Clark County Public Library continues to find new ways to engage young readers

Published 4:10 pm Wednesday, January 11, 2023

In elementary school, Wendy O’Connor realized that a love of books and libraries was a passion.

“I volunteered at my local library starting in fifth grade, and I fell in love with it”, she said.

Now, with a Master of Library Science from the University of Kentucky, the librarian looks to give back while helping to operate Clark County Public Library Youth Outreach.

Email newsletter signup

Speaking to the Rotary Club on Friday afternoon, she talked about how the library started taking part in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a book gifting program that mails books to children from birth until they begin school.

“Starting in September, we enrolled about 25 kids and then it’s just steadily grown every month”. O’Connor said. “I just approved the 200th child for Imagination Library today, and I have more that picked up a couple forms when I was out doing outreach this morning.”

The Dolly Parton Imagination Library began in 1995 and initially distributed books throughout Sevier County, Tennessee.

By 2000, efforts were underway to make the program nationwide.

As of 2022, the program is available not only in the United States but also in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and other locations.

Approximately two million books are shipped every month, reaching one out of every ten children in the United States.

“Dolly’s big thing is [that] this is a gift to children,” O’Connor said. “She wants them to love books and learn as much as she does. The label actually comes with the child’s name on it. It’s not the parents’ name. It’s to the actual child.”

The first book in the series, “The Little Engine That Could,” has special meaning to O’Connor because it was a book read to her by her grandmother when she was young.

Other books in the series include “Last Stop of Market Street,” the word book “I Love You, Spot,” and – when graduating from the program – “Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!”

For parents, the program comes at no cost upon signing up.

O’Connor mentioned her father and his love of newspaper reading as an early inspiration and stated that studies have proven the value reading has on young children.

“Reading to your child, it activates the brain,” she said. “Studies have [been] done where they put the child in [a] machine. They’ve got electrodes, and they can see what’s going on in their brain when they’re read to versus what happens when they watch the same story as a video. It’s astounding.”

Through her desire to help young children further, O’Connor has conducted storytime.

While storytime may take place at the Clark County Public Library, it has also occurred at places such as Calvary Christian School to make sure that young ones who can’t get to the library still have an opportunity to benefit.

“It’s fascinating when you watch a kid come in and then you sit down and pull out that book and there’s a magic that happens”, O’Connor added. “They’re engrossed in the story.”

At times, this might lead to other discussions.

For example, a vocabulary lesson ensued when a student recently inquired about what the word “hunker” meant.

Not to go unnoticed, O’Connor and the Clark County Public Library received a $200 check from the Rotary Club.

However, it’s in the joy provided to kids and – at times – reciprocated that O’Connor finds the great reward.

“You’re somewhere, and you see a kid [who says], ‘You’re Miss Wendy. You read to me when I was in preschool!’” she said. “That’s been a really big joy in my life is seeing these kids grow.”