Essex library scores a first as tots become cardholders

Preschoolers: In an effort to get children interested in reading at a young age, a Baltimore County library branch has launched "My First Library Card."

November 21, 1999|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Preschoolers Holly Gephardt and Ashley Murph are part of an elite club in Essex -- and they have shiny new membership cards to prove it.

Holly and Ashley -- ages 4 and 3 respectively -- are some of the youngest members of the Essex branch of the Baltimore County library system, under an unusual program that aims to put library cards in the hands of very young children to get them interested in reading.

Community support librarians at the Essex Library decided to focus on young readers -- 9 years old and younger, some of whom barely know the alphabet -- last year as a means to introduce children to the library. After a successful trial run, they launched "My First Library Card" in September. It's the only program of its kind in Baltimore County.

Response by parents and children to the fledgling program has been good, said librarian Pat Palermo, community support team leader. In the first two full months of the program, librarians signed up 123 young library members.

"Our patrons are very happy with the program," Palermo said. "This way, we meet the children, and they feel safe coming to us. Some of them know us by name."

Signing up

Children, with an adult guardian, sign up for the "My First Library Card" program at the Essex Library's circulation desk, where they receive a plastic bag with a bookmark, pencil, calendar of events and coloring sheet.

Next, the child moves to the library's information desk, which has been outfitted with a low table more amenable to small bodies. There, children can chat with library staff and pick out a free paperback book to take home with them. The paperbacks are donated to the library by scholastic publishers, Palermo said.

After that, children take an extensive tour with a librarian who shows them the children's section of the library and introduces them to computer equipment so that they can find books.

Starting good habits

"It's all meant to build a relationship with children and encourage them to read," Palermo said.

For Holly and Ashley, the perks of library membership are obvious.

First are the books -- lots of them.

During a recent visit to the library with her mother, Gina Gephardt, 28, of Middle River, Holly chose 12 books and a compact disc.

"I like the library because I get to pick out books," Holly explained.

The mother-and-daughter pair go to the library about once a month. When they do, Holly makes sure she has her library card, Gina Gephardt said. They read together most evenings.

Although Holly can't read on her own, her mother believes that bedtime stories will help her daughter when she enters first grade, the time when most children receive structured reading lessons.

For Ashley, library membership means fun time with favorite Disney books, such as "Snow White," "Beauty and the Beast," and "101 Dalmatians." Also, the library has a pint-sized puppet theater where she can act out stories.

"Now, she asks to come to the library," said Ashley's mother, Theresa Murph, 23, also of Middle River, who reads with her daughter about two hours a day. "There's so much for her here, it surprised me."

Information about the Essex Library's "My First Library Card" program: 410-887-0295.

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