The lending library created by four students for a homeless shelter in Chapel Hill not only is a hit with the children and mothers living there: the student project also captured the attention of the Special Libraries Association (SLA), an international organization that represents information professionals.
During a special ceremony at the SLA Annual Conference on June 6 in Toronto, Canada, students from the School of Information and Library Science (SILS) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were awarded first place in Outstanding Leadership by a Student Group for their work establishing a library at Homestart, a homeless shelter for women and children in the Chapel Hill area. They also received the Certificate of Merit for third place in Innovative Programming by a Student Group.
“The lending library project created by our students from the SILS SLA group is a stellar example of teamwork across the state of North Carolina ,” said Rebecca Vargha, SILS librarian and student advisor. “Our students are leading the way in making a difference in the community. The new lending library will open doors to many possibilities for families at Homestart.”
Last fall, students Cindy McCracken, Meg McGinn, Shauna Griffin and Kristen Boekelheide began discussing ideas for a special project. When the suggestion to create a lending library for Homestart was made, the decision was easy.
With few funds to purchase books and supplies, the students wrote a proposal for a Seagraves Service Grant from UNC's Carolina Center for Public Service. The $300 grant was matched with funds from an anonymous donor, and SILS faculty, staff, students and others from across campus donated money and books for the project. With cash in hand, the students successfully negotiated a discount with Borders Books, leveraging their limited funds.
The result of their efforts? Instead of the 40 books initially planned, the group collected or purchased nearly 250 books for the shelter.
Before the students could unpack the boxes and load the library cart at the unveiling event, the children of Homestart were enthusiastically gathering to see the new books. “We didn't really know what to expect, so it was overwhelming to see so many children clamoring for books, asking how they could check them out, and sitting together to read,” said McCracken. “I don't know that I've ever seen so many kids so excited about reading.”
The books ranged from early readers to books for teens and adults. Children of all ages and their mothers eagerly selected books from the new library.
“The families of Homestart are very excited to have their own special new library of fun and engaging books,” said Laurie Williamson, manager of Homestart. “The library holds a broad range of interesting books and audiotapes for varying age groups and offers a wonderful outlet of discovery and learning for children and youth. These books are also a source of connection for children to interact with one another, with their mothers and with community volunteers.”
In addition to collecting and purchasing the books and materials for the library, the students worked with the Orange County Literacy Council, which offers workshops at the shelter to promote reading. They also trained shelter staff and residents on how to determine future purchases and how to keep the books organized.
“We are proud and grateful to be recipients of such a well-intentioned and well-organized project for families who do not always have the means to purchase or access new books,” said Williamson. “Many thanks to Meg McGinn, Cindy McCracken and the whole student team for their hard work in making this library possible for Homestart!”
The student team works to organize the books before delivering them to the shelter. From left to right, Meg McGinn, Kristen Boekelheide, Cindy McCracken and Shauna Griffin.