You go to the library to check out books. But you can spend just as much time checking out the scene. At certain extra-special libraries in Chicago and the suburbs there are educational toys, engaging activities and interactive atmospheres that entice kids to hang out for hours. Whether you need a rainy day getaway or want to make the case that reading is cool, these spots are great places to start.
Sulzer Regional Branch – Chicago Public Libraries
This Chicago Library branch has a kids’ section that really bustles first thing in the morning. Half of the ground floor is dedicated to little readers and offers not only books, but blocks, LEGOs and puzzles. Special programs include everything from toddler crafts to family game nights. More than 20 kids’ computers await hours of happy tapping in this warm environment where everyone is encouraged to take their time.
4455 N. Lincoln Ave.
Budlong Woods Branch – Chicago Public Libraries
The library named after pickle farm founder Lyman Budlong has become a stable of west Rogers Park, and its original kids’ programming makes it a standout. In addition to hosting story and craft hours, it offers field trips to Chicago landmarks like the Goodman Theatre (parents or caregivers must accompany children). Plus, on top of having computers and a great selection of picture books, Budlong Woods also has a picturesque outdoor reading garden.
5630 N. Lincoln Ave.
Bezazian Branch – Chicago Public Libraries
Multicultural resources abound at this lively branch. There is a particularly large Vietnamese, Chinese and Spanish language section perfect for families that enjoy expanding horizons. Occasional programs take place in the onsite auditorium, while the everyday hangout for little bookworms is the cozy kids’ corner. Packed story times are known to focus on multi-culti literature.
1226 W. Ainslie St.
Evanston Public Library
The kids’ room of this North Shore gem has the chill vibe and originality of your favorite coffeehouse. Kick back on an oversized cushion, play with puppets and toys, and chat with friendly employees. The nearly 5,000-square-foot space devoted to littles is set aside from the main library on first floor and makes all ages feel welcome. Its events calendar bubbles over with activities like programs geared toward STEM learning, scavenger hunts, The Young and the Restless sing-a-longs and more.
1703 Orrington Ave.
La Grange Public Library
When three-year-old Tyler Duelm lost his battle with brain cancer, his family created the Tyler Duelm Activity Room to facilitate fun and unique library programming in his memory. Thanks to the family, hundreds of kids have enjoyed story times, after-school programs and summer reading programs in a cozy, welcoming space. Besides the Tyler’s Time programming, the library has colorful wall murals depicting animals and a fish tank if you prefer gazing at the real deal.
10 W. Cossitt Ave.
Hanover Park Branch – Schaumburg Township District Libraries
As part of the Schaumburg library system, the Hanover Park branch gives you the benefit of shared materials yet it has its own engaging children section. Along with books and computers, there are fun surprises like a faux T-Rex protruding from the wall and a replica of a mummy coffin. You can also nose around the mini castle complete with a train set and king’s chair. Despite all the eye candy, this is a fairly quiet place to pass the hours.
1266 Irving Park Rd.
Oak Park Public Library
With techie amenities like a wide-screen TV with video games, this family oasis is an easy win. Its vaulted ceiling and natural light help grownups relax, while kids love their own level that’s complete with a wooden toy boat climbing structure, art alcove, toddler tree house and three gerbil mascots named Henry, Ralph and Mudge. Right next to the library is Scoville Park, grassy plain perfect for post-reading romps.
834 Lake St.
Edgewater Branch – Chicago Public Libraries
After two years of constructions, Edgewater’s gem went up with the help of a $13.7 million budget in 2013. You’ll appreciate that they invested in the kids section: The entire first floor is devoted to young ones and is full of new materials. There are about 30 computers just for juvenile use, plus an impressive picture book area. Look for lots of games, with craft activities coming this fall.
6000 N. Broadway St.
Bucktown-Wicker Park Branch – Chicago Public Libraries
The kids’ section, encompassing part of the first floor, has activities for all ages, including regular story times, LEGO story times where kids are read a book and asked to build a solution, and unstructured play days. Toddlers have their own area with LEGOs and board books, while older kids get their brainy fix with educational computer games. This is a calmer library that lends itself to a quiet afternoon in an active part of the city.
1701 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Downers Grove Public Library
Go here for the Early Literacy play area, where kids in second grade or below can learn about a special topic, which changes every two months. The library’s Mouse House is an inviting cottage nook with pint-sized furniture, providing a peaceful place for kids to kick back with a book. There are also two train tables and a story time room. There programming is robust, with activities liked guided STEM time, paleontology digs, Pokemon play days and more.
1050 Curtiss St.
Skokie Public Library
This destination feels like a play space meets theater meets book nook — all with the cool vibe of an Apple store. Imaginations fly when kids set their sights on the puppet stage, craft room, computer lab and digital media lab furnished with Mac products. For littler ones, there is preschool play area surrounded by picture windows and outfitted with LEGO tables, a play kitchen, puzzles and educational games. A large world languages section offers books in everything from Hebrew to Hindi. On Thursdays, they host POP! Parents of Preschoolers. While the kids get their story time fix, the library shares parenting resources and tips over coffee and cookies.
5215 Oakton St.
Harold Washington Library Center – Chicago Public Libraries
The crown jewel of Chicago libraries is known for both for its outstanding Postmodern architecture and breadth of programs. Its enormous second-floor Thomas Hughes Children’s Library is currently under construction, but keep your eyes peeled for the new and improved space expected to reopen in early summer.
400 S. State St.
Palatine Public Library
This treasure lures with a first-floor Early Literacy Area that’s interactive and welcoming. Go there for games, activities, puzzles, puppets and computers — all designed to encourage and develop learning skills. Be sure to check out the Museum Pass program, story times, drop-in craft projects, LEGO building sessions and kids’ chess matches.
700 N. North Ct.
Lake Forest Public Library
This gorgeous domed building was dedicated in 1931 and has been continually renovated. The basement is where you’ll find the kid fun, including a beautiful tree-like structure to gather around, as well as a stage equipped with hand puppets. In addition to books, you can get lost in puzzles, educational computer games, craft projects and scheduled calendar events, like pajama story times.
360 E. Deerpath Rd.
Arlington Heights Memorial Library
This is one of only five Illinois libraries to receive five stars, the highest of Library Journal’s national public library ratings. The first thing you might notice about it is its size — it’s huge, taking up almost an entire city block. A large portion of the first floor is for kids. Kids delight in the open puppet theater with audience seating for parents. There’s also a toy area for younger kids and computers for all age groups.
500 N. Dunton Ave.
Did your favorite public library make our list? If not, let us know what your favorite library is in the Comments section below.
— Maria Chambers & Jessica Smith