"A 3D printer, laptops, audio and video gear — I’m just so jealous they didn’t have stuff like this at the public library when I was a kid, right? It’s so much fun. We have a teacher on Wednesdays during the school year who brings MacBook Pros, and he teaches kids how to make loops, teaches how to be producers, how to write their own songs, and they get to record them. Kids also use our laptops to do homework. We’ve got a 3D printing pen, so instead of designing something on the computer and waiting for it to print out, you can just doodle, and the 3D printer will carve the doodle out of plastic. If it turns out supercool the kids take them home. We’ve also got Lego Mindstorms robotics, with studio mentors two days a week teaching kids how to work with them. Depending on the day and the weather, we may have 45 to 50 kids in here. We set up different zones, so some kids will be here on the computers, some kids will be doing their homework, and then some kids will set up music stuff on the stage, so we’ll have multiple things going on. I think it’s good that there are kids hanging out at the library after school. Even if they’re not reading, they’re learning. We want them to see what all there is available, and widen their mindset, so that when they start thinking about college or careers, they’ll be able to say, ‘Oh, I have an idea of what this is!’ ”
Talking, with no shortage of enthusiasm whatsoever, is Sara Morse, the ball of fire manager of the East branch of the Nashville Public Library. She gives a tour of the whole place, bopping up one flight of stairs and bounding down another, leaving a middle-aged scribe winded. Our tour started upstairs in the marbled classic library with a high ceiling and lots of natural light, and culminated downstairs in the nifty tricked-out magic room.
“In addition to the after-school activities, many more things go on in this room,” Morse says. “Performances on the stage, a free meeting place for any 501(c)3 organization that needs one, and yoga classes, among other things.”
Morse has been with the Metro Nashville library system for 12 years, and has been in her current position at the corner of Forrest and Main for three years. “We’re the second oldest still-standing Nashville Public Library branch,” she says. “Ninety-eight years old, opened in April of 1919.”
Morse’s journey to Nashville was a roundabout one. She was born and raised in Lawrenceburg, Ky., then went off to get a college degree in Wisconsin and set about making a home for herself there. But all that time, for whatever reason, there was a siren call from Music City.
“I moved back to Kentucky and got my masters in library science, and then I moved here because my sister was a senior at WKU,” she recalls. “I went to visit her., we came to Nashville to see The Shins at the Cannery Ballroom, and I thought, “Tall buildings, rock shows, and a great library. Maybe I could live here.”
She weighed anchor and wasted no time applying her talents and energy to the Metro Library system. “When I first got here, I did children’s at Looby, I did teens at Madison, I was adult services librarian at Green Hills, but this is the first time I’ve been a manager,” Morse says.
The current all-consuming activity at the library is the Summer Reading Challenge. There are competitive ranges from young students, older ones, and even adults who can get in on the fun. The more books you read, the closer you get to the grand prizes, which are actually kinda cool. Morse and her staff of four, plus volunteers, are riding herd on that competition as these summer days steep along.
While the prizes provide incentive, the competition is really about academic achievement itself. “There have been studies done that when kids don’t read, or when they get out of school and they don’t do anything, they fall behind and it takes them two months to catch up once school starts again, while the other kids who’ve read during the summer are two months ahead,” Morse points out. “It’s cumulative. The kids who don’t read fall farther behind each summer. This is a way for us to keep everybody on board. For me, that’s what the library is all about. It’s a place you can go, it’s free, and you can learn anything you want to. We’ve got something for everybody.”