McArthur Public Library’s Deanna McNamara set up a table last summer to put books in students’ hands. Courtesy photo

Years ago, I learned of a project called Reading Rescue started by Biddeford native and school librarian, Lori Littlefield. Littlefield was frustrated seeing children’s reading skills slide downward through the summer months because they had no town libraries or access to books when school was closed. She bought an ambulance, painted it red, filled it with books and drove around giving away books to kids. That is how we met. When I heard about the project, I volunteered to be a copilot. One thing I have learned through my many years of librarianship is that learning to read is vitally important to success in life and that children’s librarians are special people who go to extreme measures to get books into the hands of kids.

Keeping kids reading during a pandemic is more than just challenging. Children need access to books to continue to advance their literacy skills. With a virus raging and schools closed, what does a children’s librarian do? Well, McArthur Public Library’s Deanna McNamara jumped on a school bus donning a mask and brought free books along with free lunches. She organized book delivery services to teachers and students and she moved an entire summer learning program online. Whew!

I did a mini interview to discuss her efforts. Here are Miss Deanna’s answers:

Can you tell me how riding the school bus came about?

“When the pandemic first forced us to close, I tried to think of ways to connect with our patrons safely. We achieved this to some extent using online resources and social media, however, I didn’t feel like I was doing enough. I was concerned about student access to reading materials, especially during the summer months. When I started planning our Summer Learning Program I reached out to my contact from the Biddeford School Nutrition program to see if I could have a table at the free breakfast/lunch pick-up sites.  They were thrilled and I began bringing give-away books and Summer Learning promotional materials. I would set up a table a few days per week.  It became clear fairly quickly that it was mostly the same families visiting the sites. I had seen the buses loading up when I had my table at the middle school so I asked if it would be possible to ride the bus so I could connect with the other families who were taking advantage of the free meals program. They loved the idea and I began riding the bus shortly after that! It was a great way to connect with kids and their families in a safe and physically distanced way.”

What are you doing to support schools right now?

“I have been in close contact with school administrators and teachers to make them aware of the services that we are offering to support both teachers and their students. I am available to visit classrooms (via Zoom) and show students how they can easily get a library card remotely and how they can use it to obtain books and other library materials. I think most people are aware that we will mail items to their home, but maybe not as many know that we will deliver books to students at school! This is done through a program I created called Book Match. Book Match is fun and flexible, students answer a few questions and I curate a collection tailored to their individual tastes. They can also request specific titles and choose whether they would like their books delivered to school or mailed to their home. I also am available to do book talks, tutorials on how to access Cloud Library or arrange book groups. I have also been able to deliver used and discarded books to teachers to help them build their classroom libraries. I also circulate information through the school’s electronic Thursday Folder.”

How can kids get a library card during COVID?

“Getting a library card is definitely the first step! It is easy to get a library card remotely by filling out a simple form online or by contacting me directly. I can also help students who may already have a card but are unsure of their status.  By the way, we make cards for grown-ups too!  Anyone who lives, works or goes to school in Biddeford is eligible for a free library card. I think it is important to note that while these services are being promoted through the schools, anyone can take advantage! I am happy to speak to parents/caregivers or students to answer any questions, help obtain a card, requesting materials or to find the right book!”

Lack of literacy is a costly problem in the United States, according to a Forbes magazine article from September 2020. “A new study by Gallup on behalf of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy finds that low levels of adult literacy could be costing the U.S. as much $2.2 trillion a year.” Providing early literacy support is one of the most important things librarians do professionally. McArthur Library is a Family Place library which means we focus on engaging the entire family, supporting parenting and literacy. It also means our Children’s Librarian, Deanna McNamara, goes to extreme lengths to keep kids reading through this unprecedented time.

Please feel free to contact Deanna directly at 207-571-7217 or [email protected] if you would like information about any of our Children’s Services.

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