Youth development program at Briggs Public Library opens children up to reading

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By Nathaniel Bott
Clinton County Chatter Staff Reporter

The Briggs Public Library in St. Johns, Mich. offers a variety of youth development and educational programs.

The Briggs Public Library in St. Johns offers a variety of youth development and educational programs.

ST. JOHNS — Thursday evenings in April at Briggs Public Library in St. Johns bring Marie Geller a certain kind of joy. Working for nearly 40 years as a children’s librarian with Briggs, there is nothing more rewarding for her than singing the welcome song with every toddler who attends her story time sessions.

She has adopted the title of youth services coordinator at the library, and runs youth development programs for the kids in St. Johns. Geller said she has been running youth programs like these for so long that she has some former toddlers who have grown up and are bringing their own kids to her sessions.

“What we do now is try to reach every age. We have a lap sit program that starts at twelve months old and it goes to ‘tweens’ who range from 11 to 13 and we just have different programs throughout the year geared towards that particular age and we try to include some literacy pieces with it.”

THE FOCUS

Library assistant Brett Harger realizes that the very place that employs him can be viewed as a place where rules are strict and voice levels need to be monitored. He said that the kids in St. Johns tend to use it as a social gathering spot, but the library has shifted their focus to the youth in the community.

“A lot of the focus is on programming; young kid programming, the story time starting of at 12 months old and running up 12 or 13 (years of age). That’s where a big focus is: early education, early reading development, that sort of thing.”

Geller was a big advocate of that shift in focus. She knows the library can be stuffy and boring and though that may be preferred to some patrons who use Briggs for quiet table space or just to sit and read a novel, the afternoon and evening time allows for parents to come in with their kids and learn.

“The lap sit and toddlers (program), an adult comes in with them and because of their age and abilities, and we don’t expect them to sit in their (parents) laps and participate.” Geller said with a chuckle. “We will read a story and then have some kind of movement, whether it’s finger play activities or movement.”

Marie Geller, the youth services coordinator for Briggs Public Library, prepares to read to the toddlers at her story time session. Geller has worked with the library for around 40 years.

Marie Geller, the youth services coordinator for Briggs Public Library, prepares to read to the toddlers at her story time session. Geller has worked with the library for around 40 years.

That’s a fair expectation, and Geller is not trying to make these kids sit and listen to every word she says. She understands that the toddlers have, as she eloquently put it, “ants in their pants” and need to be up and moving for some of the session.

STORY TIME WITH MISS GELLER

“That lady…she probably has the most energy I have ever seen,” Stephen O’Rourke, parent of Lily O’Rourke who attends Geller’s toddler story time said. “She is so passionate about books and kids and educating and making sure they have fun and that the library is a fun place because it is seen as a place where there’s books and you have to be quiet but this program can get pretty loud and noisy and it’s pretty fun.”

O’Rourke, who currently sends Lily, 4, and his older daughter through Geller’s program believes that letting the kids and parents see the same face reading to them plays a pivotal role in not only the children’s educational development, but the well-being of parents, knowing their child is in great care.

“It’s consistency,” O’Rourke said. “It’s the same person and you get connected to that person. She does other stuff outside of the library and she is youthful, even though her age is getting up there. She still has a ton of energy and a ton of fun.”

Stephen O'Rourke and his daughter, Lily, sit attentively as Geller reads a story to the toddlers. O'Rourke has been attending Geller's sessions for five to six years with both of his daughters.

Stephen O’Rourke and his daughter, Lily, sit attentively as Geller reads a story to the toddlers. O’Rourke has been attending Geller’s sessions for five to six years with both of his daughters.

The Briggs Public Library has a clear mission: “to actively provide easily accessible services, materials and programs to people of all ages in our service area to meet their evolving recreational, cultural, informational and educational needs.”

Every staff member has their responsibility, whether it be Harger checking books in and out and maintaining the tidiness of the establishment or secretaries filing library and DVD rentals. Geller has her plethora of responsibilities, and always has a smile on her face knowing that running the youth development program is one of them.

“I think the library has a lot to offer all ages,” Geller said. “My personal thing is to get the kids in early and show them it’s a fun place to be. We have toys out and they can be themselves, it’s not a ‘shhh be quiet’ type of library. I’ve seen the continuation of them coming in even as teens and I think it’s nice for the community to have a place where they can come enjoy literacy, books and each other.”

A FUN PLACE TO BE

More than anything, Geller wanted the library to be a place where kids can be themselves, socialize with other kids in their age range and hopefully form friendships while learning to read. And even her own colleagues are noticing the impact she has had on the children.

It’s a good experience for them,” Harger said. “She’s been here for a very long time, and you see the kids who were in storytime when she first started coming back now with their kids. I think it’s something that local parents enjoy and look forward to.”

The parents feel the same way. After attending a toddler storytime session, it was clear that all the parents enjoy taking their kids to see Geller, especially O’Rourke, who has noticed how far his daughter Lily has come since starting the program.

“You can see she (Lily) is very outgoing and she doesn’t have many social problems,” O’Rourke said. “She can come here and play with kids and learn more and become more social and enjoy the library. The program has really helped her development in more ways than one.”

Geller has achieved her goals, and every Thursday evening in April is just a friendly reminder how much the kids appreciate her, and how much she appreciates them.

“All the parents who bring their kids here and everyone I work with, they always say I have so much energy or am always smiling,” Geller said. “That’s what happens when you work with kids all day.”