STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

A Michigan library lives the "it takes a village" idea

Ypsilanti library branch library manager Joy Cichewicz passes out free lunches to the her young patrons. In this youth section, everybody is always in motion.
Sarah Alvarez
Michigan Radio

“I’m here all day,” eleven year old Charlie told me proudly.

Charlie and dozens of other kids have set up camp in the youth section of the Michigan Avenue branch of the Ypsilanti District Library. The space, a self-contained set of rooms down one flight of stairs just to the right of the main entrance of the library, challenges the idea of a library as a quiet and orderly place.

Kids sections are often different from the rest of a library, with their bright colors and toys among the books. The mood at the Michigan Avenue Branch goes beyond this and feels like an entirely separate and kid-directed universe. At the Michigan branch, if a kid is over 10, they can be there unaccompanied by an adult, and most of the young people are there on their own, having walked to the downtown location.

The library provides free meals for kids as part of the state “Meet Up and Eat Up” program, and that’s what I was there to see. What I didn’t expect was the bustle and sheer number of people in the space. Joy Cichewicz has run the Michigan Avenue branch for more than five years and laughs easily as she says, “In all my time in libraries, I just don’t remember a library having so many kids.”  

Cichewicz says for many kids, the library is where they spend their time during the summer. The days I spent in the library there were about 40 kids in the space during the early afternoon. It was packed, but there was room for more. Like Charlie, some kids spend all day there, sometimes every day. The patrons are a cross section of childhood; with trend conscious teenagers to packs of boys willing to laugh at anything, to extroverted but serious young women. It’s hard to see what all of these young people have in common other than this place where they spend time.

The youth room scene brings to life the otherwise vague “it takes a village” mantra. The two librarians know each of the kids by name and many of their families. The young people are ebullient and act like the kids they are, but they’re respectful of the rules and the adults. Several of these young people, even those not much over 10 years old, sit on a teen council to help keep the youth section in shape. I saw a few of them re-shelving DVDs and books and happily reading to groups of younger kids.

Safe and free activities for kids are at a premium during the summer, as are public institutions with the ability and desire to be such hives of activity. In Ypsilanti, all these elements have come together. It's something to see.

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