Your kids’ gateway to imagination at the Joel D. Valdez main library is about to get a serious upgrade.

A $57,800 grant for the library’s children’s room will provide an early literacy space, imagination station, tween hangout zone and greater access to technology.

The library, 101 N. Stone Ave. downtown, received the grant through Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records. It’s federal money coming from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

An in-kind donation from Pima County will fund some additional sprucing up with paint, installation of new flooring and other cosmetic details, says Caitlin Burns, a librarian and the children’s services manager at the main library.

Since the main library opened at its current location in 1990, the children’s area has never received any sort of substantial upgrade, says Holly Schaffer, the community relations manager for the Pima County Public Library System.

“We are creating a space that inspires creativity and makes them lifelong library learners,” Shaffer says. “We can show a child what is possible at the library.”

When you enter the children’s area on the left side of the library’s main floor, a tunnel ferries you into a sunny room with minifurniture, bookshelves topped with giant stuffed animals and a rainbow of books wedged together. The children’s collection at the main library boasts 25,169 books.

The plan for the renovation is still in the works, but Burns has some ideas about how she would like to see the space transformed. Library staff estimates the children’s room is about 9,000 square feet.

The children’s nonfiction section on the left will likely move across the room, leaving an open space that will become an early literacy center with age-appropriate materials and a fun space with imagination-sparking play sets and tactile toys.

The tween-friendly part of the upgrade will create a hangout spot for kids not yet old enough for the main library’s teen 101Space. Mostly, Burns hopes to bring in some bigger-kid furniture that will create an area for tweens to lounge and attend library activities geared toward them.

Both the early literacy and tween zones will get technology boosts from the grant. In addition to the computers the library already has in the children’s area, the grant allows it to purchase additional tablets and AWE Learning stations — computers with interactive software promoting literacy, especially for young kids.

And then there’s the touch table that will be donated by Cox Communications. Think table-sized tablet.

“It’s a way for kids to learn and play and problem-solve together,” Burns says.

The library has until August 2018 to use the grant money, so changes will begin soon. The plan is to do as much as possible without ever needing to close the area for renovation.

“Libraries are the great equalizer and they can provide access to equal resources for families” Burns says.

“All they have to do is get down here.”

Contact reporter Johanna Willett at or 573-4357. On Twitter: @JohannaWillett