Incentives entice patrons to try Balto. Co. libraries Branches promoted as 'family-friendly'

January 23, 1996|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Visit the library and win a bookmark, a T-shirt, even a magazine subscription if you're a frequent borrower.

Bribery, some say. Incentives, Baltimore County librarians call them.

Little prizes to encourage youngsters -- and their families -- to use their neighborhood library and read more.

The county library, in cooperation with the school system, has been adding incentives this year to reach families who traditionally don't use the library, for many reasons -- including a fear of fines.

"It's been a while since I've been up to the library," said Essex resident Brenda Maurer. "I never got a library card before."

Now, she and her son, Raymond, 5, are card-carriers and library-users, thanks to the library's "Getting to Know You" program and a school program for youngsters.

"Getting to Know You" is one of three incentive programs started this year. The others are "Blazing Bladers," a winter reading program with a family emphasis, and "A Gift of Love" free coupon booklets for adults to give to youngsters.

"There's a lot of emphasis today on the library as a family-friendly place," said Lynn Lockwood, coordinator of information, marketing and programming for the county library system. "Specifically, parents and children doing things together.

"There is more need now to go out into the community. There are thousands of people who don't come here because they are afraid of fines."

These often are people who would benefit most because they cannot afford books, she said.

The library incentives are new this year to the school system's Home Instruction Program for Preschoolers (HIPPY), which sends paid parent-trainers weekly into homes to teach selected families how to assist preschoolers. HIPPY works with 190 families of 4- and 5-year-olds enrolled in nine county schools.

"The little incentives are good," said HIPPY parent-trainer Afshid Henderson, adding that at least six of the families she works with applied for library cards this year.

"We try to go at least once a month and get six or seven books," said HIPPY parent Stefanie DiGiorgio of Essex, who has a 4-year-old son, Allen-Michael Deese. "He loves the library.

"Getting to Know You" rewards young borrowers with prizes such as a bookmark for two visits, a free video checkout for four visits and a T-shirt for 14 visits. After 25 visits, a family gets a free subscription to Sesame Street Magazine.

But Ms. DiGiorgio said she goes for the books, not the prizes. "We read stories every night before bed," she said.

Some parents may have even done some gift "shopping" at libraries with "A Gift of Love," which started last month. The children who receive "gift" books from adults can redeem tickets for shared activities, such as "reading together for 15 minutes" or "taking a walk and telling your child about your childhood."

"The parent gives a gift of time and also promotes literacy," Ms. Lockwood said. The library printed 15,000 coupon booklets, most of which have been given away, and plans to print 16,000 more for Valentine's Day, with financial help from the Greetings & Readings bookstore in Towson.

Parent participation is part of the winter reading program, too. Adults are asked to verify that youngsters have read for specific amounts of time, and activities involve adults. "I saw an adult read" is one step to completing the program; "I came to the library with a family member" is another."

"Blazing Bladers" started at North Point Library for schools in that area, said E. J. Woznicki Jr., Essex library manager. Now, it's a winter reading program for students in prekindergarten through eighth grade.

Reading for a certain amount of time each day, students complete a game board for prizes. The program suggests many opportunities for reading: on a rainy day, while the radio is on, in the bathtub, in the car.

Parental involvement is integral to all of the programs.

"The current belief within literary circles," Ms. Lockwood said, "is that the single most important thing [influencing children's reading readiness] is to see their parents reading."

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