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Meet Your Neighbor: Renee Wallace

For 15 years, Renee Wallace has led the youth services department at the Clark County Public Library.

The Pennsylvania native has always been an avid reader and strives to inspire more and more children to love reading, whether for enjoyment and escape, or for information.

Winchester Sun: What brought you to Kentucky?

Renee Wallace: In 1991, my now deceased first husband came because a church called him as a minister.

When we had been here three and a half years, he was killed in a car wreck coming back from making hospital visits in Lexington.

We had three small children. I felt like they had been traumatized enough without moving them because they were so small, this was the home they knew and thought of.

Winchester is a good place if you have to raise children alone.

WS: How long have you worked in libraries?

RW: Fifteen years here and that was my first library job.

I have always been an avid library user. I grew up in a family where the library was important.

The library was important with my own children, especially being a single mother with somewhat limited means. The free public library is an unbelievable asset.

The library was a very integral part fo my own support network. My degrees are in education and my background is in education. When our director Julie (Maruskin) told me this position was open, I leapt at at it and was very blessed to have gotten it.

WS: What does the head of youth services do?

RW: Basically, I manage four other full-time librarians back here, and they’re awesome so it’s a very easy job.

I ensure that we are towing the line as far as library protocol because we get enthusiastic in children’s work, so we have to make sure everything’s just right.

The biggest thing on our calendar every year is the Summer Reading Program. We invest in kids all year long. I spend 365 days thinking about Summer Reading Program, and I also make sure we have the money we need to give away the books we give away. We get some help from the library with that, but we also have help from the community. People see me coming and expect (my hand to be out).

WS: How long has the Summer Reading Program existed?

RW: The Summer Reading Program was already in place when I got here. My own children were involved in the Summer Reading Program before I ever worked here.

When I came, the director made it clear to me the Summer Reading Program was to be a priority on my calendar. I am very happy to say that because of having awesome people working with me and a very supportive community, we have grown from 300 or 400 kids to 1,400 or 1,500 most summers. We have made it a priority.

WS: How does the program work?

RW: The Summer Reading Program now goes by how many items you check out. You earn book bucks for the number of items you check out and you can exchange book bucks at our special store, which we have four times a week all summer, and you can spend them on free prize books. That’s where the fundraising comes in.

Children can win from five books up to 10 if you are a preschooler. They get to come and shop. They have a good time with that. The books are out on carts and they get to pick and select. You can enter those book bucks into raffles for bigger prizes, which are also donated. It’s a lot of fun.

WS: What is your favorite book?

RW: Never ask a librarian their favorite book. I’d have to divide it up into ages.

I would like every child to have read the actual, not the Disney versions, the actual “Mary Poppins,” the actual “Winnie the Pooh,” “Narnia.”

If I’m going to say hands down as a librarian what’s my favorite book in the children’s section, it’s the Harry Potter series.

Personally, outside of children’s literature I’m going to say probably good old Agatha Christie. That’s comfort reading.

I go along with C.S. Lewis who says if a book is only worth reading one time, it’s not a book worth reading at all, so I like to revisit them.

When I’m sick or down in the dumps, that’s what I’m reading.

WS: What is your goal for the youth department?

RW: Our vision back here is very important to me. Our vision … is to connect children with books.

That’s the driving goal that keeps me going day after day: are we connecting children with books?

About Fred Petke

Fred Petke is a reporter for The Winchester Sun. His beats include cops, courts, fire, public records, city and county government and other news. To contact Fred, email fred.petke@winchestersun.com or call 859-759-0051.

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