Diversity & Outreach Columns ALA's Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services


Promoting Wellness in Body and Mind

Libraries and Hospitals Join Forces For Children’s Literacy

Ellyn Ruhlmann, PR Coordinator

Waukegan Public Library

Waiting is never easy for a child. For a child in a hospital, though, it’s really a tough go. The looming surgery, the unfamiliar setting, even just the break in routine all pile on anxiety and make minutes seem like hours. Now, many libraries are partnering with hospitals to help ease that anxiety and hook these young captives on reading. The strategy sometimes offers a way to reach new patrons in literacy-challenged communities.

DJ Leonhardt helped forged one such partnership recently in Waukegan, Illinois. A literacy advocate, Leonhardt lobbies for her cause from two fronts, as board member of the Waukegan Public Library, and as an active member of the local Rotary Club—an organization dedicated to promoting literacy. She sees the school statistics, and they’re startling. The last Illinois District Report Card showed 31 percent of all kids enrolled in Waukegan public schools are “limited English-proficient.” Over 70 percent are Hispanic and fall into the low-income category.

“Books provide such a phenomenal breadth of entertainment and knowledge,” said Leonhardt. “It occurred to me that one way to reach families is through children entering the hospital.” She and fellow Rotarian, Richard Lee, WPL Executive Director, came up with a program called “Gift of Reading.” Funded by the Rotary Club, Gift of Reading provides a new, usually hardbound book to any patient age 18 and under entering the local hospital, Vista Medical Center.

Wedging those costs into the Rotary budget requires some ingenuity. Collection Management staff at the library negotiate special pricing on books that will appeal to each segment based on the hospital’s admission demographics. Their first shipment of more than a thousand books came in at only $1.95 each. Rotarians deliver the books, and the library maintains the collection at the hospital. Then, each child’s nurse chooses a book that best fits the patient’s age and interests, and presents it to the child. 

“We are honored to have our pediatric patients receive books from the Waukegan Public Library and the Waukegan Rotary Club throughout 2010,” said Barbara J. Martin, President and CEO of Vista Health System. “Reading is fundamental for children to explore and grow.” To top that off, it’s a potent stress-reducer. New research shows just six minutes of reading can lower stress levels by more than two-thirds. That makes a visit to the hospital an opportune time to kindle a child’s interest in books.

To keep that interest fanned after patients leave the hospital, the library equips each book with a WPL bookmark and a letter promoting the library’s Early Learning Center and Literacy Suite. There, visitors can sign up for free adult basic education and family literacy classes. Like many of the books provided, the letter offers its message in English and Spanish, reflecting the largely Latino makeup of the area. 

“We call our program Gift of Reading not only because we’re giving away books, but because reading in itself is a gift—a lifetime gift,” said Lee. “We hope, once these kids leave the hospital, they’ll have a new reason to visit the library.”

Now, he and Leonhardt are working to expand the program to provide a collection of free, new or gently used books in English and Spanish for the hospital waiting room. The collection will include adult and children’s books, and like the patient books, each will come stamped with a bookplate naming the literacy partners, and include the WPL letter and bookmark.

Gift of Reading isn’t a groundbreaking program. Hospitals and libraries countrywide have partnered on similar projects, such as the Children’s Literacy Program at the Children’s Hospital in Central California; Reach Out & Read at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia; Read to Me at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Rhode Island, and many more. While not new, these partnerships are especially critical in high-need, low-resource areas like Waukegan—where one book can spark a lifetime difference. And outreach may be the only way to deliver it.

Source List

 DJ Leonhardt, Board Member of the Waukegan Public Library: djleonhardt@att.net or (847) 775-1899

Illinois District 60 Report Card, 2009: http://www.wps60.org/wpsd60/District.pdf 

Camille Brown, Director of Marketing and PR, Vista Health Systems: Camille_Browne@CHS.net or (847) 360-4354

Richard Lee, Executive Director of the Waukegan Public Library: richardlee@waukeganpl.info or (847) 623-2041, ext. 250

Waukegan Public Library: www.waukeganpl.org or (847) 623-2041

Waukegan Rotary Club: www.waukeganrotaryclub.org 

University of Sussex Study: www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html 

Children’s Literacy Program, Children’s Hospital in Central California: www.childrenscentralcal.org/Services/community/literacy/Pages/Default.aspx

Reach Out & Read, Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia: www.chop.edu/about/chop-in-the-community/reach-out-and-read.html 

Read to Me, Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Rhode Island: http://bms.brown.edu/pediatrics/riaap/rtm.htm


Senior Book Discussion Groups

By Barbara Adrianopoli, Director of Extension Services & Branches

Schaumburg Twp. (IL) District Library

I have learned over my thirty years in outreach that this job will prevent you from ever acquiring a big head.  This is especially true when you are dealing with our senior population either giving a book talk or coordinating a book discussion group.  How many times over the years have I heard, “Now, why did you think we would like this book?” or “I stopped reading the book after the first ten pages because I hated it!”  My first reaction is to say, “I don’t know.  I just stayed up until 4:00 a.m. reading the book because I knew you would hate it and I wanted to know why?”  Just kidding.

I have gone to other libraries’ web sites and noted their book choices, plus I have read Reading Group Choices and browsed best seller lists.  Sometimes the book I choose is a winner and sometimes the same book others have found to be great turns out to be a dismal failure.  Have you had the same experience?   

 Reading Groups vary not only in interests but also in ages.  One group may consist of seniors who meet the minimum age requirement of AARP and others have lived long and struggled so the book chosen often needs to be on the more leisure side and less thought provoking.  There are seniors who have physical problems holding a book or reading too long of a book.  Some find too many characters or too many themes to follow.  To select a book means you must know your audience. Since our library purchases the books in large print and rotates them among the various groups, and since the group is not charged for the book, I try to have few selections for just one group.  Otherwise, it depletes the budget too quickly.

 Some of the bits of wisdom I have learned are to make sure you have read the book before selecting it – even though others have found the book to be a perfect choice, it is might not be for your groups.  It helps also that the book can be downloaded or on a compact disc so those with disabilities are not left out.  I have one senior who loves her Kindle and another two who like me to download the book on their MP3 players.  Don’t select all of your books at the beginning of the year, as getting to know your group takes several selections.  Make sure you have a discussion sheet and some reviews included for your selection.  Often, the already printed discussion questions don’t fit your group or there are too many.  You need to fit discussion questions to your group.  It makes for good discussion and wonderful interaction.  So many times I am rewarded with discussions on the most personal level which have never been shared before but the person feels comfortable enough to discuss.  Books such as Breakfast at Sally’s and The Glass Castle brought forth people discussing their own homeless growing up or having parents or family members who suffered from mental illness.  Another thought provoking book for each of my groups was The Leisure Seeker, a novel by Michael Zakoorian.

This book can be a winner or people find the ending does not coincide with their value systems.  Many times I heard, “I liked it until the end.”  But in the end, it is the seniors making a choice which may or may not be what the children want.  I won’t give away the ending. For this book I also added information regarding laws in our several of our states as well as customs from other countries.  Old standby authors such as Garrison Keilor’s novels and Jennifer Chiaverini’s quilt books have always received good reviews.

Sometimes even the hardest group does not mind learning about the countries in the news.  Three Cups of Tea allowed the seniors to learn about another tradition as well as giving a different slant to their news hour.  I will see how I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced is received.  Since the news has been focusing on Yemen the seniors will have a chance to learned about this country from the words of a young child bride in Yemen.

 I will end with a quote from Francis Bacon:

 "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be
chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts,
others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly,
and with diligence and attention."
~ Francis Bacon ~


How will your library celebrate National Bookmobile Day?

Contact: John L. Amundsen, OLOS Communications Specialist | 312.280.2140 | jamundsen@ala.org

CHICAGO – The ALA Office for Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS) is calling all libraries participating in National Bookmobile Day to share the ways they are celebrating the event.  Participants are encouraged to share their ideas either by contributing to the National Bookmobile Day Wiki, joining in on the conversation on the NBD ALA Connect community, or by emailing their ideas and stories to nationalbookmobileday@ala.org.

 Held during National Library Week on Wednesday, April 14, 2010, the inaugural National Bookmobile Day will celebrate the contributions of our nation's bookmobiles and the dedicated professionals who make quality bookmobile outreach possible in their communities.

 To learn more about National Bookmobile Day, please visit www.ala.org/bookmobiles.

 National Bookmobile Day is sponsored by the ALA Office for Literacy and Outreach Services, the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Service (ABOS), and the Association of Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL).