BY CURTIS CARDEN, Elizabethton Star
When it comes to recognizing National Library Week, county and city schools continue to push the notion for students to take a vested interest into the worlds scattered across the pages in books.
The idea of encouraging students to take an interest in reading continues to stay important for Elizabethton High School librarian Dustin Hensley. In his third year with the school, the Hampton High School graduate utilized the inspiration gathered from former HHS librarian Ermine Arwood to spread the love of books to the up-and-coming generation.
“My main way of encouraging students to enjoy reading is helping them rediscover their passion for books,” Hensley told the Elizabethton Star. “It is difficult to find a young child that doesn’t enjoy reading. They love being read to and one of the cardinal moments of childhood is when you can finally read books on your own. I previously spent time as an elementary school librarian and the students would literally run to the shelves to find a book to read. Young people generally stop reading for pleasure during their middle school years because now reading has become an assignment. Books have chapter questions, vocabulary tests, and essays attached to them … and those aren’t very fun. After this mindset has been established most people never pick up reading as a hobby again for the rest of their lives.”
Spreading that interest spoke volumes during his first year at the school, noticing a 65-percent spike in circulation in books being checked out just by encouraging students to stop by the library and find a book or by hanging library memes throughout the school on the walls.
So with the interest starting to grow, it only seemed natural to work alongside the Elizabethton/Carter County Public Library.
Roughly two years ago, discussions broke out between Hensley, ECCPL Director and Library Patron Services Supervisor Bernie Weese to bolster up the resources for the public library’s teen program — culminating in the creation of the Teen Advisory Board.
“Renita wanted to grow the teen program at the library, and one of the best ways to that was to start the board,” Weese said. “With the help of Dustin Hensley, we started a TAB made up of two teens from each local high school, as well as two teens from different area homeschool groups.”
Hensley added, “I have always been a firm believer in the phrase, ‘anything about us, without us, is not for us,’ so if you want to create programming for teenagers, you need the input of teenagers in creating it.”
Since its creation, the board works with the library to organize various events as well as giving recommendations for books to be included in the facility’s “young adult” section.
Weese is no stranger into looking at the various ways of encouraging growth and togetherness at the library.
“Libraries are a vital part of every community, and encouraging teens and young adults to take a vested interest is mutually beneficial for both libraries and youth,” she said. “Libraries provide a place for help, acceptance, and learning to teens and other members of the community. From school projects to job resources/development to a space to play Dungeons and Dragons, we strive to make the library accessible to young adults in the community no matter their interests or needs.”
And from the education side of things, Hensley also noted positive feedback from students.
“I know that my students who have been involved with the Teen Advisory Board have greatly enjoyed the experience,” he said. “One of the initial members became one of my Bartleby Community Improvement students and worked alongside Mrs. Weese for the creation of several new programs for the library and different student populations. The student members have also been involved in the operation of teen reading programs during the summers. So it has been an awesome partnership thus far.”
Moving forward, the goal is to grow the TAB, Weese said.
“It is my hope that the TAB will continue to grow, with more teens getting involved on the board and in the library so we can offer classes and programs that truly interest them, as well as grow and develop a collection of books that speak to their interests,” she said.
Weese added that when August rolls around, preparation will begin to expand the board’s membership and teen program/volunteer opportunities. Any young adult between the ages of 13-18, or in 6th to 12th grade, are invited to participate. More information will be announced in the coming months on how to get involved.