If you’re lucky, going to the library to pick out a book is a cherished childhood memory and rite of passage. But more than just lending books to eager readers, the St. Louis County Library actively works to get youth hooked on reading. “Fostering a love of reading as early as possible gives kids an advantage when they start school,” says director Kristen Sorth. “Statistics say that if a child starts behind, they stay behind.”
The library’s plan of attack starts with its Born to Read program. “Every newborn in St. Louis County gets a book and a library card when leaving the hospital,” Sorth says. “That program started last year and was expanded this year to every hospital in the county. Our philosophy is to start as early as we can and keep kids reading through childhood and into adulthood.”
One brand-new program is 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten. To encourage early literacy, the library provides a reading log for parents of young children, with the goal that they read 1,000 books together before kindergarten. “We don’t care if they read the same book 20 times, we just want them to read together,” Sorth says. “Kids get stickers and prizes along the way, and when they finish, they receive a certificate, a book and a backpack with school supplies.”
Later this fall, the library also will launch Kindergarten Prep. Consisting of 90-minute workshops for parents and kids, the program, available at multiple branches, focuses on giving youngsters the skills needed for a successful first year in school—things like cooperation, socialization and listening. Participating families receive a bag with school supplies and a free book, courtesy of corporate sponsor Energizer.
During the summer, the library partners with Operation Food Search to provide a free lunch for kids through age 18 every day at branches that qualify for free or reduced lunches. “This is one of the greatest programs we have,” Sorth says, adding that when kids come in for lunch, there are library materials, art, Legos and other activities.
There’s also a summer reading club for young kids through teens. “We want teens to know it’s a fun place to do their homework or hang out with friends,” Sorth says.
If you don’t have children or are an empty nester, the library still offers plenty. Overdrive allows Kindle or iPad users to borrow thousands of titles digitally, while Hoopla is a streaming service with a wide variety of movies, TV shows, audio books and music. Through Zinio, card-holders can access magazines and other publications. The library’s Science in St. Louis program brings in experts on various topics—everything from stardust to honeybees—that anyone can attend. The library also regularly hosts top authors, poets and experts in a variety of fields.
where » 20 branches throughout the county
what » To access books and other media and participate in programs designed to foster a love of reading and learning