Assistant Library Director
Rancho Cucamonga Library Services, CA
MLS, San José State University, CA, 1996
Play and Learn Islands
Photo by Sean Guerrero & Robert Karatsu
One of the first things Michelle Perera did after she joined Rancho Cucamonga Library in late 2008 as assistant library director was to conduct a needs assessment for the children’s library.
“I saw an overwhelming need and desire for interactive and experiential activities,” she says.
Inspired by museum-style interactive exhibits, she assembled a team that included a museum exhibit designer, and together they developed small-scale exhibits—about the size of a reader table—for young children that could be installed in the existing children’s space. Then they had prototypes built.
The resulting dozen “Play and Learn Islands” have become wildly popular at Rancho Cucamonga and beyond in the past few years. These interactive, multimodal educational exhibits for children under seven—“Discovery Dig,” “Make It Move,” “Big Build,”
and “IlluminART”—incorporate problem-solving, sorting, sharing, early literacy skills, design and testing, creativity,
The entire process was supported
by five grants totaling $300,000—Perera wrote all the proposals—and $100,000 from the library’s foundation. One grant supports shipping and handling costs
so other California libraries can borrow the interactive exhibits for free. Dozens have done so.
Rancho Cucamonga Library received a Bright Idea award from Harvard University (for innovation in government) for the
Play and Learn Islands, and now that they’re trademarked, the library has sold them to six libraries. A dozen more exhibits are on order. The California State Library has just created a targeted early learning grant that will help libraries fund a Play and Learn Island.
Perera, who taught for eight years at San José State University’s library school, is also breaking new ground with staff development. The two-part Staff Innovation Fund she created for her own library team includes training in grant development and project management followed by actually submitting a grant proposal. (Her staff has won ten grants.) The California State Library is now piloting the program at four other libraries.
“Besides her unique ability to innovate,” says Gerry Maginnity, acting California state librarian, “Michelle also has a true passion for wanting to move libraries and the library profession forward.”