By Tony Hooker
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines synergy as “a mutually advantageous conjunction or compatibility of distinct business participants or elements (such as resources or efforts).”
One must look no further than Villa Grove’s Richman Park to see such a collaboration between two local entities, the Camargo Township Library, and the Villa Grove High School FFA. Together, they’ve pooled their resources to create a story book walk that serves to promote both literacy and fitness and health. I recently caught up with Librarian Jackie Wells to discuss the project, and so much more.
Jackie, what can you tell me about the book walk in general terms?
We have about half the boxes out there right now. We want twenty out there eventually, but with our timeline we were able to get ten out there, so you will see smaller books, but once we get the rest of the boxes out there, you’ll be able to see longer books and stories. It’s for families, not only for literacy but for health. The circle at Richman Park is about three-fourths of a mile, so that’s a really nice thing for families to be able to do.
For those of us who might not be familiar, there are literally boxes that have pages from a particular book, and you move from box to box to read the story?
Yes. It starts by the playground, and once we get all the boxes, I’ll have them numbered and with “start here” signs. We only did every other box out there, so we still have more boxes to go, so we’ve not numbered them. It does start by the playground with a sign that says “Camargo Township District Library Book walk”. The crazy part is that I’ve been wanting to do this since I went to a small libraries conference. I found out that the story book walk that was created by Ann Ferguson in Montpellier, VT with the Kellogg-Hubbard library there. I found out that it is very expensive to purchase the boxes, and we did try it here on Main street by laminating and attaching pages to the poles, and it did last for a while, but ultimately the wind and rain and weather took a toll. We’re so excited to have these permanent boxes where we can go and change out the books. We couldn’t have done it without the Villa Grove FFA. I saw Lydia and Alexa Howard, they use the library a lot, and I asked them about it. They had me send them information which they shared with Callie Parr and they were excited to help out. We funded it, and they got all the materials and put them together for us.
Where did those funds come from?
The family of John Jones donated memorial money that covered the cost of most of the first round. We’ll eventually put placards up out there. We are also using per capita grant money from the state.
How often do you anticipate changing the stories out as you move forward?
I’m hoping to change them out every month, four to six weeks, something like that, once we get the bigger books. Right now, we just have smaller books out there. One of the big things I’d like to do is partner with the Douglas County Museum and make a walk for four to six weeks in Villa Grove or Douglas County and put information in there.
This really isn’t just a kid’s thing?
No. We hope that families can do it together. Mom and Dad can read them and say “this is what Villa Grove used to look like!” Pictures, anything to do with Villa Grove. I hope people go out there and enjoy it. We’re looking at ways that people can let us know that they’re enjoying it. Maybe they can take a picture and put it on our Facebook page or something like that.
You’re at ten boxes now and your ultimate goal is to be at 20?
Yes, that’s our goal. Most kid’s books, which will be the majority of things we put out there, are about 35-40 pages so you have to buy two books and take them apart. Hopefully, as I learn more about it, we can make it more interactive.
Really, it’s about literacy and it’s about fitness and just overall health?
The library is really evolving into a more holistic approach, isn’t it, more than just coming and checking out a book?
Yes, and what we’re finding out is that if people aren’t going to come in for what we have, we’re going to have to go out to the community and give them what they want. We don’t want to become a relic, and if some people aren’t going to be able to come in and use what we offer, maybe we can offer something outside of these four walls.
Do you have plans for collaboration like this in other areas?
Yes. COVID put us behind schedule for about a year, but in the fall, I’m hoping to offer a weekly one-hour program at the Zest for Life center. We want to let people know that this “ain’t” your grandma’s senior center anymore! <laughs> We’re going to offer so much more. We’re going to try do maybe bingo or other games. Coffee with the mayor, get to know your alderman, veteran stories. We’re hoping we can get the school on board with it and maybe do programs like ‘adopt a grandparent’ or maybe pen pals. I’m hoping to do some intergenerational programs and see how those work out. We’re also going to be doing our outreach story time again, where we go to the pre-school here in town, our local head start program, and the school has invited me to do story time at the pre-school there. As you saw at the freedom celebration, we’re doing outreach programming for kids there. We don’t want it to be just for kids though. I recently partnered with Matt Hales, the Librarian in Newman to do some counter programming. He’s a nice guy, but he’s not very ‘crafty’, but he is very technology savvy, and so he’s going to come and do a technology program for us, and I went over and did a craft program for them.
Do you see interlibrary cooperation, with everyone sharing resources, as a thing of the future?
Sure! I mean, we share our books so why not share services. We just shared our tea cups for tea parties with the library in Homer. I don’t mind making crafts, so I told Matt I would make a deal with him. I went and did crafts with him and he’s going to come over here.
What other sort of interagency cooperation are you seeking?
I’d really like to work with the (Douglas County) Health Department on some of this new programming for our retirees. I want to make sure that we take care of all the resources that we have here in Douglas County. I know that Becky over at the Douglas County Senior Services is really nice, and she’s got a lot of great ideas. It’s always good to pull from the community. We have a lot of good resources here and I hope that people will come and share that.
Do you feel that folks are starting to come out more after the pandemic?
Finally! Yes. It seems like once we got out of the mask mandate and into phase five, it really has picked up a lot. It is picking up, and this fall we’re going to maybe have a sign language class.
When will this be?
It will be this fall. We’re thinking of starting in September, into October.
Will that be in the evening?
Yes. We were surprised by the number of adults who are interested in taking a beginning Sign Language class. My friend Rachel Haste, who works in the Tuscola School System, has agreed to come and teach.
The number of people in and around our community who will respond if you ask always amazes me. You just have to ask, right?
Yes! I try not to take advantage, you don’t want to run it in the ground, but I do try to ask people, not only for money, but for their talents. Those are very important. We have a great community. Our library is only as good as the support we receive, and thank goodness we receive a lot of great support, not only from the community, but from the city. I want to make sure to say that when we approached the city about putting the book walk in, they were very supportive.
You’ve been a part of the evolution of the library and the services that it offers, of taking your services to the people, for quite some time now. Where do you think it’s going? What other changes can you envision?
One of the big things that I’m hoping for is a Charlie Cart. A Charlie Cart is a portable cooking cart. With it, you can teach people in the community to cook with limited resources. Quick meals. Easy meals. Things that kids can do. It will empower kids and adults to learn about healthy eating. I think that things like that, educating the community with the resources that we have, is where our future lies.