‘Imagine your story’
Library program livens up summer
By Kaliga Rice
For the Enquirer
The William Bradford Huie Library began its summer reading program June 29 and will continue the program throughout the summer. The program typically consists of several large group activities; however, because of the coronavirus pandemic, head librarian Michelle Blaylock said the program has required some rethinking.
“Normally we have anywhere from three to five programs during the summer. We have guest speakers. We have large group activities,” Blaylock said. “That wasn’t an option this year.”
The library has instead implemented several new activities that ensure the safety of patrons but still allow for a successful and enjoyable program.
A cornerstone of this summer’s activities is grab-and-go bags. These bags contain various items children can play with, including modeling dough, paint and LEGOs.
The grab-and-go bags limit the spread of germs within the library because people can quickly get them, making their visits brief. Library staff ensures the items in each bag are thoroughly cleaned, which also helps keep people safe from the virus.
“Anything that we cannot clean and sterilize is something that stays with the patrons.” Blaylock said. “The only things that we have that come back are the LEGOs. We take those, and we clean them. Even after we clean them, they sit for 72 hours before they’re available to go back out.”
About 60 grab-and-go bags are available, and Blaylock said she expects to add 20-30 more. Patrons can check out the bags for one week.
The theme for this year’s summer program is “Imagine Your Story,” which focuses on fairytales and folktales. Many of the grab-and-go bags highlight the theme. “A lot of our grab-and-go bags are the fairytales and the folktales. We have multiple versions of ‘The Three Little Pigs,’” Blaylock said. “Some of them are STEM projects, like the ones with the LEGOs.”
A gnome hide-and-seek activity also ties in with this year’s theme. Gnomes are taped up around the library, and children can wander the library in search of the gnomes. The purpose of this activity, Blaylock explained, is to familiarize people with the library and introduce them to any new books they might want to read.
Blaylock said she has witnessed some people finding books they are interested in reading since the beginning of the gnome hunt.
“It’s a fun activity,” she said. “It’s just something the kids enjoy doing.”
Currently patrons may visit the library for 30 minutes, and there can be 17 people in the building at one time. Blaylock said these restrictions help ensure safety during events like the gnome activity by limiting social interaction.
Blaylock said the primary goal of the summer reading program is to encourage children to read over the summer so skills they learned during the school year stay sharp.
“They can lose grades and skills through the summer,” Blaylock, noting that could be even more prevalent this summer because the pandemic resulted in a shortened school year. “This year, school ended so early. Even though we did do some online schooling, I’ve heard multiple parents say they found that very difficult, and they felt like their child did not necessarily participate as much as they would have in school … They were concerned about their child’s skills.”
Blaylock said if children read over the summer, regardless of whether they read at grade level, they will better retain what they learned the previous school year. “As long as they are still practicing those reading skills, then they won’t lose the skill levels and the things they should have retained over the summer.”
In addition to encouraging summer reading and the retention of school skills, the library also wants to create a fun and positive environment for its patrons. Blaylock said she and her staff strive to accomplish this goal by encouraging people to read books they enjoy. “We want them to enjoy it,” she said. “We want kids to come in and feel welcome here.”
Despite the coronavirus requiring the library to restructure the summer reading program, Blaylock said some positives have come from the situation. For example, the library probably would have not created grab-and-go bags for this year’s program had the pandemic not occurred.
“That wasn’t our original plan, but having started them, we’ve had a lot of kids that are really excited about it. They’re ready to come in and get them, and they don’t typically stay checked out a week,” she said. “That’s been a positive thing. We’ve been able to reach kids that need that hands-on stuff, and I’m glad we’ve been able to do that.”
The library also offers curbside service for those who do not feel comfortable with entering the library. “They can call us, tell us what they’re looking for, and we will gladly get it ready for them,” Blaylock said.
Blaylock said the summer reading program would not have happened this year without the support of the library board and the Huie Library League.