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Revisiting Early Literacy at Rice Lake

Interview with Dawn Wacek

*This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Kids & Books.*

Kids & Books editor Kathy Stewart checks in with Dawn Wacek, Director of the Rice Lake Public Library, on how things are going since earning a grant last year to develop a space dedicated to early literacy

Q: How has the response to this space been since you created it with the grant last year?  

A: It has been fantastic! Parents and kids are having a great time playing and reading together and we do switch things up on occasion as far as literacy activities in order to keep it fresh.

Q: Storytimes? 

A: Our storytime attendance -- especially on Saturdays for our Family Crafty Storytime  -- has increased greatly. We went from an average of 5-10 kids to a regular attendance of 25+ kids.

Q: Patrons coming in? 

A: This one is a little tougher to measure as we also had to cut our open hours last year due to citywide budget cuts. Our overall patron visits are down, but anecdotal evidence from our YS staff says that more people are using the space more regularly to play and interact. We have a mom's group that visits once a week after school, great storytime attendance which turns into playtime following the storytime and longer visits from families who used to pick up books and go. 

Q: Anything you've added, furniture/play equipment? 

A: We added a train table which was a donation, and we've changed some of the literacy activities. So far we haven't switched any of our Burgeon Panels, but might do that before Summer Reading begins as we have 2 spare panels to swap out.

Kids having fun in Rice Lake Public Library's early literacy space.

Q: Have you had to hire new staff, for cataloging/maintenance of collection materials added or to staff the area?

A: No new staff, our regular staff simply absorbed these activities. We had a play space before, it just wasn't as attractive or well-designed, nor was it very focused on early literacy principles. So the workload there isn't very different. Our cataloger treated these new materials like any other new materials, and, while it took us longer to catalog a few of the Storytime Kits with more obscure contents (LeapPads, puzzles, odd toys) everything is now catalogued and circulating wonderfully.  

Q: Any other changes?

A: We had to firm up our policy on missing parts and pieces from the kits. Primarily, this was only a real problem with a single patron, but toys and game pieces would be missing every week, items were coming back filthy, and contents got mixed up. We also now have a single staff member responsible for the maintenance of kits, which has helped keep them more organized. 

Q: Future early literacy plans? 

A: We are doing 1000 Books before Kindergarten and are kicking that off next week with a visit from Llama, Llama. We also are keeping early literacy more to the forefront of what we do -- from regular storytimes to family program planning and Summer Reading to book displays.

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Dawn Wacek is the Director of the Rice Lake Public Library.  She worked as a Children and Teen Librarian for eight years before transitioning to Library Administration.  She is a member of the Burr/Worzolla Book Award Committee, is a Selector for Youth for the Wisconsin Shared Digital Collection, and has been a Board Member of the Youth Services Section of WLA.