By LYDIA BERGLAR
While Lynn Arp was perusing Indeed.com for nursing jobs in the Chattanooga area, she stumbled on a position posted by the Dade County Public Library: Youth Education Coordinator. Her desire to work in a small community and interact with children and youth drew her to the position, and in April, she officially joined our library staff.
Lynn’s husband, Jeff, had been a pastor for 25 years before working full-time with a ministry based in Chattanooga, Tenn. called Living Free. Originally from Iowa where they both grew up, the couple lived in Kirksville, Mo. before the ministry moved them to the area last June.
Arp taught in the nursing program at Truman State University while in Kirksville, and she said, “A nursing job would’ve made more sense, but I was drawn to the interaction with children and youth and some of the ways this job overlaps with my ministry background. Also, I want to invest in a small community.”
The Arps chose to live in Dade because they prefer a small community away from the city where they can get deeply connected. They are currently living in an RV on Sand Mountain while looking for a house.
Arp’s role at the library oversees all of the children and teen programming. She said, “My role is to engage the kids and get them to love books and develop an interest in literacy in general. Storytime is one of our big programs.”
She recognizes similarities in working with the youth of Dade County and ministry work. “The lunch sack program, the tutoring program – there are just so many things that we were involved with in previous cities that are provided here through the library.”
One of Arp’s favorite parts of her nursing experience and now her work at the library is getting to know the kids and families. She hopes to find out what children are interested in and help them find books about those topics.
While going through training at the regional office, Arp learned about the impact reading to children at a young age has on their development. One program the library uses to encourage parents to read to their kids is 1000 Books Before Kindergarten.
Arp also learned about how far children fall behind between school years if they have no reading or learning activity in the summer. The library’s summer reading program works to address the problem.
Arp said that even reading to children for just 20 minutes a day can help them stay on the right path. “Hopefully, we pick up where the schools stop for the summer.”
She added that partnership with the schools is something she hopes to grow, and she’s introduced herself to the media specialists at the schools. She noted that much of the youth programming at the library fits categories in STEAM – an acronym describing curricula focused on science, technology, engineering, art, and math – to help support what kids are learning at school.
One challenge that extends beyond the library’s walls is children whose parents/guardians are uninformed, unable, or unwilling to take them to the library, read to them at a young age, or encourage summer reading. Arp said, “Unfortunately, some kids will never get brought to the library.”
She visited one library that addressed this issue by delivering books requested by students to the schools so that students weren’t reliant on a ride to the library, and she’s keeping this idea in the back of her mind for Dade.
Arp will also be meeting with the teen advisory board, noting that teens are the hardest demographic to engage. “I’ll pick their brains, and we’ll try some things and see what works and what doesn’t,” she said.
Another challenge is connecting people who have a need with the resources the library offers. For all of the staff and across all age groups, their goal is to connect people with information, resources, and tools.
Libraries are an especially important place to Arp because she felt comfortable there as a child with dyslexia. She explained, “Reading was horrible for me. I dreaded it, but the library was always a safe place. I like that graphic novels are so popular right now because I think somebody like me would’ve found success in a book much earlier if there had been more graphic novels. The library has to be a place where kids can have fun and where reading doesn’t have to be intimidating.”
Arp has already jumped right in, learning that “you multi-task here. You have a hundred things to do everyday, and they’re so diverse. It keeps it interesting. The crowd that comes to the library is pretty consistent. I know the faces, and I’m striving to learn the names.”