For the Love of Literacy
Performances at Monterey County Free Libraries show there’s more to books than reading.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
There’s no need to use library voices when a puppeteer, Bollywood dancer or magician is on stage – even when that stage is in the library. And performances like that are now part of regular summer programming at all 17 branches of Monterey County Free Libraries, where the notion of literacy goes far beyond the alphabet.
“Libraries aren’t just about books,” County Librarian Jayanti Addleman says. “Libraries are about ideas.”
By offering six creative programs a year at each branch, the Foundation for Monterey County Free Libraries draws some 3,000 young people a year, including some who might not think of the library as a place they want to be.
Angelica Fernandez, a first-grade teacher from Gonzales, has been taking her 16-year-old daughter to summer reading programs for more than a decade. She still remembers when Angelique held a scorpion, and when they saw a ventriloquist perform.
“She had never heard of ventriloquism,” Fernandez says. “We checked out books to learn a little beforehand.”
Addleman hopes that with help from Monterey County Gives!, librarians can get more variety, and also bring in international players or troupes featuring more than one artist. (An added perk of this creative programming, library administrators say, is routine work for local performers.)
In a county that suffers a low literacy rate – one in four adults read and write below a fourth-grade level – summer reading programs are especially important, Addleman says. They keep kids from sliding backward and losing school-year gains, especially if there’s no English spoken at home.
And the foundation’s family programs help teach parents “how to raise a literate child even if you can’t read yourself,” Addleman adds.
The foundation’s annual budget of about $365,000 also supports after-school homework centers, adult literacy tutoring and bookmobiles that deliver books to rural areas.
The bigger vision is to help families think of the library as a community hub, even if books aren’t their thing. By removing the barriers to entry, and offering free entertainment – especially in small South and North County communities where arts programming can be hard to come by – Addleman hopes that kids develop a lifelong habit of returning to the library.
It worked for Angelique, who now as a teenager still goes to the library regularly. For Thanksgiving break, she checked out seven books, including a textbook on precalculus, and something more fun: The Daring Book for Girls.
Fun is really what librarians are after: “I hope that we can get all children so hooked on the fun and beauty of art, music, science, reading or theater that these will be the standards they aspire to,” Addleman says. “New worlds are opened up to children and families.”