“There’s still that traditional notion that libraries are only about books, but we’re more than that,” explains Marta-Kate Jackson, Youth and Teen Services Manager at Hartland’s Cromaine Library in Livingston County. “Our programming supports a variety of interests and ways to learn.”  Apart from reader services, the library has a range of offerings including storytime with babies and toddlers, themed camps for middle-schoolers, art, nature, and STEM take home kits, community wide events, and sports equipment lending. 

As one of 15 SportPort community partners in southeast Michigan, Cromaine Library has been able to purchase sports equipment and make borrowing them as easy as borrowing books. SportPort is an equipment sharing pilot program led by Project Play: Southeast Michigan and made possible by the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Legacy Funds.

While SportPort provided traditional equipment such as soccer balls, basketballs, and footballs from the get-go, Hartland community members expressed an interest in a variety of additional activities including golfing, fishing, and fitness training, as well as family yard games like bocce ball, volleyball, pickleball, and yard Yahtzee. Through SportPort, the library has helped provide specialty and often costly equipment to community members in order to facilitate all sorts of play. For the winter season, the library is stocked with ice fishing kits, snowshoes, snow scooters, snowboards, and cross country skis for toddlers.

Library staff were surprised by what captured the community’s interest. “Bocce ball is one of the most popular things, and … oddly enough, the agility ladders are very, very popular. People are using them to make fun obstacle courses in their backyards and a lot of local coaches are using them too,” Marta shared.

Conversations with community members about their needs and interests are a daily occurrence at Cromaine Library, and have directly informed the types of equipment they carry. Parents with young children have expressed their hesitation to buy pricey equipment their kids will continually grow out of. Many families have highlighted their interest in activities they can do together as a respite from being cooped up during the pandemic. When one parent shared that their child would be attending a lacrosse camp, but they were concerned about equipment costs the library was able to acquire and lend the family lacrosse sticks. 

Cromaine Library’s sports lending service has also helped introduce kids and families to new activities. One family specifically shared that they never would have gone snowshoeing together, and that Cromaine Library made that possible for them. “Of course it’s nice to see kids enjoying and learning about new sports, but we didn’t expect to see families coming together around sports equipment and enjoying it together.” noted Marta. 

Library staff have intentionally made the sports equipment more accessible, especially for those kids who may not be inclined to try something new, by setting up equipment inside and on the library grounds. When it’s there and ready to be played with, kids usually give it a try.  

While sports lending might not be something that comes to mind immediately or at all when you think of a library, it does further the library’s efforts to foster lifelong learning. The library has seen greater demand for books in their collection on specific sports. And, another bonus of being a SportPort partner is that it has snowballed into new partnerships for the library with area parks and a local aquatic center. They’ve co-produced events where the library brings sports equipment to their locations for community members to lend and use. 

For Marta, Hartland’s close-knit, rural and creative community is her inspiration. She feels a sense of achievement from facilitating the community to come together as organizers, sponsors, and participants for their annual Polar Express Day that celebrates and brings to life the popular children’s book. Seeing a kid light up when they realize the library has a certain book or type of sports equipment is a joy she experiences everyday. 

At the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and Project Play, we strive to lift up the impactful work of our grantees who are creating positive permanent change in people’s lives throughout southeast Michigan. This post is part of a series of profiles about our youth sports grantees.

Project Play: Southeast Michigan is driven and funded by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation’s Youth Sports & Recreation focus area in partnership with the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program.