North Castle Library Services for Children and Youth - Books and Beyond Meet Megan Dean - Supervisor of Youth Services
By Nomi Schwartz
May 22, 2014
Big changes have come to the North Castle Library, but in the best library tradition, they have been accomplished skillfully and without a lot of noise. With the introduction of new library director Scott Jarzombek nine months ago, many plans formulated over past years have been implemented and new ideas have been developed.
The staff is committed to promoting the library as an essential “third place” in the community -- neither work nor home, and unlike the mall or the grocery store, a non-commercial option in which people can meet, relax, and discover new ideas. Libraries serve these functions for all ages, according to Jarzombek, but for the youngest patrons, the library can be an enormous factor in guiding children both toward early literacy and lifelong learning.
For Megan Dean, North Castle Library’s Supervisor of Youth Services, there are innumerable ways to attract and engage children and teens at the library. Dean aspires to build both literacy skills and instill a love of reading for babies through teens. The seven-year veteran of North Castle Library was originally the head of the children’s department, but through library restructuring her role has expanded to include young adults. Dean considers the library very fortunate since there is a well-rounded staff for the new conjoined department, including a part-time children’s librarian, two children’s library assistants, and a number of specialists contracted to run specific activities.
The Children’s events listed on the Library’s calendar, available at the www.northcastlelibrary.org
, demonstrate the scope and variety of programs Dean and her staff coordinate. At least one activity is scheduled six days a week from Bounce the Baby
and Mother Goose Story Time
for infants to age 4, to craft programs and math games for school-aged children. Mommy and Toddler Yoga
is scheduled twice a week. A new program for teens focusing on getting ready for college is in the works.
Most of the programs for the younger children feature music -- singing and rhythm are essential to encouraging early literacy, Dean says. “Children learn many new words through songs and rhythmic singing gives young children an understanding about how language and reading sounds. And it’s participatory and lots of fun.”
Participation is essential to the success of all library programs, and Dean and staff have increased participation greatly over the years. She credits flexibility as one reason most sessions are packed. “We don’t enforce any strict age limits for the programs, sometimes parents or caregivers can’t come on certain days or at certain times,” she explains. “It’s ok for a 3-year-old to attend a Bounce the Baby
program and play with a toy while listening to the songs.
Sometimes children accompany younger or older siblings to programs and we make them welcome, although the program may be structured for a younger or older age group. We have discontinued registration for specific days and programs.”
Dean is no stranger to coordinating activities among children of different ages - she grew up in the nearby hamlet of South Salem the second eldest of six children. She notes that her youngest siblings are only slightly older than her young adult readers and can contribute valuable opinions and recommendations for reading lists. Her two children, boys aged 10 months and 3 years, give her ample opportunities to try various approaches to early literacy and to gauge reactions to some of the 150 to 200 books she reads each year. She also brings her experience of working in an urban setting in the New York City Public Library System. When not reading, working, or spending time with her family, Dean is rediscovering her passion for distance running. She plans to run a half-marathon in Lake Placid in June.
Under Dean’s supervision, the Children’s area has revamped the physical space to allow more room for activities and discovery. All materials for early childhood are now located near the entrance so young children can access them immediately. The Library has continued to build its large DVD and audiobook collections and offers many kits including CDs and books. Computers with programs for early literacy are available mainly for younger children since by grade 4 most come with their own devices.
Once their children enter the school system, parents are confronted with enormous time-management issues, Dean notes. “Kids are so scheduled with sports and after school programs, we are happy to be able to offer our craft programs and Lego Club on Friday afternoons when things are a little less rushed. We’re always here to offer help with assignments, and doing one of our favorite parts of the job, recommending the right book.”
Dean didn’t always dream of being a librarian. She wasn’t even a huge reader as a child. That helps her understand how important it is to make connections with all kids, even some of the more reluctant readers and to find ways that the library can become a significant part of their lives. She credits a convenient time slot in her Library School schedule and an “amazing teacher” for her introduction to the fascinating world of children’s literature.
“We have to get away from people thinking of the library as “that shhhh place,” she laughs. “That place doesn’t exist anymore. The library is not a playground, but it is a place for fun. And it is not just a house where books are stored. Our Library goes way beyond the book.”