Long hidden in the basement of the University of Arizona College of Education, the Worlds of Words International Collection of Children’s and Adolescent Literature – the largest collection of its kind in the nation – has undergone a $1.3 million renovation.
A celebration in honor of the "extreme makeover" and grand reopening will be held March 13 from 6:30-8 p.m. at the library, located in Room 453 of the UA Education building, 1430 E. Second St. The event is free and open to the public and registration is available online.
"The beautiful physical space finally matches our world-quality collection," said Ronald W. Marx, dean of the UA College of Education. "The design of the reinvented area enables education groups, parents, engaged citizens and children to come to the collection and interact with authors, illustrators and, of course, the books."
The college funded the renovation of the library, now on the Education building's fourth floor, with support from the Marshall Foundation, the Margaret E. Mooney Foundation, the Ohio Children’s Foundation, the Schwartz Family Foundation and other private donors.
Lloyd Construction tore down brick walls and replaced them with large windows that overlook the campus and the Santa Catalina Mountains.
"In supporting the mission of Worlds of Words, we wanted to create an international network of people who share the vision of bringing books and children together, thereby opening windows on the world," said Henry Tom of Line and Space, the architect for the renovation.
A light-filled studio has space for up to 15 children or adults to watch an illustrator or artist at work. In keeping with the open feel, walls for rooms and offices are made of glass.
Windows on the east side of the building now include giant panels covered in artwork by children’s author and illustrator David Christiana, professor in the UA School of Art. The panels jut out from the building, serving as both beautiful public art while shading the space from the sun. Christiana is a huge part of the renovation, as his art can be seen throughout the space – on the window panels, on walls and on signs.
Mary Wong of Peoria, Ariz., donated 4,000 signed, first-edition books and more than 100 original illustrations, which will be located in a secure area that is accessible to children.
Kathy Short, professor in the college’s Department of Teaching, Learning, and Sociocultural Studies and the driving force behind the collection, said the space carries great meaning.
"I wanted to create a collection representative of the best books available in the United States and around the world. I grew up in an isolated rural area, and books opened the world for me," Short said. "As an adult, I love being in new places, thinking in totally different ways with a different sense of possibilities. Books allowed me to have these experiences when I was a child."
One of the biggest challenges in collecting international literature is that the books are not usually available in the U.S. and cannot be located or purchased through the normal sources, Short said.
"We house an excellent collection of books from the United States and a huge collection of books from different parts of the world, especially highlighting books from Latin America, books in indigenous languages and books reflecting the cultures of the Southwest," she said.
Short noted that teachers who want to use international literature in their classrooms do not always have access to such books, or they sometimes have concerns with the authenticity of books. To aid educators, Short and her colleagues built a website and database of resources, and the collection is also catalogued in the UA Main Library database.
Marx said that rapid economic, technological and social changes not only locally, but globally, drive the need to better prepare children for success.
"Books immerse children in story worlds to gain insights into how people live, think and feel in other times and places," Marx said. "Although building bridges across the world through books is not a new idea, it remains an elusive goal in most schools, libraries and classrooms. We are at the forefront of this innovation."