A surge in tantrums is a sure sign of success.

Anoka County Library staff in Fridley, with the help of the Minnesota Children’s Museum, removed rows of bookshelves and replaced them with a large, imaginative play area. The new space — with an urban park theme to fit the inner-ring suburb on the banks of the Mississippi River — includes a play bus, a farmers market, a tree hollow, a garden and a picnic area.

Children are very attached to the “Smart Play Spot,” the staff said.

“We have seen more meltdowns because they don’t want to leave,” said Fridley branch librarian Theresa Schroeder. “We are also seeing more parental interaction with children.”

Families, library and museum staff cut the ribbon on the play area last week. The change to the children’s section was so dramatic, with shelves being removed, that several library patrons asked during the conversion if the library was shutting down, Schroeder said.

No, but the project reflects a shift happening in the library experience: There’s still plenty to read — no books were removed — but there’s also more emphasis on interactive learning.

“It’s about interactive play using their imagination. … It’s all early literacy play. You need those skills for school. More of this means less of that,” said Schroeder, pointing to computer terminals.

In fact, Anoka County has added imaginative play areas to all eight of its libraries. Fridley’s is the most elaborate example, after staff there applied for and received assistance from the Children’s Museum.

“We are attempting to encourage families to stay and linger in the library. It’s another way to enforce early literacy messages — the importance of reading and playing,” said Maggie Snow, Anoka County Library youth services manager.

The Fridley project cost about $40,000. Fifty percent of the funding is from the state’s Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. The rest came from the Friends of the Anoka County Library, Fridley Lions Club, Spring Lake Park Lions Club, Blaine-Ham Lake Rotary and Target.

“Giving children access to hands-on learning experiences in any setting, whether it is a museum, a library or at home, sets the stage for success in school and in life,” said Dianne Krizan, president of Minnesota Children’s Museum.

The Fridley Smart Play Spot includes literacy play items in English, Spanish and Arabic. It features a mural of Fridley’s Moore Lake and the Minneapolis skyline. The interactive play areas are tailored to represent Fridley. They include a bus, because the city is a transit hub, and a tree hollow, with native animal sounds and puppets.