New chapter for libraries

Schools: Volunteers help restock city elementary schools with donated new books during Hands On Baltimore's Serv-A-Thon.

April 18, 1999|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Siobhan Harmon wasn't prepared for what she found at the Harford Heights Elementary School library: random volumes of encyclopedias from 1973 and 1988, damaged books stacked on shelves in no particular order.

But what really shocked Harmon, a librarian at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson, was a discovery titled "What the Moon is Like," published in 1963. One page read, "Some day men will go to the moon."

"This is so sad," said Harmon, one of 3,500 volunteers who participated in yesterday's sixth Serv-A-Thon, a daylong, citywide effort to improve schools and communities. "If you pulled the books that were dated and in bad condition there would be very few titles left."

Organized by Hands On Baltimore, a nonprofit volunteer group, the Serv-A-Thon goal this year was to sort and shelve 25,000 donated new books in 28 city elementary school libraries as part of a literacy project.

Volunteers knew many city school libraries were in bad shape. Some schools hadn't bought books in decades, and libraries were severely understaffed. Still, Harmon said, she didn't expect to find such an outdated collection.

Hands On Baltimore, which has concentrated on issues such as homelessness and providing services to people infected with the AIDS virus in previous Serv-A-Thons, decided to focus on literacy this year.

"We saw it as a root issue," said Jennifer Wittman, executive director of the group. "We thought it was a great idea to donate the books and actually get them on the shelves."

Volunteers pitched in at city schools yesterday, building bookshelves, painting hallways and classrooms, and landscaping properties.

Most Serv-A-Thon efforts were concentrated in city schools, but other initiatives were under way throughout Baltimore to clean up vacant lots, board up vacant homes and plant flowers.

The Serv-A-Thon day began at the Brokerage, where thousands of volunteers converged before heading to projects around the city.

The event took on a pep rally feel as celebrity volunteers -- Mayor Kurt L Schmoke, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Robert Booker, chief executive officer of the city school system, and Doug Becker, president of Sylvan Learning Systems -- did their best to inspire the crowd.

"I look out and see these wonderful faces and see the future is going to be bright for the new century," Schmoke yelled from a balcony, looking out over a throng of eager volunteers, many of them teen-agers.

"You are our heroes," Townsend shouted. "You are showing us you don't have to be an adult or wait to graduate to be a real hero."

The last cheerleader was the loudest.

"We're going to spend the day making a difference," Mikulski bellowed, wearing an Orioles cap. "We're out there saving our libraries, saving our kids and saving our schools."

In addition to the Hands On Baltimore and Sylvan Learning Foundation, event sponsors included Barnes & Noble Booksellers, the Daily Record, Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, and The Sun's Reading By Nine Program.

2; "I think if you have new books in school, there's an excitement and kids are more apt to pick them up." Peter Taylor,volunteer, teacher

Volunteers arrived at Harford Heights Elementary School at Broadway and North Avenue to find boxes stacked in a library. The boxes held shiny new books that made a cracking sound when they were opened.

Becker, whose employees at Sylvan Leaning Systems donated 1,000 books to the project, sat at a small table readying books for shelving as part of the assembly line of workers.

First, he pasted a label inside the front cover, noting that the book was donated by Sylvan Learning Systems. Then he stamped the school's address on the next page. Finally, he put the card catalog flap in the back.

"I had no idea there was so much science to this," Becker said.

"This program, with donations from businesses and individuals, will allow us to stock our shelves and update the books we have not had the resources to purchase," Booker said. "It's a marvelous display of the interest in Baltimore City schools."

Once the books were unpacked and stamped, volunteers carried them in stacks to the library. But the books on the shelves needed reorganizing, and the volunteers went to work.

Volunteers patiently alphabetized the worn books. "The Swiss Family Robinson" was missing its first few pages. Masking tape held together "The Magic Summer," and the spine was falling off an "Encyclopedia Brown" book.

"At our school they would throw these books away," said volunteer Peter Taylor, a teacher at Pine Grove Middle School in Baltimore County.

He couldn't wait to stock the library shelves at Harford Heights with the new books.

"I think if you have new books in school, there's an excitement and kids are more apt to pick them up," he said. "Whenever I go to a bookstore and pick up a new book, I'm excited to get home and read it."

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