In the age of iPads and Pods, hand-held devices, texting maniacs, virtual combat, and virtual friendship, one of the world’s oldest institutions is engaging kids – at least in Secaucus. The modern, eight-year-old Secaucus Public Library and Business Resource Center is taking a proactive stance. Its young director Jenifer May recently hired a new youth services librarian to ensure that the facility is nurturing young minds.
“One thing we know is that when children use the library, we create lifelong library users,” May said.
In almost any library you can see reading groups with toddlers crosslegged in a circle and an adult sitting on a tiny chair reading to them.
May acknowledged that little kids are not the issue. “It’s wonderful for very small children, 2 to 4,” she said, “but we have a little bit of a gap in elementary school.” She said they’re targeting fourth to 10th graders.
“When children use the library we create lifelong library users.” – Jenifer May
Lanora Melillo is the new youth services librarian. As a recent graduate of Drexel University in Philadelphia with a degree in library information science and youth services, the job had her name written all over it.
One of the first items on her agenda is a program called “Grades Up!” which offers academic help to kids in grades K through 8.
“We had two teachers come to the library and propose a program to help children with homework,” said Mellilo. “A lot of students are struggling, and this is something that will make them feel confident. They may not have people at home who can help them.”
The program was proposed not by the library, but by Jessica Villagomez and Christian Nieves, both certified elementary school teachers and graduate students. The classes will take place in the children’s section of the library on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. The free program will debut on Saturday March 12. To register e-mail GradesUpSecaucus@gmail.com or call (201) 330-2085.
Wide array of programs
One popular kids’ program is Tech Club, which covers everything from animation to internet privacy, including such skills as html coding and blogging. The club meets monthly after school in the computer room.
Melillo says she has about 20 kids who come after school every day to do homework, read books, and work on computers.
“The library is a safe haven for teens,” she said. “They can do their work and leave and not worry about getting into trouble.”
Melillo has also been able to leverage her own interests to engage the kids. “My interest outside the library has to do with Japanese animation and comic graphic novels,” she said. “It’s an overwhelming interest among teens. It allows them to read and relate art and literature and movement together.”
Other activities include after school board games, and a craft day. The latest craft project was to make a sock cover for an iPod.
“People assume that the library is a quiet place, but that’s not 100 percent true.” Melillo said. “As long as they’re not dancing or screaming or behaving obnoxiously, there is nothing wrong with it.”
No one would feel intimidated by the Secaucus library, she said.
“We’re trying to make the library a more engaging place for children,” Melillo said. “We want them to feel that they can come here and do things that would help them later on in their careers.”
One of the things that have brought young people into the library is the Harry Potter craze. “A lot of kids are into those big books,” May said. “Middle school and younger students love Hunger Games and Twilight. They really love those series.”
Very active young readers, she said, read two to four books a week. “At $20 for a hardcover, they don’t want to wait for the paperback,” May said, “and they don’t want to wait until everybody else has read it. It’s the best cost saving measure.”
May acknowledges that you “lose later teenagers for awhile. They’re busy with sports and getting into college, but we hope they come back to love the library when they’re settled in the community with their own children.”
Of course, the library is continuing its programming for adults.
“It creates a sense of community,” May said. “Now we’ve evolved our focus to building community. The library is the lifeblood of the town. The main purpose of the library in our society is to serve as a community gathering space.”
Library offerings include classes in yoga, foreign languages, art, computers, career prep, and prep for the citizenship test.
Even with all the extra activities, Secaucus residents are still using the library the old fashioned way – to borrow books.
“Circulation goes up 7 percent each year,” May said.
Kate Rounds can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org..