Vicksburg District Library kits help improve literacy

Youth Services Librarian Stephanie Willoughby displays one of the literacy kits she is bringing to the Vicksburg District Library this spring for circulation.

By Adrianne Schinkai, Head of Reference & Circulation Services, Vicksburg District Library

Through the COVID-19 closure, the Vicksburg District Library has been taking care to offer what services it can for patrons through curbside services. While a decent number of adults have taken advantage of these services, Youth Services Librarian Stephanie Willoughby is working to increase use by her target patrons – children and teenagers.

The solution? Fun take-home literacy kits.

She and Cataloger Barry Raifsnider are putting together various reading, gaming, and crafting kits to keep patrons from of infant to high school student engaged with literacy-focused activities during the health crisis.

Willoughby is excited about the new project. “I attended a children’s librarian conference, the Virtual National Institute, and observed a presentation about these amazing literacy kits,” she explains. “I wanted to offer something similar to our families because I often get requests from caregivers on how to help children with early literacy skills.”

The Vicksburg District Library has gone through various stages of closure since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation in the early spring of 2020. The Library was closed completely for the entirety of April and May 2020, opening to the public once more in mid-June with limited services, strict social distancing measures and use of face mask regulations in place. In October, the Library closed entirely for a two-week period due to staff exposure to the virus. In mid-November, following in the footsteps of other public libraries in the Southwest Michigan area, as well as the recommendations of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Library closed its doors to the public, but began to offer certain services via curbside, strictly by appointment only. The Library has indefinite plans to operate this way for the foreseeable future. The hope is the circulating kits will keep children and teenagers engaged with their literacy skills through the Library closure and virtual schooling sessions.

What is included in each kit depends upon the age and the desired content of the patron. Kits for early readers will include a variety of books, plus create-your-own-story cards, as well as games. Kits for teenagers may include a couple of young adult novels, an easy craft to do at home, and some snacks. Once the checkout period has finished for the kit, patrons return the kit to the library, and the entirety of the parcel is quarantined and sanitized by library staff. It is then set up for circulation for the next patron in line.

Willoughby has been providing a service like the kits since the current closure began. For fans of those who choose books by walking through the stacks, she has been creating customized book bundles for patrons based on their reading preferences. “We do currently offer story time kits and crafts for children and teens as well,” Willoughby adds. “All you have to do is contact the library to request yours and schedule an appointment for pick up. I do love creating the book bundles for our patrons. If you don’t know what to read, be sure to request one!” The literacy kits expand upon the book bundle concept to include items beyond books, but still include an engaging literacy aspect.

The take-home literacy kits currently do not have an official name, but advertising will be shared on the Library’s website and social media when they are ready to be circulated later this winter and early spring. In the meantime, those interested in reserving personal book bundles or craft kits can contact Willoughby at (269) 649-1648 or check out the Vicksburg District Library website at http://www.vicksburglibrary.org.

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