Last month we put a call out for Canadian Youth Services Library content, and we have been overjoyed at the response! This post is the first in our guest post series highlighting the amazing work being done in Canadian libraries to serve children and families. Our guest blogger is Rose Reid, library manager of Bighorn Library in Bighorn, Alberta. Take it away, Rose!
Bighorn Library serves the MD of Bighorn in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Alberta. We are situated in the hamlet of Exshaw, population 417. Our library has been a member of the Marigold Library System for 34 years. I’ve been the librarian for the last 20. One of my favourite parts of the job is serving children; look us up on YouTube to see some of our favourite ideas!
Our closest neighbor, Exshaw School, is only a couple of blocks from our library and teaches grades kindergarten through eight. About 90% of the student body are First Nations children and it was these young library members who inspired us to create Bonnybooks.
My assistant was volunteering at the school as a literacy coach and she told the 7-year-old she was working with to be sure and practise reading at home that weekend. He looked at her like she was crazy and said, “I ain’t got no books at home.” It turned out that there were no books in many of the homes on the Morley reserve and we started looking for a way to remedy that. It began with the books we weeded from our library shelves. We would rescue any that were still usable and when there were enough for every child in a class we would go to the school and give them to the students to take home. I don’t think it is possible to describe how excited those children were to own books. It was so much fun, the more we did it, the more we wanted to do it again.
I began seeking out other sources of gently used children’s books. I spoke at churches and thrift shops and Rotary clubs and seniors centres telling everyone why it was important to get books into the hands of every child. I know I am preaching to the choir on a library blog but please indulge me on this. I am going to give you my elevator pitch:
“In order to be fully literate it is important to reach the point of reading for recreation. It must stop being an activity that you do because your teacher tells you you must and instead be something that you do for pleasure. Childhood is the best time to learn, it is far harder for adults. To achieve this a child needs to own books; we find that the students we work with take enormous pride in their home libraries. Home libraries have been shown in many studies to significantly increase a child’s chance of scholastic success. There are millions of homes full of wonderful children’s books that are not being used; this program bridges the gap between these homes and those homes where no books can be found at all. Books open up the world to children. They bring possibilities into the hearts and minds of those whose lives might be touched with tragedy, abuse, neglect or poverty. They help children to see happily ever after.”
Over the years we have learned a lot of things that make the job go more smoothly and if anyone is interested in beginning a program like this we will cheerfully share all of our notes but here are a few to get started on.
1) If a book stirs a warm glow of nostalgia in your heart, the odds are that kids are going to find it dated. Once a kid is hooked on reading those books will find happy homes but a reluctant reader is going to turn a nose up at them.
2) Going for a little humour is always a good way to touch people which is important when you want them to give you something. Here is the opening statement on the brochure we hand out to people we want books from. “All of us know people who have shelves full of books that have been outgrown by the children who used to love them. Books on a shelf are nothing but dust collectors! How sad for all these lonely books. They only realize their true value when they are being read. You can help end this tragedy!” Then we make a plea for them to donate any gently used children’s books to our program.
3) Our motto is “Finding new homes for orphan books” and we like to tell the children that the books need them as much as they need the books. It gives them a sense of ownership and they feel proud of themselves.
Our great dream for this program is that it be replicated in other places. You need some volunteer hours, a source of books (they are everywhere once you start asking) and some space for sorting and storage. There are kids in need of this program all over and the satisfaction is huge.
As of December this year we have given away 51,830 books, mostly on Morley and Hobbema reserves. These are communities where illiteracy plays a significant role in high crime rates, poverty and substance abuse. Literacy is a long game. It is our hope that the children we are gifting with as many books as possible will grow up to think that buying books for their own children is a no brainer. Then we will know we have won.