Reading aid on the move

Library works to expand outreach program with new, updated bookmobile

March 23, 2002|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Lynn Lockwood, For children in 115 Baltimore County day care facilities, a trip to the library is as simple as stepping out the door to see the Read Rover library bus roll up, complete with picture books, audiotapes and videos, and a helpful librarian.

Now, the Foundation for Baltimore County Public Library is working to expand the Read Rover program with a new vehicle that will offer more services for day care providers and target at-risk preschoolers at a critical time in their reading development.

Since the effort began last June, individuals and foundations have donated about half of the $200,000 needed to purchase and equip a new bookmobile. The foundation will add to that tonight with a "Novel Night" fund-raiser featuring food, music and popular authors at the Towson Library. Library staff hope to have the Read Rover Plus on the road by 2004.

"Most of a child's brain development takes place ... before they start school," says Lynn Lockwood, a library assistant director. If children do not have useful early experiences with books, she adds, "it is very difficult and expensive for them to catch up."

Like the current Read Rover, which is 13 years old, the new vehicle will visit day care centers and in-home providers. A librarian will read stories in ways that engage young children. Caregivers and children may check out books for several weeks.

The Read Rover Plus will offer some extras. It will be used in areas where low scores on Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests indicate children are having trouble reading and will return to some locations more often to reinforce reading lessons. It will have computers on board.

It will also carry a staff member from Child Care Links for Baltimore County, a nonprofit child care information and referral center. While the children are occupied, the staff member will teach child care providers about effective reading strategies for children and talk with them about computer skills, state and county resources and children with disabilities.

Working with the library is an effective way to reach some of the 1,800 licensed child care providers in Baltimore County, says Ginny Smith, Child Care Links' executive director. The collaboration also will help children become socially and emotionally ready for school, she says.

Still, more library services for preschoolers are needed, says Pam Henderson, a librarian who travels with the Read Rover and two other bookmobiles that target older readers. The children's vehicle stops at sites once every seven weeks; library staff estimate it circulates 20,000 items each year. Day care centers must put their names on a waiting list to participate.

Jennifer Hatfield, owner of Little Darlings Development Center in Arbutus, calls Read Rover "a wonderful resource for the children and for the teachers."

"The children are just mesmerized by the story," she says, and the staff can get books to go with the themes of their lesson plans.

Knowing how important reading is at an early age, Hatfield and her staff include books in the children's activities about five times a day. "It's what we assume their parents would do if they were able," she says.

Read Rover Plus will be a pilot program. If successful, the library hopes to update the older vehicle and possibly expand the fleet.

"It's literally never too early" to introduce children to books, says Lockwood. Reading to a baby creates a sense of closeness and has a calming effect on the child. For preschoolers, "it really, really lays the foundation for later reading," she says.

"Novel Night" will be held at 8 p.m. today at the Towson Library, 320 York Road. Tickets are $60 at the door. Information: 410-887-4474.

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