Giving the gift of books, learning

Two volunteers raise money to open library at Govans Elementary

October 15, 2001|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Lynn Janney was baffled: Why were second- and third-graders leaving Govans Elementary School during the school day and crossing York Road?

Simple, a teacher replied: to get to a library. The school didn't have one, so pupils used the city library across the street.

A year after that discovery, Janney, a reading volunteer at Govans from Butler in Baltimore County, and her friend, Lynn Rauch of Ruxton, have changed that - raising $50,000 and applying a good deal of sweat to create an inviting place in school for Govans' 400 pupils to read and learn.

Around the Baltimore Community Foundation, which manages the money they've raised, they're known as the "Library Lynns" - two volunteers who channeled considerable passion and philanthropy into one dingy, orange, underused city school room.

Now that room is a soft blue color, with new carpet, clean shelves and books that beckon - from The Cat in the Hat Comes Back to Curious George Gets a Medal to new reference books along the far wall.

Janney, 53, and Rauch, 49, say it will take another $100,000 to make the library complete.

The friends are part of a trend of private philanthropy in city public schools, one that school officials are eager to build on.

Half the city's schools lack functioning libraries, mostly because they have no librarians to manage the collections, says Sheila Grap, curriculum specialist for the school system who works with libraries. City school libraries typically have an average of 4,880 books, a far cry from the state standard of 12,000 items.

Last year, a partnership of the Enterprise Foundation of Columbia, the Wieler Family Foundation, the Verizon Foundation, Struever Bros., Eccles and Rouse Inc. and the school system raised $200,000 to transform obsolete libraries at three West Baltimore schools. At Hampstead Hill Elementary in Canton, parent volunteers help staff the library.

The school system is trying to raise private donations to pay part of the bill for a planned $60 million improvement to its libraries over four years.

But for the "Library Lynns," trying to make a difference in one school was a more attractive concept than taking on much larger changes. "We chose something we think we can accomplish," Rauch said. "We think we can tackle this."

And they hope to serve as models for others who might want to adopt school libraries.

Janney, a member of the board of directors of Baltimore Reads, the nonprofit literacy group, missed reading with her now-grown children.

Rauch, former president of the St. Paul's School board of trustees, had volunteered years before in inner-city schools around the Northeast. She describes herself as an inveterate bookworm who, as a child, had to be coaxed by her father to go outside and play.

Both women wanted to revamp the Govans library without a lot of bureaucracy - to bypass the "committee meetings and stationery," says Rauch.

Adds Janney: "We can get things done because it's just the two of us." Enter the Baltimore Community Foundation, which offered to administer the $50,000 the women raised as the Govans Elementary School Library Fund. Janney and Rauch got a tax deduction, a place to direct new donations, and someone to pay the bills while they concentrated on weeding through the old collection and helping to choose new books.

"They knew this library needed to be done," says Thomas E. Wilcox, president of the foundation. "Without a lot of work on our part, the whole thing happened."

After Janney and Rauch had pledged their allegiance to the project and come up with seed money, the next step was to tackle a roomful of outdated books. The school's World Book Encyclopedia was from 1976, and some of those volumes were missing. In some of the other reference books, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was still alive.

With the help of a library consultant, the women scrapped a lot of the old collection, filling 82 cartons with donations to a nonprofit organization. The new books began arriving soon afterward - given by friends, churches and Baltimore Reads, among other sources.

The $50,000 Janney and Rauch raised has paid for the cosmetic improvements in the library to date, such as the carpet, paint and a mural that will decorate a new reading corner, and it also will provide a part-time librarian they hope will start this year. A separate federal grant has brought computers to the library.

Mostly, the two women want to generate excitement - the kind that comes when a child spies an interesting book on a shelf and just has to take it home to read.

That feeling came through one afternoon last week in the new library, when Tracy Gilchrist, a soft-spoken fourth-grader, asked reading coach Pat Turner if she could borrow a copy of Charlotte's Web.

The books aren't supposed to circulate until a librarian is appointed to keep track. But Turner saw the interest in Tracy's eyes, and knew from experience that the girl wouldn't abuse the privilege she was about to be granted.

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