The ‘Story Lady’ addresses Kiwanis Club

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At the Feb. 24 meeting of the Roxboro Kiwanis Club at La Piazza restaurant in Uptown Roxboro, Susan Bowen, coordinator of outreach programs for the Person County Public Library, updated the club on activities of the library beyond its facility on South Main Street. She brought with her a selection of stuffed animals that she uses in some of the children’s programs at the library.

Bowen mentioned that a new bookmobile is scheduled to be delivered this summer. She informed the club that she is known to children as the “story lady” based on her work at the library, and is frequently greeted that way by young people in various public settings throughout the county, often to the surprise of their parents.

The library bookmobile began in 1941, at which time it served Orange, Person and Caswell counties. In 1961, Orange County acquired a separate vehicle and Person and Caswell shared one. That bookmobile eventually became unserviceable, and since 2001 Person County has been using a mini-van to deliver books to schools, pre-schools, after school sites, and assisted living centers. There are also a few home-bound patrons who receive services as well.

Bowen indicated that she circulates about 4,000 books per month, using a hand truck and plastic cases. When going to preschools, she takes picture books, enough for two per child. At the schools and after-school sites she takes more traditional books for young people. At assisted living centers, she tries to take 10-12 large print books per site, using her experience to determine what titles might be popular.

When she visits a day care center, she does story time, involving a theme and a puppet of some kind. September’s theme is about visiting the library. She demonstrated the way in which she reads a book to the children, with animated sounds in order to illustrate the pictures in the book. There are also color sheets and stickers for the children.

Bowen noted that her job includes acquiring supplies and making statistical reports. There are 14 preschools and day cares that she visits, at four-week intervals. Attendance may be from between 180 to 400 children, all in assembly. An average of 3,000 children’s books per month are circulated.

She mentioned a program called “1,000 Books Before Kindergarten.” This was begun by an attorney in Nevada who practiced family law and saw a need to better prepare children for kindergarten. Each parent receives a reading log, and each time they read a book together with their child, this is entered into the log, with the goal of reaching 1,000 books before the child begins kindergarten. Upon completion, there is a certificate that indicates this achievement.

Bowen indicated that this was tried locally and became a nightmare from a reporting standpoint. The program will be continued, but will be adapted to function better in an outreach setting. There will be stickers and prizes for the children who achieve their goal. Each year there is a challenge to read a certain number of books during the school year. When the goal is reached, a book party is held, at which books are distributed to the children so that each child in the class gets one. There have been 158 books distributed in the last year at these reading parties.

Bowen also visits Roxboro Christian Academy and the after-school facilities to get books to elementary school children. She goes to five assisted living centers and three adult day care programs as well. These facilities requested a story time, and she soon realized that the residents just wanted to be entertained with the children’s books. She circulates around 1,000 adult books each month.

Bowen said that the future of outreach will soon change. It will continue to work with the various institutions, but more of a traditional bookmobile service is a goal as well. The new bookmobile will increase the visibility of the library, and it can be taken to local events. There will be a computer station on the new vehicle, which could be used in a workforce development context.

April 16 is National Book Day. Bowen says that she enjoys being the story lady, and regards Fred Rogers as her hero. She always wanted to be the someone “in the neighborhood” who gave the children the magic of reading.

She explained that the new bookmobile will be larger than the van, about the size of a FedEx truck, and will carry about 1,500 books at a time. The library received a $100,000 grant from the State Library, and the county commissioners committed to fund as much of the additional $59,000 cost not raised from other sources.

The vehicle will have a desk for the computer station and a handicap lift. It will be large enough to allow patrons to come inside and select books for themselves. The new bookmobile will also require an additional part-time staff person. At the close of her presentation she was presented with a contribution from the club in support of Person County Public Library outreach programs.

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