Encouraging the importance of reading at any age, the Warwick Public Library has made it their mission to give every first grader in Warwick their own library card.
“I think first graders are anxious to read and we want to support them to read,” said Diane Greenwald, director of Warwick Public Libraries.
Ellen O’Brien, coordinator of children’s services at the library, says the program allows receiving a library card to become an occasion.
“We wanted to do something special for first graders who are working hard to learn how to read,” said O’Brien.
When this goal was set earlier this year, O’Brien contacted Robert Bushell, director of elementary education, to get the schools involved. According to O’Brien, Bushell was very receptive to the plan.
“He got all of his schools involved,” said O’Brien.
Greenwald said Bushell was “instrumental” in getting principals on board with the program. Greenwald didn’t know of any other library system in the state attempting to get cards to all first graders.
Schools often come to the main library for special field trips, so the staff came up with the idea of having the entire first grade from each elementary school come in on a pre-determined day and give each student their own library card.
“We are accommodating all classes in one trip,” said O’Brien, estimating they have had up to 60 students in the library at one time for the event.
O’Brien estimates seven schools have already come in for the program, which occurs on Thursdays or Fridays depending on schedules. Oakland Beach Elementary School and Randall Holden Elementary School are set to come in next week, and Hoxsie Elementary is scheduled for the end of May. O’Brien said other schools have been scheduled for various dates in June.
O’Brien is trying to accommodate schools based on their busy end of the year schedules and hopes to give every first grader a library card before the end of the school year.
“We have had a lot of support from the schools; it’s been a great partnership,” said O’Brien.
While children of any age can be signed up for a library card by parents or guardians, O’Brien says this experience is a great deal of fun for the children.
“They are excited,” said O’Brien about the students who have already participated in the program, which includes a tour of the library and a Dr. Seuss-themed bag of goodies to take home.
O’Brien says the bag, which includes a pencil, eraser and sticker, gives the students a safe place to put library books they have taken out. The library’s Friends Program provides the bags.
O’Brien and Greenwald have created a process for making sure these events run smoothly. Prior to the field trip, the library will send card applications to the school for students to bring home and have signed by parents or guardians. Those are then collected by teachers and sent back to the library. The circulation department will process those applications and designate a card for each student.
As always, the library cards are free and the students receive a traditional card provided by the library to all patrons.
The cards are ready for the students when they walk in the door, and teachers and staff will help students sign their names on the back of the card.
A staff member of the library will guide the students on a brief tour and give a short description of how to find and check out books. Then the students are given time to explore the children’s library and select their first book to check out.
While Greenwald explained that there are no restrictions on what books can be taken out by the students, staff and teachers will be on hand to make sure the books are appropriate for their reading level and age.
While the program is designed to benefit the first graders, Greenwald sees it benefiting the library as a whole down the line. She says when the child is excited about having their own card and being able to check out books on their own, trips to the library can increase.
“It becomes a family activity,” said Greenwald, who hopes the first graders will come into the library with siblings and other family members.
She is especially hopeful to encourage first graders to start taking part in the library’s summer reading program, which encourages students of all ages to read during the summer months. In addition to special programs and events, students are able to keep track of the books they read and get entered to win prizes, which have included free books in the past.
Overall, Greenwald estimates that 40,000 Warwick residents, roughly half of the population, have active library cards, meaning they have been used in the past three years.
“I would love to say every person in Warwick had a library card,” said Greenwald. “But now, every first grader in Warwick will.”
Greenwald calls these students “readers of the future” and hopes providing library cards at a young age will encourage a lifetime of reading.