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Stories to Go: Library’s bookmobile delivers love of reading

Just like students and teachers all over Rowan County, Rowan Public Library’s “Stories To Go” bookmobile is revving its engine and kicking off its school year. Having fired up its full schedule in September, the 32-foot bus covers the county toting 2,500 books, 50 gallons of gas, and two librarians to 33 childcare centers.
And it delivers immeasurable excitement to young readers ages 3 to 5 who step aboard.
“By the spines of our books you can tell that most of our books are well-loved,” said Stories To Go librarian Ashley Bowie.
During each of the bookmobile’s five-week cycles, it reaches between 1,200 and 1,400 preschoolers. In addition to books, children can check out CDs and books on CD. But Stories To Go is working to send kids home with much more than that.
“We have kids who have never had an experience with books and think that they don’t like books,” said Bowie. “One book can change that, if it’s just the right book.”
Stories To Go also reaches into the classroom, with Bowie and her co-librarian, Vicki Rufty, performing interactive story times in the classrooms of participating centers. The women play music and engage the children while incorporating what they call “literacy-enhancing techniques” such as letter recognition, recall, sequencing and math.
“Our story time is not just presenting books to the children,” said Rufty. “We’re modeling literacy-enhancing techniques and doing whatever we can to create readers.”
Teachers also benefit from Stories To Go. Along with a fresh pick of books for their classrooms, teachers who have completed a teacher’s workshop at Rowan Public Library have access to 18 different themed storytelling kits. Each kit holds themed books, a puppet, a flannel board presentation and music.
“The teacher resources from the bookmobile have been very useful in the classroom,” said Joanna Smith, director of St. John’s Child Development Center in Salisbury. “It’s been really helpful.”
Stories To Go was created in 1990 and has survived the loss of Smart Start Rowan funds that at one point helped to expand the outreach program. In 2011, Smart Start guidelines changed, and the library’s outreach programs no longer met Smart Start’s criteria. Today, Stories To Go is funded solely by Rowan Public Library, though the library and Smart Start still partner in other ways to promote early literacy.
“There’s a very big need for the bookmobile,” said Bowie. “In addition to getting kids’ hands on library books, this is a start for school at a very early age.” Without the program, many children throughout the county would not interact with books until grade school, she said.
Stories To Go targets preschool-aged children with the goal of preparing them for kindergarten.
“Kindergarten is now a watered-down first grade curriculum. It’s very intense,” said Smith. “And I think a lot of parents are surprised by that.”
Other benefits of the bookmobile experience include children choosing books without a parent’s influence, seeing that everything today is not electronic, and learning the responsibility of taking home a book that needs to be returned, Bowie said.
In addition to Stories To Go, Rowan Public Library offers the “Books to Grow” outreach program, which currently reaches 143 Pre-K students within the Rowan-Salisbury School System. Participating students are sent home with three books and a journal every week, to encourage the daily reading and discussion of books between parents and children.
Books to Grow also offers reading workshops for parents, and interactive story times twice monthly for participating classrooms.
“Unfortunately not all parents take the time to read with their children,” said Rufty. “If you create a fun and memorable experience between an adult, a child, and a book, you’ve created a reader.”
Jane Welch, children’s outreach program supervisor, has worked for the library’s outreach program for 14 years and is a first-hand witness to the positive results. Stories To Go and Books to Grow produce children who are eager to have their parents read to them at home, as well as “parents increasing how often they share books and take their children to the library,” said Welch.
Bowie, too, sees the outreach program results in the faces of children on board the Stories To Go bus.
“You can take yourself anywhere in a book,” Bowie said. “And they’re starting to learn that.”
Visit rowanpubliclibrary.org for a full list of the library’s youth programming.

Freelance writer Elizabeth Roy lives in Rowan County.

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