Discovery Trail: A look inside The Tompkins County Public Library

By Eric Banford
Tompkins Weekly


Photos by Eric Banford
Library staff (from left) Sarah O’Shea, Annette Birdsall and Adelle Leise are excited about TCPL’s partnership with the Discovery Trail and the library’s recent renovation.

The Discovery Trail is a museum-library partnership between eight member organizations that have been collaborating for nearly two decades to help visitors explore nature, science, and culture. Each month, we’ll be exploring one of the sites, highlighting their offerings and taking a look at their impact in the community.
Discovery Trail partners include Cayuga Nature Center, Cornell Botanic Gardens, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell, Museum of the Earth, Sciencenter, The History Center in Tompkins County, and Tompkins County Public Library.

This month we focus on Tompkins County Public Library (TCPL), which has been part of the Discovery Trail since the trail started in 1999.

As a partner organization with the Discovery Trail, TCPL has collaborated on a number of projects with other trail organizations. “We worked with PRI for a Human Origins exhibit and on Darwin Days, Cayuga Nature Center on a kid’s book program and STEAM guest speakers, and with the History Center on a toys exhibit and a Mapping Tompkins County project,” noted Sarah O’Shea, Head of Youth Services. “We’re continually looking for opportunities to partner with the Discovery Trail at any chance.”

Being part of the Discovery Trail has helped each partner’s visibility in the community, building awareness of the many programs available. “It’s arts, culture, museums, all of these things come together on the Discovery Trail,” added Library Director Annette Birdsall. “People use the library as a launching point for finding out what else is available. It begins the circle, and makes people aware of our trail partners and why we are working together for all of these enriching opportunities.”

Each Discovery Trail partner is matched up with a school grade, and the library hosts kindergartner classes to start off their “Kids Discover the Trail!” (KDT!) adventure. “Hosting the kindergartners is the perfect spot to introduce them to the library, since they’re just starting their formal education, we want them to see the library as an important part of that experience,” said O’Shea.

“It’s a welcoming space for them to create a positive association with the library and its staff members,” added Adelle Leise, Children’s Librarian & KDT! Coordinator. “Hopefully they’ll keep coming back with their families, having them feel comfortable is one of our main goals.”

“We currently welcome all of the Kindergarteners in the Ithaca City & Trumansburg School Districts, about 550 students, for special class visits each year,” added Leise. “Two classes from different schools attend the field trip together and each child is buddied up with a Kindergartener from another class. Together we celebrate our library, reading, and books! The children also receive a special keepsake copy of Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein, as well as a new library card for continued engagement.”

A nice benefit of KDT! is the feedback that it provides to trail partners from teachers, parents, and the students. “We’re constantly responding to feedback, tweaking our programs, making it rewarding for the kids,” added O’Shea. “And the educators for each trail partner meet regularly and find out what worked at their site, how they solved certain problems. Having that Discovery Trail umbrella over it is helpful to facilitate that.”

“One of our goals is to create equal access to the resources in our community, through KDT!” said Star Bressler, Executive Director of the Discovery Trail. “During their visit children learn about books and how to use the library through tours, stories, songs, and a puppet show. TCPL has played an important role in the Discovery Trail, since our formation in1999. Janet Steiner, the director at the time initiated the first informal meeting with the partners to share best practices and challenges around programs and funding. The partners realized that collaboration provided increased capacity for programs.”

TCPL has recently gone through a major renovation project, adding new meeting rooms, a dedicated teen center, a DIY makerspace, a learning lab, an office for local historian Carol Kammen, and much more.

“Prior to the opening of the teen center, we saw a lack of space in town for teens to just hang out with no expectations of them buying something,” said O’Shea. “This new space has computers, teen books, teen programming. We’re making strong connections with New Roots and various school groups coming to use the space. In designing the space, we got input from our Teen Advisory Council, so there’s a real sense of ownership,” she said.

The new makerspace contains 3-D printers, laser cutters, an embroidery machine, sewing machines, and recording equipment. Classes and events are planned to teach how to utilize the equipment. “We’re looking to collaborate with Ithaca Generator, the ReUse Center, mentors in the community who can help us in this space,” noted Birdsall. “This will continue to open up how we can reach people to come in and use all of these resources without a cost.”

“The success of our library is really dependent on our community partners, and having a formal organization through the Discovery Trail only makes us all stronger,” concluded Birdsall.

More information about the library can be found at: