A Spark of Inspiration Creates Community Engagement
Sometimes a spark of inspiration can lead to great things. That has certainly been the case in Ashe County, North Carolina where librarian Suzanne Moore became inspired by a program in California called Book to Action. Moore designed a similar program that would be both engaging and educating for her community. The program, Involving Books, introduces the community to new books and authors as well as activities related to the theme.
Ashe County Public Library’s Involving Books launched in spring 2017 and for two months, the library ran a series of programs and events connected to the theme of supporting the local economy and healthy eating. The first book selected for the program was author Forrest Pritchard’s Gaining ground: a story of farmers’ markets, local food, and saving the family farm. The local farmers’ market turned out to be an ideal partner for this theme and with the support of a financial gift from a community member, 50 copies of Pritchard’s book were purchased and distributed at the market for free. While people were encouraged to get a library card, they could take a book and participate without having one. Inside each book the library left a suggestion to “Read. Share. Return.”
Author Julia Shanks and her cookbook, The farmers' market cookbook : the ultimate guide to enjoying fresh, local, seasonal produce were next in the series. Shanks sold her cookbooks at a library event where she offered cooking demonstrations that encouraged locals of all ages to try new foods. Moore’s 14-year-old grandson even declared, “I like beets now!” Shanks also offered a workshop on “25 ways to go local” which was very successful.
Since growing your own food is a great way to support healthy eating, the library forged a partnership with the Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, to create a seed library. The library repurposed an old card catalog to become a seed catalog that patrons could take seeds from and plant in their own gardens. Heirloom seeds have been contributed by a professor at Western North Carolina University who also offered a presentation on seed history. Community members made seed contributions to the library and shared stories about the origins of the seeds and the local Cooperative Extension office provided seed saving workshops to the public. (For more examples of seed libraries, see WebJunction’s collection, Growing Library Garden Programs)
And the library wasn’t done yet! Continuing with the theme, but with a focus on the younger patrons, the library selected Steering Toward Normal, a juvenile fictional story about two boys who discover they are half-brothers while raising a calf to enter in the Minnesota State Fair. The author, Rebecca Petruck, lives in North Carolina and visited the library to lead a cow-themed candy tasting event which included caramel cow tails, black and white cow hide taffy, and milk chocolate (of course). To support of this book’s theme, a local farmer brought his Scottish Highland bull, Romeo, to the library as part of a program. Combing Romeo’s hide was a huge hit and a pretty unique experience.
Following on the success of the first Involving Books theme, a second focus on understanding war and crossing cultural boundaries, with an emphasis on veterans was offered in fall 2017. The theme was sparked in Moore’s mind by two different experiences. The first, an unexpected donation of over $500,000 by community member Ida Marsh, who was a World War II Army nurse. The library is working on a long-term plan for the gift, but have been using the funds to support several programming efforts, including Involving Books. The second piece of inspiration came from a 90-year old veteran who shared stories of his military experience with Moore while she was doing library outreach, visiting him in his home. She believed that capturing the stories of veterans would be a powerful project that she could recruit partners to help with, because in Moore’s eyes, “The heart of the programming is community involvement.”
The community really enjoys mysteries, and author Sarah R. Shaber’s Louise Pearlie mystery series, which focuses on women in war, is a local favorite. Through these historical fiction titles, the library highlighted the experience of women in wartime. However, the library doesn’t focus on just one book for the Involving Books series, they put up displays with a variety of books related to the topic that could resonate with patrons. The library also worked with the Ashe County Veteran’s Association, the local history museum and Junior ROTC students on a range of programming activities. The Junior ROTC is working on a service project to record the stories of veterans and are using a toolkit from the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress to guide their work.
Over the course of the next few months, the library hopes to collect enough stories to create and publish a memory magazine to distribute in the county. Moore expressed concern about how to approach the realities of war and to also be sensitive to the emotions and experiences of the veterans. She visited local veterans’ groups to share what the library was working on and to promote library resources. She noted that the visits to these groups has helped to increase the involvement of veterans in library programs which has been a great benefit.
The Involving Books program is a wonderful example of getting the community excited and involved in a theme that extends beyond a single day. Next on the list for the library is a focus on “Maintaining and Managing Mental Health” in the spring and “Cooperation, Compassion and Giving” in the fall. We’re looking forward to hearing more about these programs soon!