Since spring, the Pickerington Public Library has rolled out new pollinator gardens to help the environment, as well as new materials to enhance patrons understanding and interests in the natural world.

Backed by a $500 grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and adult and student volunteers, the library in May unveiled two "pollinator" gardens at its main branch, 201 Opportunity Way.

One of the gardens is in front of the main entrance and the other is viewable from the windows overlooking the library's backyard.

The gardens still are somewhat in the fledgling stages, but library officials said they hope they will continue to flourish throughout the fall and again next spring and summer as they attempt to appeal to nature lovers and provide native plants that bees, butterflies and birds will visit and help spread the pollen and seeds to enhance the environment.

The gardens also feature insect and bat houses overlooking the gardens.

"We are working diligently to accomplish the mission and vision of the library by creating a customer-friendly environment that meets the lifelong and enjoyment needs of our citizens," said Tony Howard, the library's director.

"With the pollinator garden, bat houses, and bee (and) insect houses, we are accomplishing a couple of things," he said.

"First and foremost, we are doing our part to foster a healthy nature environment in our small part of this community.

"Secondly, these new features at main library open up opportunities for classes and events on our natural environment."

Grace Walker, a youth-services assistant, said the library has plans to expand the garden at the rear of the library, which will allow for more pollination opportunities, provide pleasurable viewing for those visiting the library and -- in the future -- allow for the integration of flower and gardening programming.

Among the plants growing in the gardens are bee balm, blazing star, echinacea, black-eyed Susan, butterfly weed, milkweed and fennel.

"We planted all native Ohio plants," Walker said. "Once the garden starts going, it's not going to need a lot of upkeep. The habitat is kind of set in place for it to grow."

In addition to the gardens, the library in early August introduced nature backpacks as items that can be checked out for a week at a time, and a nature table in the youth department.

Money for those items was provided through a $3,000 grant from the Fairfield County Foundation's Pickerington Library Fund, and Howard said the library is seeking another $1,200 to cover additional costs for the backpacks and nature-related items.

The backpacks cover the areas of aquatic, birds, trees, wildflowers, rocks and fossils and stars and skies. They contain items such as rock hammers and chisels, skimming nets and bubble boxes to hold fish and other aquatic life, binoculars and a telescope.

"These nature backpacks provide the tools needed to explore nature with no cost to the borrower," Howard said.

"The value of each backpack varies, but they range from $85 to $400, depending on the contents.

"This turns into an immediate savings for our customers because they don't need to purchase these resources out of their own pocket. Our hope is that these backpacks will encourage families and/or individuals to go out and explore nature."

Walker said there are seven different backpacks. There are two sets of each type at the main library and one of each type at the Sycamore Plaza Branch, 7861 Refugee Road.

"There's some activities books in here and lots of different supplies they can go out and use," Walker said. "It's a one-week checkout."

Walker said the pollinator gardens and nature backpacks are interconnected because they encourage learning and exploration of the natural world.

The same can be said for the nature table in the youth department at the Main Library, she said. There, kids can see, touch and smell items such as sunflowers or insects.

"We kind of rotate topics or themes," Walker said.

Howard said each of the projects speaks to the library's attempt to "raise the bar by always looking for creative and innovative ways to meet the lifelong learning and enjoyment" of patrons.

"Additionally, we must meet our customers where they are in order to provide them access to the information they need and want," he said. "This is why we continue to be innovative."

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