Join the crowd

FirstChaptersLogoIt’s summer, which means it’s time for summer reading. At JCLI, we are midway through the Collaborative Summer Library Program with more than 700 children signed up and enjoying books, crafts, and storytimes every week.

This time of year reminds me why children’s libraries are so vital. Crowds of children and families flood the doors every day, bringing their bright smiles and natural curiosity as they browse the shelves in search of a good book. I often hear people say we don’t need libraries anymore because we have the Internet. How can a child learn to read from a computer? Reading to children is an act of love that translates into a love of reading. Nothing can replace the warmth of a parent and child sharing a book. Our children’s libraries make that connection possible for so many families in our community.

Last week, more than 2,000 people walked through the doors of the Grants Pass branch in the five open hours on a Tuesday. In the first shift that day, volunteers signed up 30 new children’s library cards. Our libraries are just plain busy.

And, our libraries are loved, but the reality is the books in the children’s libraries are well-worn and updates are long overdue. I pulled a book off the shelf last week titled “Careers in the City” from 1974. The photos pictured city workers using outdated technology like rotary phones and employed in gender-specific roles — women as court recorders, men as mayors and city planners. Many of our books are taped together and in dire need of replacement.

Recently JCLI, in partnership with Oregon’s Kitchen Table, conducted a public survey to better understand the public’s opinions and values on updating the children’s library spaces, including materials, furnishings, and setting. Only 12 percent of respondents marked that they were “Very Satisfied.” Respondents overwhelmingly wanted to see the library invest and improve resources and programs for children in “contemporary books and materials,” “Summer Reading Program,” and “storytimes.”

If our library district tax measure had passed last fall, the first thing we would have done is update the children’s libraries. But it didn’t, so library volunteers and staff are finding creative ways to raise money to update the children’s libraries. With the support of Oregon’s Kitchen Table, a program of the College of Urban and Public Affairs at Portland State University, JCLI is conducting a crowdfunding campaign — called “First Chapters” — from July 13 to August 17 to raise $40,000 for the children’s libraries. Money raised will make it possible for us to buy new books, carpet, paint, and furniture to redesign the space and better accommodate the crowds.

The idea of a crowdfund is simple. If everyone gives a little bit, it will add up to reaching the financial goal and making the project a reality. Please consider being a part of First Chapters. Click here to donate.

Looking at the big picture, Josephine County struggles with low graduation rates and high poverty. Literacy and early reading are the foundation of academic success. A library with robust literacy programs ensures experiences that foster increased vocabulary and a true love of reading that can transform a child’s life, especially a child born into poverty.

When I picture our children’s library a year from now, the updated space will be clean, open, and not too fancy. The new carpets in both libraries will be heavy duty, and colorful. The bookshelves will have wheels so they can be easily moved to create more floor space for programs. The walls will be freshly painted and the shelves will be full of good books. Parents and families will feel welcome, and it will be easy to locate books by age level. Everyone will be able to find a comfortable place to sit and read with a child or a friend. Above all, it will be full to the brim with love — the kind that inspires children to read, succeed, and reach beyond the limits of their lives.

KateLaskyHeadshotKate Lasky has been the executive director of Josephine Community Libraries, Inc. since 2010. She holds a master’s in education and serves on the Oregon Library Association Legislative and Development Committee. In April this year, she was honored by the Oregon Library Association with the Ole award which annually recognizes an Oregon public library employee who has displayed exceptional effort and excellence.