March 16, 2018

Michelle Perera | Movers & Shakers 2013 — Change Agents

Exhibit Play

Michelle Perera - Movers & Shakers 2013


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,
and collaboration.

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.”



  1. Congratulations, Michelle! You SO RICHLY deserve this honor. It is a pleasure to work with you and to know you. Go California libraries!

    Sean Reinhart
    Director of Library and Community Services
    City of Hayward, California

  2. Hillary Theyer says:

    YAY Michelle! You are a pleasure to work with professionally and I want a Play and Learn Island in my office now!


  3. Sean Whittle says:

    Yay! Congratulations!

  4. You make us all proud in Rancho Cucamonga! You have no idea how great it is to work with you.

  5. David Gonzalez says:

    Thank YOU for all you DO Michelle! Well deserving and long overdue.

  6. Paula Pachon says:

    Congratulations Michelle! Rancho Cucamonga Library is the best and so are you. Thanks for all your hard work and dedication.

  7. John G. Daly says:

    Congratulations Michelle. I wasn’t aware of your connection to SJSU School of Library and Information Science (my alma mater). I’m really glad Dianne and I have gotten to know you and hope we can spend more time with you in the future.