‘Read, lead, succeed’: Community leaders promote literacy through library reading series

There’s magic in the act of reading, says Kelly Kennedy, a youth and family engagement librarian at Bartholomew County Public Library.

But there’s something even more notable about listening to someone read, said the former classroom teacher-turned-librarian.

“Listening to someone read is something you’re never too young for and you’re never too old for,” Kennedy said.

What Kennedy discovered as a mother of three is that from the time a child is an infant through adulthood, people are engaged in stories. Having previously served as a classroom teacher and later as an instructional coach, Kennedy started a reading series in the schools where teachers were filmed reading a book of their choice to students.

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When she moved into her role as the youth and family engagement librarian at the library, Kennedy wanted to create a similar reading series that engaged the community in promoting youth literacy and education.

“I really enjoyed getting to hear the teachers’ favorite stories and sharing these videos with the kids,” Kennedy said. “Now, the reading series is more community-based where children can hear stories from various community members, learn about their occupations and how reading has inspired them to be where they are in their life.”

Once a month, Kennedy partners with a community member to film a video of the individual reading their favorite book and talking to young viewers about their jobs and how reading inspired them to become who they are.

The reading series, called “Lead, Read, Succeed,” kicked off in May 2019 with a story from Hope librarian Dave Miller, prior to the launch of the library’s summer reading program. Over the summer, Kennedy tries to release one video each week of a community leader reading.

Since its launch, the series has attracted guests from Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop and Columbus Police Lt. Matt Harris to Columbus Fire Capt. Mike Wilson and Hope veterinarian Dimple Hall.

Kennedy said the guest readers are not only telling one of their favorite stories with local youth, but they’re also sharing experiences and personal stories that could inspire young people to think about how reading could impact their own futures.

“What I’m trying to do is get a wide spectrum of people to read who, maybe some of them have gone on to further their education, some of them maybe have not, but they have still found achievements in their own personal lives,” Kennedy said. “That’s a good balance is to show the ones who maybe went to technical school or didn’t go onto college, but they’re still successful in their lives.”

Some guest readers have shared how reading has influenced them or helped them in their careers.

In his episode, Lienhoop recalls teaching his own kids how to read and the importance of reading. As a mayor, Lienhoop said there’s all kinds of rules he must follow.

“It’s very important for us to communicate with others, and a lot of times we write what we want people to understand,” Lienhoop said. “It’s important for them to be able to read it, so it’s good to learn. That’s part of what we try to do here.”

Casey Boilanger, a fourth-grade teacher at Hope Elementary School, read Dr. Seuss’ “Oh! The Places You’ll Go,” one of her favorite books. She said this book speaks to her in all areas of her life.

“Sometimes I get stuck in the waiting place and the book will help me get through the waiting place. Sometimes I get in the, ‘Woo hoo! Everything’s great!’ place, and the book helps me be even more excited about it. Sometimes I’m in a lonely place, and then the book will help me through it.”

Kennedy said her favorite part about the program is seeing the popularity of a book increase when a book is featured in a video. She’s also enjoyed getting to know other community members across Bartholomew County.

“I’ve been amazed by the response and how many people are really willing to do this,” she said. “They want to be a part and help with this cause. Often times, they’re doing it in their free time or lunch time.”

Some videos have gotten as many as 1,600 views across the library’s social media platforms and its website.

“We need to not forget that it doesn’t matter how old you are; I think everybody loves to hear somebody read,” Kennedy said. “There’s magic in reading aloud. You can put inflections and special voices in the characters. You can make it a really fun connecting time to have with children or grandchildren or siblings. There’s definitely a magic to it.”

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View the "Lead, Read, Succeed" reading series at: