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Boston Public Library wins industry award for pathway to reading sensory wall

July 20, 2015

Boston Public Library

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In recognition of the Central Library’s new Pathway to Reading Sensory Wall, the Boston Public Library received an honorable mention Innovation Award from the Urban Libraries Council (ULC). The wall is an interactive feature in the early literacy area of the newly renovated Children’s Library in Copley Square, designed for children under three and youth who have challenges processing sensory information. The ULC Innovations Initiative recognizes libraries that are dramatically enhancing outcomes with their innovative programs, services, and operations.

“Boston Public Library is honored to receive this award and is extremely grateful to the Urban Libraries Council. We are committed to serving our youngest users and providing early developmental opportunities that foster a love of learning, and it begins with this interactive wall at the Central Library,” said David Leonard, Interim President of the Boston Public Library.

Sensory engagement is vital for young children as part of development, and the wall engages toddlers by providing an exploratory environment that promotes brain development and essential skills. Located in the ToddleTown area, it offers a variety of opportunities for child-directed sensory engagement and facilitates exploration that leads to cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional, and physical learning. It features interactive visual, auditory, and tactile panels, including circles with varied textures, glitter-filled capsules, rotating wheels, magnetic balls, lights that change colors, and a sea of bubbles. The wall is also integrated into library programming - the weekly Baby Play Group takes place in the early literacy area, and the early literacy librarian models sensory engagement and discusses its importance with caregivers. Staff members also incorporate the sensory wall into programs for children on the autism spectrum, such as Sensory Story Times.

“Boston Public Library is recognized as one of the leading public libraries in North America,” said ULC President and CEO Susan Benton. “While it continuously innovates and changes its programs and services to meet the changing needs of residents and the community, the BPL maintains a strong set of values that ensures it remains one of the most trusted public entities. Boston and the state of Massachusetts can be very proud of its library.”

The Children’s Library opened in February 2015, part of phase 1 of the Central Library Renovation, and contains areas for children of all ages. Adjacent to the Pathway to Reading is a story time space designed for engagement and participation in imaginative play. The nearby technology and computer area contains a digital learning table and collections of word and picture books. The tween area, a first for the Boston Public Library system, is a bridge space between the Children’s Library and the separate teen room. The tween space includes computers, graphic novels, and a craft area. A program room is used for a variety of activities, featuring multimedia systems to enhance events.

David Leonard accepted the award from Megan Smith, the Chief Technology Officer of the United States, and keynote speaker at a recent ULC Innovations event.

Image: From left to right: Major Projects Program Coordinator Sydney Thiel; David Leonard, Interim BPL President; Laura Koenig, Children's Services Team Leader, Central Library, posing with the ULC Innovation Award.

Boston Public Library has a Central Library, twenty-four branches, map center, business library, and a website containing digital content and services. Established in 1848, the Boston Public Library has pioneered public library service in America. It was the first large free municipal library in the United States, the first public library to lend books, the first to have a branch library, and the first to have a children’s room. Each year, the Boston Public Library hosts thousands of programs and serves millions of people. All of its programs and exhibitions are free and open to the public. At the Boston Public Library, books are just the beginning. To learn more, visit

About the Urban Libraries Council

As a membership organization made up of America’s premier public library systems and the organizations that serve them, the Urban Libraries Council (ULC) has spent more than 40 years enriching urban communities by strengthening their public libraries. While ULC members primarily represent urban and suburban libraries, lessons from their work are widely used by all libraries. ULC serves as a forum for thought leaders sharing best and next practices resulting from targeted research, education, and emerging trends. Its programs are recognized for creating new frameworks that invigorate public libraries and their communities.