing their activity through play equipment.
“The Play Libraries are reaching both avid readers who frequent libraries, as well as young people who visit library facilities simply seeking things to do within their community."
There are flow-on effects too. The libraries now ensure there are physical activity play aspects within their school holiday programmes, including pop-up play at local parks and reserves. These are delivered in partnership with Sport Manawatū, and Laura says collaborations for new and exciting initiatives continue.
“Creativity, interaction, and connection are vital for the wellness of tamariki, rangatahi, and communities, and this type of play fosters all of these elements beautifully.”