Posted by: bluesyemre | August 21, 2020

Bringing stories outside: #Library story walks engage readers in a new way

When the coronavirus pandemic forced libraries in the Pioneerland Library system to close their doors earlier this year, staff had to get creative to continue services.

Eventually, the system — including libraries in Litchfield, Grove City, Cosmos and Dassel — instituted curbside pickup programs, forged ahead with summer reading programs and began offering Wi-Fi hotspots for patrons to use at home.

But a couple of area librarians went a step further to promote reading — especially for children and families — by establishing a kind of outdoor, self-directed story time. Dubbed “story walk,” the program leads readers through the pages of a book as they walk.

In Grove City, librarian Jennifer Barnes developed a story walk that has participants hike a trail that starts in Windmill Park and meanders past the city campground and through a wooded area, with pages of a book posted along the route. In Dassel, Elisabeth Schmieg put together a story walk that has readers stroll city streets, stopping to read pages of a book posted in store windows.

“I’m so proud of the story walks that Jennifer and Elisabeth put together,” said Beth Cronk, who manages the four libraries in Meeker County. “It has been interesting to try one in a park and one in business windows downtown. It appears both have been successful.”

Barnes, who has worked at the Grove City Library for 19 years, said the idea for the story walk came from a virtual meeting of children’s librarians. One of the participants talked about a story walk her library staff created when their library was under construction.

Barnes said she had talked with many parents who had grown weary of distance learning programs that had their children sitting in front of computer screens as they finished out last school year. When she heard the story walk idea, she saw it as a perfect fit for the Grove City Library.

“OK, I have this great opportunity to get the kids outside and still promote literacy and community,” Barnes said she thought. “That’s what we’re all about.”

And the trail at Windmill Park, which she said she enjoys walking herself, because of its peacefulness and occasional wildlife sightings, seemed the right fit, too. The trail offers a path long enough to complete a children’s storybook and yet gentle enough for readers of all ages to navigate.

“I thought that (the story walk) would work perfectly for our nature trail that we have here in town,” Barnes said. “It’s family friendly. And I feel like it appeals to multiple age levels.”

As she thought about the trail, Barnes also looked for the right book to use for a story walk. She settled on two — “Anno’s Journey” and “Our Tree Named Steve.” The first story walk, with “Anno’s Journey,” ran through June and into July. It was replaced by “Our Tree Named Steve,” which will be the story walk feature through the last week of August.

“Both of the stories, I was not familiar with,” Barnes said. “I wanted something that would appeal to a wide range of ages, but I thought if I haven’t read it, chances are maybe other people haven’t either, so it would be new for everyone.”

“Anno’s Journey” is a pictorial tour of Europe, with watercolors by author Mitsumasa Anna, who mixes in visual puzzles and tricks of perception. As a wordless story that includes clever puzzles and subtle visual jokes, Barnes said, “Anno’s Journey” could appeal to a wide age range.

“It was, I called it, ‘I Spy’ for a sophisticated taste, because you could see snippets of famous artists, scenes out of famous children’s books, Mozart’s music,” Barnes said. “And so I thought it would be something new to look at every time the kids went around. If they went around (the story walk) multiple times, they would see different things in the pictures each time.”

The “Anno’s Journey” story walk included 25 stations, each station including a laminated two-page spread from the book, which Barnes mounted on wooden stakes. “Our Tree Named Steve” has 17 two-page stations.

The story walk is scheduled for Wednesdays and Thursdays, but Barnes said she and fellow Grove City librarian Kristin Carlson have put it up on special request a couple of times, as well.

Though there’s no way to know for sure how many people have strolled through the Grove City story walk, indications are that it has been popular.

“How many people, I don’t know,” Barnes said. “It’s hard to gauge. But I know some people have contacted me, and I’ve had parents tell me that they’ve really enjoyed it. And we’ve had people happen by it by accident and come tell us that they loved it.”

In the end, the number isn’t all that important, according to Cronk.

“The important thing is that our libraries are offering a fun, different way to engage kids with books in a safe way,” Cronk said. “We see story walks as a type of outreach to kids during this unusual summer. We want them to keep reading, and for parents to keep reading to them, and putting a book along the trail or around downtown to read as families get outside and go for walks is a good way to bring reading to them.”

Brent Schacherer

Brent Schacherer is general manager of the Hutchinson Leader and Litchfield Independent Review.

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