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January 24, 2006 > Bookleggers

Bookleggers

Spreading the joy of reading

by Sabrina Mahajan

If you like reading books, enjoy being with kids, and want to take the next generation on a book adventure, then the Bookleggers could be for you. This volunteer program, organized by the Fremont Main branch of the Alameda County Library, was conceived by county Children's Librarian Elizabeth Overmyer in the fall of 1983.

As the project's first director, Overmyer's goal was to visit every classroom in Fremont. Working with Children's Supervising Librarian Bonnie Janssen, Children's Coordinator Bruce Vogel, and the rest of the staff she sought to establish a program to bring the joys of reading to children in Alameda County. A grant from the Federal Library Services and Construction Act supplied books and a director for the first year. Additional grant funds received the next year were used to print a training manual and produce a training video. Although outside funding lasted for only two years, Bookleggers continue to spread the joys of reading thanks to the support of the Alameda County Library.

The name "Booklegger" is inspired from a famous children's story "A Canticle for Liebowitz" by Walter Miller. In the story, characters called Bookleggers smuggle books because they were outlawed and in danger of becoming extinct.

The idea is to entice children into checking out a book. Volunteers visit schools to give a "teaser" of books selected by the Bookleggers Steering Committee consisting of nine members including librarians and Bookleggers. Books are "screened" for their "salability," avoiding well publicized award winners, popular series, curriculum books, or classics used in classrooms. Each year, over 30 new books are chosen. Statistics show that children who have been exposed to the Bookleggers check out books more than three times the usual rate.

"The kids can't wait to get hold of a copy of the books taught in the classroom," said Angela Yang, Fremont Main Library Manager. "We are very grateful to have such high quality and dedicated volunteers."

The Bookleggers program has been operating for over 21 years. Volunteers are trained in booktalking, reading aloud, and storytelling. Training takes place on Tuesday mornings for 2 1/2 hours. Upon completion, volunteers are ready to present a book in the classroom. Many volunteers use colorful details with vivid props or puppets to bring the captivating stories to life without revealing the story's ending.

Bookleggers visit 300 - 350 classes at one-third of the school district's elementary schools each semester. They visit more mature audiences of 7th graders in the fall, and 8th graders during spring.

Gail Orwig, director of the Bookleggers program, believes the diversity of volunteers makes the program interesting and fun for the students. "The Booklegger program is for spreading the joy of reading in the next generation," said Orwig. She has a collection of comments from student letters that reflect the popularity of this program:

"You have influenced me to read and I would just like to say thank you, from the bottom of my heart." (7th grader)

Or

"...when I grow up I think I'll be a Booklegger too!" (3rd grader).

Orwig noted that three Bookleggers have been with the program for 20 years. Over the years, Booklegger volunteers have visited over 14,000 classrooms in Fremont Unified School District; more than 20,000 students in 900 classrooms hear Booklegger presentations every year-and-a-half.

Bookleggers can always use additional volunteers. So, if you would like to make a difference in children's lives by cultivating love of reading, register for the next training session.

Orientation Meeting
Wednesday, January 25
2-3 p.m. and 7-8 p.m.
Fremont Main Library Conference Room A
2400 Stevenson Blvd., Fremont
(510) 745-1421 (ask for Gail Orwig)

 
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