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Satellite library aims to boost reading for the fun of it

If you shelve it, they will read

Godfrey-Lee — There’s a new place to find Kent District Library books in town, and it’s exclusively for East Lee Campus students and their families. 

A new satellite location of KDL opened this week inside the East Lee building — the first library on site for students who attend the alternative high school. It’s also a first-of-its-kind venture for KDL, whose librarians began partnering on the idea nearly two years ago with Godfrey-Lee’s Library Media Specialist Harry Coffill.

“Our East Lee students didn’t have a ready source for pleasure reading — just picking up a book to find it,” Coffill said. “But I believe in the ‘If you build it, they will come’ theory. We’re doing this because kids need to have that access to literacy. And so we’re creating this high-interest-read library, something curated specifically for our East Lee kids, which I think is just fantastic.”

Ty Papke, KDL branch outreach programming specialist, helps district library media specialist Harry Coffill set up shelving for the new East Lee Campus library. ‘It’s always exciting when you see a need and can meet it,’ Papke said

“High-interest-read” is librarian-speak for books written at a lower reading level but are about teens or topics of interest to teens, said Tammy Schneider, KDL collection development librarian. 

“They’re about something (teens) can relate to, but they’re not stumbling to decode the words so much that it takes all the enjoyment out of reading,” she said.

Schneider, who specializes in youth materials, worked with Coffill to select the books from KDL’s stock that would make up the selection at the new library. While they will eventually add some books that have tie-ins to the East Lee curriculum, they agreed that this would not necessarily be an academic library. Instead, the goal of the collection is to encourage reading for the sake of reading. 

The East Lee library includes mysteries, graphic novels, books written in verse, some nonfiction and a section of books in Spanish. There’s also a children’s section, with board books and other material for young readers, so that students can take younger siblings or their own children to enjoy the library. 

Books Chosen for Diverse Students

“We talked about the demographics of (East Lee) students, and there are a lot of Spanish speakers here, there are some teen parents, LGBTQ students and a lot of people of color,” Schneider said. “I believe that we should always be able to go to the shelves in our libraries and find a book that has a person that looks like you, so I tried to keep that in mind when I selected (books) for this collection.”

Since all materials are KDL books, each student will be given a KDL student library card to check them out. Coffill and a few other teachers and staff at East Lee will be trained in the KDL management software so they can facilitate check-outs and returns. That also means East Lee students will, by extension, have access to the full KDL online catalog and can request that books from other locations be sent to the school. 

KDL bookmobile operator Joyanne Huston-Swanson places books on the shelf in the Spanish-language section of the library. ‘I’m excited for the kids — they deserve this,’ she said. ‘This is how we make lifelong learners’

Coffill has grand plans for the room in which the library is located, including lounge chairs, a chess board, a Keurig coffee machine and other comforts that will encourage students to come and linger. He said the term “learning commons” comes to mind when picturing the space.

“I’m hoping that this will just become more of a multi-learning space, someplace that’s comfortable for students as well as an inviting place for teachers to go and work with their kids,” he said. “These kids have different kinds of social needs and being able to interact with the grownups in their lives in this way is, I think, a really cool thing. And any of that, that then draws them to the library, that’s just icing on our cupcake.”

Although East Lee students are currently all learning from home due to the pandemic, Coffill said he didn’t see any reason to delay opening the library. While classrooms are virtual, the plan is to make the space available at least one day a week for students to read, study and work.

Schneider said she’s also looking forward to building relationships with students once things return to normal. The librarian and her colleagues plan to regularly take groups of students “shopping” at their Wyoming branch for new books to add to the satellite collection. 

“We understand that this is a location where kids might not go to our libraries, so we want to go where they are,” she said. “This is an audience that we possibly haven’t reached before, so this is our way of doing that. And then the kids that go shopping will have an investment in the collection because they helped to choose it.

“Any time we can get a book in a kid’s hands, I’m excited about it.”

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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is associate editor, reporter and copy editor. She is an award-winning journalist who got her professional start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate and proud former Chimes editor, she later returned to Calvin to help manage its national writing festival. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio


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