The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

March 14, 2013

VIDEO: Lego clubs find homes in libraries

By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor

JOPLIN, Mo. — Stephen Crane has plenty of Lego bricks, but not as much as the Joplin Public Library. The 9-year-old from Oronogo loves getting the chance to dive into a collection that eclipses his.

That's why his father, William, brings him to the library's monthly Lego Club.

"He gets access to stuff that he normally wouldn't have," William Crane said. "And he gets to play with other kids doing the same thing."

Stephen made an alien Sunday, and was proud of the special powers he thought to bless the alien with. He was one of about a dozen children who turned out for the library's monthly building session.

For about the last two years, the library has spread out a pile of thousands of Lego bricks and let kids build whatever they dream up. Each meeting features a theme of some sort -- Sunday's was space aliens -- but anything goes. Kids also get the chance to show off their creations at the end.

The sessions are popular, said children's librarian Jeana Gockley. Sunday's turnout was actually low: Gockley said the club averages about 30 participants, and have had as many as 70 at once, she said.

"I think they like the problem solving," Gockley said. "We always have a theme, and they love the creative building aspect of it. It's amazing how wonderful the creations are, and how much they look like what they are supposed to be."

Pittsburg starts session

The Pittsburg Public Library has started its own building session. Its Lego BuilderSpace program kicked off Tuesday, and will be held again from 4 to 7 pm. on March 26.

Pittsburg's program was started with patrons' help, and boosted with a big donation from Pitsco/Lego Education, which donated tables full of Lego bricks.

"We put out a message to the community looking for donations," said AnnDee Peterson, computer service coordinator and organizer of the library's program. "We got quite a few, and then Pitsco contacted us and said they'd like to help."

As of Monday, 15 kids had signed up for Tuesday's session, Peterson said, and they anticipate more turning out. Peterson also said that parents want to play, too.

"Parents are excited too," Peterson said. "Usually, they drop kids off for programs, but they want to play, too."

Pittsburg's program is centered on children ages 7 to 11. The bricks are the basic sized entries found in most normal building sets.

The library plans to expand to different age groups in the future, however. Peterson said the library will also consider an art show format, where creations would be on display.

Building on reading

Joplin's program is aimed at different age groups. It offers normal bricks, Duplo bricks and Mega Blocks. Kids are free to build with whatever size bricks they prefer, so they are not stuck with a single age group, Gockley said.

"Sometimes the kids in the middle group feel like they are too big for the Duplos, and want to build with the bigger kids," Gockley said. "But even if they are working on separate projects, they are still talking about Legos and other stuff together."

The program also brings in more boys than other library programs, she said.

Even though building has nothing to do with reading, the programs are hits. At Joplin, books related to the building theme are set around the room.

Even without a tie to books, Peterson said building promotes literacy.

"It increases literacy and creativity," Peterson said. "From a library standpoint, it's perfect."