Library, task force partner up for literacy

A new partnership is being forged to maintain a program that encourages parents to read to their children.

The Community Literacy Task Force and Bartholomew County Public Library are joining forces to re-start the Book Express program, which sends a bus into low-income areas of Columbus where preschool children receive free books.

“We want this to work,” library director Jason Hatton said. “It’s something we believe in.”

Book Express also provides ideas, activities and other materials that support parents in helping their children to become readers, organizers said.

Prior to going on hiatus in August, Book Express made weekly visits to seven neighborhoods between April and October, and distributed an average of 5,000 books a year, task force chairwoman Karen Garrity said.

The bus also appears at local events such as fairs and festivals, where free books also are distributed, she said.

Launched by the task force after the devastation in Columbus caused by the June 2008 floods, start-up funding was provided by the United Way of Bartholomew County and the Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, Garrity said.

When initial funding began to dwindle, the nonprofit Family School Partners — which provides home visits to enable parents to take a more active role in their child’s education — stepped up to the plate, Garrity said.

While that partnership was successful, funding began to dwindle again due in part to organizational changes, she said.

But now, the library is stepping in because both Book Express and the task force are a good fit for them, Hatton said.

“Research shows over and over again that the more books you get in a child’s house, the more likely he or she is going to succeed in their schoolwork,” Hatton said.

Since Book Express serves a number of Hispanic families, an effort will be made to obtain more books written in Spanish, so that parents with limited English can read to their preschool child, both Garrity and Hatton said.

When originally founded, a certified teacher volunteered to accompany Book Express to read and interact with children, Garrity said. Later, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program — which targets at-risk populations in the community — provided a mobile educator on a more permanent basis, she said.

Next spring, it will likely be a library staff member who will be leading the activities, Hatton said.

However, talks are underway with Su Casa, the local Hispanic aid organization, to also provide a Spanish-speaking person to accompany the leader and talk with parents, Garrity said.

How you can help

As plans to resume Book Express this spring are being worked out, both the Bartholomew County Library and the Community Literacy Task Force will be seeking other partnering organizations to assist them.

Donations of gently used books appropriate for preschool children, as well as monetary gifts, are being accepted.

For more information about how you can help, email Karen Garrity at garritka@iupuc.edu

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.