Libraries take creative approach to reach young readers
By Lou Fancher
For Pittsburg and Bay Point libraries, the theme for the summer and heading into the fall is "pop-up, trickle-up, home run, and full STEAM ahead."
A grant secured from the Keller Canyon Mitigation Trust Fund by Youth Services Librarian Becky Nielson paid for 2,240 paperback books that stocked once-a-week pop-up libraries during the summer at Buchanan Park and John Buckley Square in Pittsburg and Ambrose Community Center in Bay Point. Attracting about 230 children to check out books and learn how a public library operates, Senior Library Manager Ginny Golden said that although the main focus was on children, the impact "trickles up" to adults. "For most of us, we come back to libraries because we have kids. We reach kids, we reach the adults," Golden said.
A partnership with REadingADvantage will have Nielson and her wagon full of books and Golden visiting the Pittsburg Diamonds baseball game on Aug. 23. "I don't know who'll throw out the first pitch, but we'll be there with books. It's a perfect time to score big by telling people about our STEAM events in the fall," said Golden.
Of course, STEAM is becoming a common acronym and refers to science, technology, engineering, art, and math. The entire Contra Costa County Library system has declared 2016 the "Year of STEAM," with programs and events countywide that integrate the five subjects with experiential learning opportunities that encourage cooperation, collaboration and creativity.
On Sept. 17, the Pittsburg library will host a Life Science Exploration Station; a community event that will feature visiting groups Oakland Zoo, Insect Discovery Lab, Lindsay Wildlife Experience, East Bay Regional Park District, Pittsburg school district's gardens, Aquarium of the Bay and more.
Hands-on activities that include dissecting owl pellets, constructing insect hotels, "petting" bugs and marine animals -- perhaps even handling a giant, hissing cockroach, according to Golden -- will be the main attractions.
"It enhances kids' learning to come to the library and explore with their entire family," she said. "I'm not saying don't read, of course. But a book becomes so much more than just a book when it's a full experience."
Nielson said a similar "everyone, everything together" motivation was behind the pop-up program she organized. "Our idea was to meet people where they were already going," said Nielson, referring to the park, public plaza and community center sites. "The beauty of the program was the children could check out books without a library card and there was no worry about late fees or damage fees. You could call it a trial run or practice for how a library works."
Children borrowing the paperback books that had been purchased through the Scholastic FACE program that sells freely distributed books at discounted rates were encouraged to return the books from week to week. Of the 749 books loaned, 312 were returned. On the last day, participants were told to keep the books they checked out.
"Studies have shown that children with books in their home have a better chance at reading success," Nielson said. "(We wanted) to make sure kids had some books at home to continue to read through the summer."
Nielson said the most rewarding aspect of the program was best represented by her favorite story about the summer's events. Volunteers from the Pittsburg Women's Community League were vital to running the program and after Nancy Parent, one of the PWCL volunteers, told a young girl that she was "one of our best customers" because she brought her books back each week and carefully took her time in selecting books, Nielson recalls the girl's smile and obvious pride.
"The next week, (the girl) said, "I'm you're best customer" as she returned her books. I could tell she was excited about the program and happy to be noticed."
Golden said that families, especially those new to the United States, often don't realize the library's materials and most programs are free. Occasionally, they associate the library with a government institution.
Reaching these families is not always easy because a library has limited resources and without the help of volunteers, Golden said the pop-up events and other efforts would not be possible.
Even so, the community emboldens Golden and Nielson to strive. "Sometimes we just have to ignore politics and do what we can in our own little world," said Golden. "That's what we do here. That's why being a librarian is so cool."