2011-03-17 / Front Page

Children’s librarian helps spark interest in reading with island kids

By Cindy Cingone

You can’t tell a book by its cover, but you can tell a community by its library. Libraries provide a neighborhood with a valuable link to resources and capital. Librarians, through their creative efforts, bring these contributions to the people who live in these communities. The Jamestown Philomenian Library, with its 41,385 volumes, executes more than 61,800 transactions per year.

Cultivating a love of the library begins at a young age. Children learn that going to the library can be fun first, and educational second. An advantage that a library can give to its youngsters is a dedicated children’s librarian. The Jamestown library has such an advantage in Lisa Sheley.

“I have worked with Lisa for about two weeks and have found that she has quite a following here at the library,” said Donna Fogarty, the director of the Jamestown library. “Many students stop by after school and seem to enjoy spending time here and visiting with Lisa. She knows them all by name and chats with them throughout the afternoon.”

Fogarty continued: “[She] has several story hours that are well attended and one even has a marching band.” Sheley also has an “enthusiastic middle school book discussion group,” Fogarty said, which meets in the afternoon for popcorn and a “very lively discussion.”

Sheley came to work at the library in 2009 when Judy Bell, the previous director, put out the word that the library needed to fill a shortage of professional staffing. Sheley was volunteering at Cross Mills Library in Charlestown and was fortunate enough to have the director there put in a good word for her with Bell.

Sheley went through the interview process and was hired for the position of Children’s and Young Adult Librarian.

Sheley said 2007 was when she sought to “follow her dream” and become a librarian. She grew up in West Hartford, Conn., but spent almost all her summers at her parents’ cottage is Westerly. Sheley describes herself as a “honorary Rhode Islander.”

Sheley graduated from New London’s Connecticut College in 1999. She interned as a local historical research librarian between her junior and senior years as part of a scholar program she was involved in. After graduating college, Sheley worked nine more months at the library – “paying me enough to cover gas money and giving me further job experience” – before finding work as a special events assistant at the Newport mansions.

At first, Sheley said that she couldn’t imagine herself talking to people all day for a living. Sheley is a self-proclaimed shy person, but the constant interaction with the clientele and event patrons helped her realize she actually enjoyed working with the public.

After working at the mansions, she was in charge of the “Zoobilee” fundraiser at Roger Williams Park Zoo for a brief stint, before being hired as the events and volunteer coordinator at the Women’s Resource Center of Newport and Bristol Counties. After that, Sheley said, “I decided it was time to follow my dream and become a librarian. I had put it off long enough and the timing was finally right.”

She entered the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Library and Information Studies in September 2007 and graduated in December 2008.

Sheley said that she has numerous ideas for the Jamestown library. “It’s a constantly changing organism,” she said. “[It’s] dependent upon patron usage, technological advances and the economy.” Bell, according to Sheley, did an excellent job adapting with the change.

“I expect that Donna Fogarty will do the same,” she said. “It’s my job as children’s librarian to support Donna in her decisions and to make [the library] as appealing as possible to children, teens and their parents.”

One of the programs that Sheley has lined up for the April spring break is a visit from Project CHICK, a program where chickens hatch as children watch. She also scheduled a reading and performance by the Island Moving Company’s Junior Corps and Train Time. The summer reading program is coming together under the theme “One World, Many Stories” in conjunction with the Jamestown Arts Center.

“A pamphlet should be going out by the end of May with performers and events,” Sheley said. “As always, story times occur every week, though I’m looking for a way to maybe spice things up a bit for the spring.” She also mentioned that suggestions are always welcome.

The new advances in library technology includes e-Books and e-Readers. She says that they are a great source for adults and children. A study by the New York Times of youth and teen readers said that those who received e-Readers as presents during the winter months are now hooked on the devices. Sheley is concerned that the digital divide may separate the “haves and the have-nots.” The library, she says, as a public service agency must not leave behind a large portion of its patron base that is either unable or unwilling to change over to this new format.

Although Sheley does not reside in Jamestown, she enjoys working here on the island. She says the 40-minute commute she makes each way to and from the library “is great for catching up on old CDs, listening to [National Public Radio], absorbing books on CD, or just listening to the pop stations to try to get some clue of the music that my kids listen to.”

One of Sheley’s favorite things to do in Jamestown is to take short walks around town putting up posters, visiting Town Hall or going to read at the Early Learning Center. “It makes me feel attached to the island and its people,” says Sheley. “There is such a great small-town dynamic here and the island residents are so supportive of each other.”

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