Libraries welcome Sneaks

Program: Baltimore County's summer reading game and mascot are adopted by 11 systems.

June 06, 1999|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Sneaks will be one busy cat this summer.

The longtime mascot for the Baltimore County Public Library system's summer reading program, Sneaks will become the symbol for summer programs in half of Maryland's libraries.

"We all run summer reading programs, and a lot of the work is duplication from one library to the next," said Kathy Coster, manager of marketing and programs at the Baltimore County libraries. "This year, we decided to see if the other libraries wanted to team up and work together."

So the library systems in 11 of Maryland's 24 jurisdictions have signed on to use the program developed by Baltimore County, which means that as many as 140,000 children across the state will be reading books and using a Sneaks' Island Adventure game board to chart their progress.

This summer's theme is "Catch the Reading Wave," and it marks the 14th year that Sneaks has worked to entice Baltimore County children to read during their school vacation.

Prince George's County worked with Baltimore County last summer, prompting library officials to extend the invitation statewide.

In the Baltimore metropolitan area, every library system except Harford County will participate. Those joining in the effort also include libraries in Western and Southern Maryland and the Washington suburbs, but none on the Eastern Shore.

Joining in a coordinated summer reading program makes sense, since many families cross borders and visit libraries in different jurisdictions, officials said.

"People don't know the difference if they're going to a library in Baltimore City or Baltimore County," said Judy Cooper, chief of public relations for the city's Enoch Pratt Free Library. "It was a no-brainer to do the same summer program."

The city and county library systems will work together to promote the program with 20 billboards throughout the area, Cooper said.

In addition, city and county children will participate in an Enoch Pratt kickoff event at the Inner Harbor's Pier 5 at 1: 30 p.m. Tuesday, featuring the Trinidad and Tobago Steel Band. Plans call for Sneaks and a group of county children to arrive aboard a Living Classrooms boat and be greeted by children from the city's Cecil Elementary School and the Pratt Library's mascot of the past several summers, the Pratt Cat.

The 12 library systems will be distributing Sneaks game boards to children as well as a variety of prizes to top readers.

The State Department of Education's Division of Library Development and Services provided a $7,500 grant, Coster said.

Each library system is able to customize the program.

For example, Howard County also will use its own mascot -- Shades, a chameleon symbolizing change as the libraries enter the new millennium -- and operate its separate young adult readers program, said Hope Chase, head of the library system's children's services.

"This proved to be very efficient for us," Chase said. "But we wanted to keep our mascot, too."

Most of the systems do not require children to read a certain number of books, instead asking them to read as often as possible.

In the city, Cecil Elementary will be looking to retain the title it has held for the past two years in Pratt summer reading programs for most books read, Cooper said. The city system will offer prizes for children completing weekly reading activities, and T-shirts for those finishing eight books in programs for children ages 6 to 12 and 13 to 18.

Baltimore County will award trophies to the top elementary schools in three regional areas -- north, west and east -- Coster said.

The opportunity for the library systems to work together has proven to be particularly helpful to smaller counties like St. Mary's and Garrett.

"It's too expensive for us to do a program with a full-color game board," said Sue Gibbs, children's supervisor at the Lexington Park Library and coordinator of children's services in St. Mary's. "Now we have a chance to put out a really attractive program. I think a lot more children will be interested."

So this summer, Sneaks will be busy making appearances in most -- if not all -- of the counties participating in the program. (Baltimore County actually has a litterof Sneaks, with five cat costumes on hand and a sixth on order.)

"Sneaks is traveling farther and wider than ever," Coster said. "If this works out like we think, hopefully even more counties will sign up next year."

Summer reading

Following are the jurisdictions and approximate number of children expected to participate in the Sneaks summer reading program:

Baltimore City 16,000

Baltimore County 30,000

Anne Arundel County 20,000

Carroll County 11,500

Cecil County 3,000

Frederick County 5,000

Garrett County 300

Howard County 13,500

Montgomery County 26,000

Prince George's County 12,000 St. Mary's County 2,200

Washington County 1,200

Statewide total 140,000

SOURCE: Baltimore County public libraries, based on the number of game boards ordered by each library system.

Pub Date: 6/06/99

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