Early Literacy

Updating your Early Literacy Space — for all sizes and budgets!

A well loved early literacy space is the ideal sign of your library meeting the needs of your community’s youngest learners; however, with great love, often comes broken toys, missing blocks and dirty rugs. No matter how big or small your early literacy space is at your library, it is important to keep the space warm, welcoming and engaging for both children and their grownups, which is often easier said than done. How do you constantly keep your space inviting and up-to-date when your budget may not keep up with your community needs?


Recently, the New York Public Library (NYPL) received funding to give each one of their 88 branches $5,000 to update their early literacy spaces, or to create early literacy spaces in their existing children’s rooms. While $5,000 may seem like a lot of money, it never goes as far as you think it will. Large ticket items, like tables and chairs (we highly recommend the ones from Community Playthings — they last forever!), take up the majority of the budget, and the space doesn’t really transform with new tables and chairs. It is normally the smaller, less expensive things that make the biggest differences, like soft, colorful seating and a magnet board.


Additionally, some of the best changes do not cost any money. Try rearranging your furniture to create a better use of space. Invite someone who has not seen your space yet to get their perspective on how they would rearrange things — a fresh set of eyes is a beautiful thing! A new coat of paint goes a long way — oftentimes after a room is painted, there is extra paint laying around. Save that paint for the future when the walls start to get a little dirty for a quick touch up.


Do you have any local mural artists who would be interested in painting one of your walls? Or maybe you can turn it into a community project with teens, grownups and even little ones painting the walls! This is a great way to give multiple people a voice in their community spaces.


Also, for a little inspiration on setting up prepared environments for storytimes and early literacy programming, check out work and trainings completed by Tommaso Lana. His trainings completely changed how NYPL staff approach their space and existing early literacy items!


Below are several before and after photos of various branches at NYPL with links to some of their favorite items for a little inspiration!

If you have any specific questions about the NYPL spaces, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at kristenaldrich@nypl.org!


NYPL – Macomb’s Bridge Library – Small space








Existing shelves were painted, and these items were purchased: Toddler tree seats, cube chairs, shelving, learning cube, and browser box








NYPL New Amsterdam Library – Small, awkwardly shaped space









Items purchased: Rug, pillows, soft seating, shelving, dress up center, and a die cut machine for the wall decor.








NYPL Van Cortlandt Library – Small space









Items purchased: Couch, folding, locking shelving unit on wheels (definitely a favorite!), lego tablebookshelf, and doll house.

NYPL Dongan Hills Library – Large space









Items purchased: All linked above, plus this bench, and rug.








NYPL Mariners Harbor Library – Large space



Items purchased not previously linked above: sea life play cube, fun builder table, curved bench, bench, book carousel, magnetic write and wipe book center , and rug.






If you have a lot of space and money to spend, NYPL highly recommends Kodo Kids, especially, this wind tunnel (not a lot of space needed for this) and magnet wall.


  1. Shellie

    Has anyone had any luck locating attractive, durable, safe magnetic letters? We used to get these nice big foam letters with sheet magnetic material on the back. That meant there were no small parts to get separated and provide a choking hazard. Lakeshore doesn’t carry them anymore and we are using the regular plastic letters now but we don’t love them.

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