Best Places to Live

2012 10 Best Children's Libraries

A visit to the local library is one of the best ways to get a child interested in learning. At the most basic level, a children's library provides a collection of reading materials. Then there are libraries that go far beyond that. We've uncovered some of the country's most dynamic libraries for kids. These libraries are designed to stimulate young imaginations and foster engagement with books and literacy programs. They play a vital role in not only educating children, but getting them excited about books. 

"The children’s section of any neighborhood public library is invariably the first public place where children are exposed to educative activities," says Vanessa Morris, professor of Library Science at Drexel University. "Typically, children will visit the public library before they enroll into preschool. Thus the children’s library is a vital starting point for intellectual, academic and social inspiration for all generations."

"Each one should be responsive to its community rather than beholden to some kind of national standard," says Roger Sutton, editor in chief of The Horn Book, which reviews and tracks children's and young adult literature. "The best libraries pay attention to their communities, and the best librarians are those who really pay attention to the child in front of them, as well as the child who is not there but should be."

Armed with that input, we sought out institutions in our 500 cities that have gained recent attention for excellent children's programs, library activities for kids and community outreach. We looked for libraries that have visually appealing spaces for children, a full range of programs, large collections, integrate new technologies and proven success in getting kids to engage.

Read on for our ultimate picks for the Top 10 Libraries for Children, and be sure to tell us about your favorites, too!

Ranking Criteria
Recognized children's programs
Community outreach
Visually appealing spaces
Large media collections
Use of new technology
  • 10

    Cincinnati, OH

    Population: 297,397
    Photo: Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

    The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

    Reading to dogs and reading outdoors are encouraged at The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County in Cincinnati, OH. Those are just some of the ways librarians here get children to engage with literacy programs.

    The library's Children's Learning Center presents a comfortable and entertaining atmosphere for families. It features child-sized tables and chairs, a saltwater aquarium and multiple rooms for programs. Doors in the back of the space lead to a 9,200-square-foot children's garden. It's a great spot for warm weather events, picnic lunches and quiet reading. The CLC also offers computer learning stations that are loaded with educational software. The library hosts hundreds of programs including story times, art classes, theater, dance and fitness activities. Children are encouraged to practice reading aloud by reading to dogs who are trained to sit still. There's also the TeenSpot, which is a bright and modern space with places for teens to hang out, do homework, access reading and research materials, play games, and use computers. Teens are invited to attend after-hours activity nights, as well as board game and video game tournaments.

    Homework Central offers primary and secondary students the opportunity to receive free help on their homework, either in person, by phone, email or through an online chat.

    Wow Factor: During 2011 the library offered 1,300 children's programs, which were attended by more than 26,000 kids.