Interactive & Imaginative Children’s Public Library in Fort Worth, Texas
by Jennifer Beidle, public relations specialist, Jennifer Beidle Communications, LLC
When many of us think of a traditional library, we generally imagine rows of bookshelves, tables with chairs, a check-out counter, and some standard seating. Now, imagine a public library just for children. How would that look? When posed with that same question, the architects at KAI Design, Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, answered with activity stations, bright colors, interactive art installations, and cozy cubbies, which is not what you would expect from a traditional library. But then again, the new Reby Cary Youth Library in Fort Worth is anything but typical. It is extraordinary.
As the first Fort Worth Public Library designed specifically for children, teens, and their caregivers, the $5.49 million library officially opened in August 2021 to much fanfare. Local government officials were in attendance, as well as Faith Ellis, daughter of the library’s namesake, Reby Cary.
“In a city full of young families, the Reby Cary Youth Library exemplifies what Fort Worth is all about when it comes to supporting parents and kids. It is a safe, innovative place for growth, exploration, and learning,” said Mayor Mattie Parker. “I know our Fort Worth families are looking forward to having fun in this new space, my own family included.”
Named after local African-American educator Reby Cary who spent his life dedicated to learning as well as breaking down racial divides, the Reby Cary Youth Library includes such amenities as a large outdoor sensory garden to encourage neighbors to gather at the library, a maker space which utilizes technology for creative activities, and multiple study rooms. Instead of tall-stacked bookshelves and hardback chairs typical of a traditional library, the library has lower shelving and seating designed to encourage families to read together.
“We are so excited to open the doors on this new library, and we know Fort Worth families are going to love it,” said library director Manya Shorr. “The laser-focus on children and youth will allow the Reby Cary Youth Library to go above and beyond the excellent work all our libraries provide to the community. It is fitting that Cary’s name is on the building, as not only was he a barrier-breaking pioneer in so many aspects, but his priority was children and preparing them for bright futures.”
During the project’s design development phase, KAI’s team immersed itself into the community to gather public input in an effort to blend the building with the historical elements of the surrounding neighborhood.
“With the West Meadowbrook neighborhood evolving through an influx of young couples and families, the neighborhood lacked facilities specifically catering to children,” said KAI president Darren L. James, FAIA. “We envisioned a library that was truly transformative for the underserved neighborhood and encouraged children to embrace learning and take pride in who they are and who they could become, much like the library’s namesake.”
In addition to providing architectural and interior design services on the project, KAI also coordinated the civil, landscape, structural/mechanical/electrical/plumbing engineering, fire protection, audio-visual, lighting, technology, and cost estimating services through various teaming partners. The general contractor on the project was FPI Builders of Fort Worth, Texas.
The design team also worked closely with award-winning, multi-disciplinary design and fabrication firm Creative Machines of Tucson, Arizona, to originate an interactive public art installation suspended from the ceiling called Only Connect. The remarkable installation is made up of over 20,000 glass marbles and cascading LED lights. Visitors can manipulate the artwork’s lighted colors and patterns with the simple touch of a button and sensor points distributed throughout the library.
“The Reby Cary Youth Library is our dream come true. This project is the epitome of what can happen when neighborhood residents, city officials, and the private sector come together for the good of an entire city. KAI heard the voices of residents, which has resulted in this stellar community hub for our youth and their families. I can’t wait to see it filled with young minds exploring, finding their voice in a space they can call their own,” said former City Councilmember Kelly Allen Gray.