For generations of children, public libraries across the U.S. have been synonymous with storytimes and other reading-related activities.
In the digital age, the Kenosha Public Library’s branches remain a place for the time-honored traditional storytimes, but staffers say efforts go into ensuring resources and programs are tailored to patrons of all ages and interest groups.
A sample of the library’s overtures is encapsulated in its most recent annual report. Across Kenosha, library branches have hosted 10 active book clubs for adults and made 80 lobby stops at senior living facilities.
The library also reaches out to youth in a number of seemingly unorthodox ways, as evidenced by a kid science program and a local rendition of Comic Con.
More new initiatives have been underway, as evidenced by the establishment of a children’s reading garden and a teen-focused cooking station dubbed Kenosha Kitchen.
Instilling a love of learning
Regardless of the platform and targeted age or interest group, library staffers say the new and traditional programs are designed to inspire a lifelong love of learning, reading and engaging in a community setting.
Lisa Langsdorf, youth services librarian with the library, said the message of learning is sometimes subtle — particularly for the youth-oriented population — but it is embedded within every activity.
“We try to do something fun, and do things they want to do,” Langsdorf said. In jest, she also said, “We sometimes try to trick them into learning.”
The library’s role for the youngest members of the community becomes more pronounced during the summer months, when school is not in session.
One of the hallmarks of the library’s outreach efforts is the summer reading program, which historically has enjoyed strong participation, according to library staffers.
Last summer, about 1,400 children ages 11 and younger took part in the program, library communications specialist Brandi Cummings said. Additionally, 312 teens also took part.
Data gleaned from a project outcome survey, issued to parents or caregivers, revealed 99 percent of children maintained or increased their reading skills at the close of the reading program. Additionally, 93 percent of the respondents reported their child has become a more confident reader.
“We had a lot of positive feedback from respondents about the format of the program, as well as the variety of classes offered at the library during the summer,” Cummings said.
Something for everyone
Library Director Barb Brattin said the library’s array of book clubs is a demonstration of the commitment to reaching as many interest groups as possible. The library hosts book clubs devoted to such narrow topics as social justice, fantasy/sci-fi and politics/military.
In a demonstration of the digital age, the library also has initiated an online book club for adult readers interested in the romance genre through a service known as Goodreads.
In some instances, library staffers step beyond the physical walls of the traditional library to ensure reading materials wind up in the hands of intended participants. This is especially true of the lobby stops at senior living facilities.
While uprooting a tiny portion of the library and unpacking it at another facility requires labor and time, Vaal said the effort is well worth it as the library tries to serve its senior-most patrons.
“Their lives are better for it,” Vaal said. “I can see people whose lives are changed. We become more than the library. We become friends.”