Rural libraries deserve attention, just like those in town

First published: August 23, 2000

Local libraries have been very busy this summer. The Cobourg library’s children section has been particularly active under the direction of Rhonda Perry. But Port Hope library under Alison Houston and the county libraries under Judy Howard and Victoria Wooldridge have also been a hub for activity for young people.

Cobourg library seem to bubble almost on a daily basis for the entire summer. There was the Wacky Wednesday science experiments and the bedtime stories on Tuesday night. There was the Library Playgroup program, which runs year-round. The Music for young children program that introduces them to classical music also ran. There was  the incredibly successful Summer Reading program with 230 young people from ages four to 12-years-old participating, more than double the number expected. In fact, there were children who were turned away because the staff couldn’t handle any more. Local businesses generously donated more prizes after the number ballooned. The program will end with a big event Saturday. Then, if that were not enough, Perry took her activities on the road to Grafton and Bewdley. Plus, she held several events at local bookstores and businesses. Whew!

Cobourg library scheduled something every weekday, with the exception of five days in July. And it was almost the same for August.

Port Hope took a different approach. It ran it usual summer reading program and its tutoring program, giving students help with math and reading skills. Houston said she took a more targeted approach, since children in the area had other activities to enjoy. The tutoring is used by many parents and students to improve. Meanwhile the crafts and other activities did not draw the same crowds. Also Port Hope doesn’t have the same level of staffing as Cobourg, she said.

The county library ran a summer program called Weave a World Wide Web of Tales. Each week children would come to read about everything from myths and legends to heroes and villains. Every week had a theme and it would move around from Grafton to Roseneath to Centreton. There was also a youth theatre workshop, leadership workshops and creative writing seminars. Adults could join in for courses in candle making, mask making and a cooking, among others.

The number of programs and participants is staggering. In the past year, Cobourg library has run 182 program serving 2,839 children. On top of that, 19 program were run for adults with 314 participants.  Sixty-six students participated in the Port Hope tutoring program and 183 children the in summer reading program. The county averaged 15 children per event it put on, said Howard.

You would think with all the other activities in our community, the libraries would not take on these programs. But the opposite is true. In talking with the librarians, it is clear they feel libraries have an important role to play. They are social places, a place to gather and exchange ideas. Unlike the stereotypes of old, these libraries are not quite morgues of research, but active, lively places. They are full of life, just as the books in the shelves.

It seems we have had a very literary summer for children. With the widely hyped release of the new Harry Potter book, it feels as if reading has been rediscovered by our youth. In fact, there have always been children who love to read. The summer reading programs have had a long history in Northumberland libraries. But the energy and excitement this year is contagious. It is good to see.

It is also wonderful to see the support of local businesses and service clubs who provide funding to hire students or provide prizes. There could not be a better investment.

It is also nice to see local councils spending money on these services. Port Hope is about to undergo an expansion that will increase it size and collection. Cobourg’s library was expanded only a few years ago. Part of the reason it can offer to many programs is due to the additional space.

But not all the news is good. County council will be shutting down its library system, handing it over to local municipalities to run after December 31. It seems a shame the county library system, which serves our rural communities, is threatened. But after years of neglect, reduced funding and political apathy, there was little choice. We can only hope the municipalities who inherit branches will reinvest money to reinvigorate the local libraries.

It is also more difficult for rural libraries since there are not the service clubs and businesses to sustain highly active program like those in Cobourg and Port Hope. It makes it harder to raise money or prizes for programs. It would be great to see the urban librarians forge an alliance with their rural neighbours with assistance from organizations and business. Children in the rural areas could benefits from such wonderful programs. They may be able to success where shortsighted politicians have failed.

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