Sunday, March 07, 2010

Sixth-Grader Organizes Reading Marathon in Support of Library

The Boston Globe has a story today about Calliope Pina Parker, an eleven year old student in Hull, Massachusetts who is a heavy library user. She was appalled when the local library funding was slashed so deeply that it cost the town its state certification last month. That means that her Hull library card can no longer get her interlibrary loan or library privileges at other area libraries. (if you go to the whole Globe article, you can also watch a video featuring Calliope herself).

“Now people from Hull can’t go to any other library,’’ said Calliope, whose card is no longer welcome at many other certified libraries.

Wanting to do something about it, the 11-year-old organized an all-day reading of the J.K. Rowling book that started it all, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.’’

Yesterday’s readathon and bake sale, with wizardly cupcakes and “magic wand’’ frosted pretzel rods, raised awareness about the library’s circumstances and collected money for the nonprofit Friends of the Hull Public Library.

While keeping up with schoolwork at the South Shore Charter Public School in Norwell, Calliope found a location, publicized the event with fliers, phone calls, and e-mails, and organized a network of readers that extended well beyond her circle of friends.

The schedule of participants filled a grid that stretched across three poster sheets at the Weir River Estuary Center. It included the names of two selectmen, provided flexibility for drop-ins, and allowed readers to go at their own pace - some took a page, some half a chapter.

“It’s a great idea. Calliope really handled it herself. We were there to help her when she asked for it, but she really has put it together herself,’’ said Lindsay Clinton, a friend of Calliope’s mother, Jenn Pina, and a board member of Hull Performing Arts, which helps manage scheduling at the Weir River center.
Reading marathons are something of a New England tradition. The story, by Eric Moskowitz, tells how Calliope was inspired when she attended the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s annual reading of Moby-Dick, the oldest such event in New England. But there is also a Shakespeare marathon at Wellesley College, for instance, and a reading marathon of Homer's Odyssey at Tufts' Classic's Department.

The strict rules about participating in interlibrary loan and trading library privileges have a purpose. A town that funds its library at a very low level and relies on neighbors' collections for interlibrary loan and real use is like a leech. I would be very unhappy to feel like my town library was being taken advantage of by neighbors who did not pay their fair share. If they keep their own library at a reasonable level of funding, then I have no problems with lending from our collection and sharing seats with them.

Libraries are at huge risk right now as cash-strapped towns are looking everywhere for places to cut their budgets. Ironically, in this economy, libraries are also seeing more use from equally cash-strapped consumers who suddenly see how much better it might be to borrow a book than to buy it, or to borrow a movie, even, than to get it from Netflix. When you borrow from a library, after all, it's FREE. And the use of internet access and computers in public libraries is at an all time high. Reference librarians at public libraries are helping people look for jobs, help with mortgage problems and debt collection issues, in addition to the more traditional questions. And the lever of losing state certification is one small protection that public libraries in Massachusetts have to protect or regain their funding.

You rock, Calliope!

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