Salem Library, creating readers for life

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-By Hannah Bridges, Intern

Salem’s new children’s librarian, Hilary Kennard, speaks out about the success of the library’s summer programs, and gives insight about upcoming events for the fall. Submitted photo.
Salem’s new children’s librarian, Hilary Kennard, speaks out about the success of the library’s summer programs, and gives insight about upcoming events for the fall. Submitted photo.

A sock monkey crouches between potted plants on a high shelf, staring straight at poster-sized cartoons on the opposite wall of the small office. The posters depict smiling children and stacks of books as tall as buildings, and beneath the posters is a shelf of actual books. The biographies of Rosa Parks and Bill Cosby are wedged near facts about Costa Rica and rattlesnakes, and Hilary Kennard sits in the middle of it all.

“At the Salem Library, we’re all about that reading is fun, this isn’t for school,” Kennard said. “This is to just make lifelong readers out of the children in our community.”

She is Salem City Library’s new children’s librarian, and her office offers a glimpse into the energy and enthusiasm needed to create a rich and colorful space that sits in the heart of a community. She started this past June, taking the place of Maureen Harrill, who retired after 18 years of serving Salem’s children. Kennard is excited to continue the work of fostering a friendly environment centered on children and families.

This summer, that environment has been built around the theme “Every hero has a story.” Children have been constructing a variety of crafts, including wrist guards, masks and shields. “We’ve had little toddlers come, we’ve had teenagers come. It’s been a really great program, and we also have a slew of teen volunteers who help a lot to make that happen,” said Kennard.

The past couple months have also featured the library’s summer reading program, a six week stretch during which children record how much time they spend reading or being read to. There are three tiers of prizes for those who reach to five, ten, and then fifteen hours.

“It is encouraging children of all ages to continue reading during the summer,” Kennard said.

The turnout is impressive: 400 children in Salem participated this year.

“Our summer reading is important just because it brings in people of all ages. We have grandparents bringing grandchildren, we have aunts and uncles who are in from out of town who come, and it just shows the vibrancy of our city,” Kennard said.

She went on to describe how the library has become part of the regular traffic pattern for many families, especially now that school is over.

The community is able to enjoy the fact that the library is located in the heart of Salem. It has a welcoming atmosphere, celebrating summer with a lush green lawn and large pots bursting with pink flowers.

“We’re visible, we’re convenient… We’re kind of this hub for the community,” Kennard said. “Everybody’s driving past us and can stop in and make the most of what’s going on here, so we’re really a community center, and the more vibrant we are, the more vibrant our community is.”

The library puts on a slew of events such as puppet shows, magic acts and reptile farms.

“We have all sorts of things to bring families into the library, show that the library is a fun place,” Kennard said. “And then I love it when I hear a parent after a program: ‘Ok, now let’s go get some books,’ and they come over to our shelves and get picture books and chapter books that they want to take on vacation with them.”

Upcoming events include story times for babies, toddlers and preschoolers, Lego club, seasonal story times during Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and library lab, which is a science program for third to fifth graders. To keep a spirit of inclusiveness and openness, none of these programs currently require registration.

“We have something for everybody,” Kennard said. “There’s no pressure to get a certain grade or a certain score or to memorize anything. They can learn by doing. It’s a safe place to fail, it’s a safe place to explore.”

To learn more about upcoming events at Salem Public Library, visit http://www.salemlibrary.info/