Books for Wider Horizons - Taking Storytimes to Young Children for Twenty Years

Books for Wider Horizons is celebrating twenty years.

Books for Wider HorizonsThis year is our 20th anniversary of taking storytimes to young children in Oakland preschools, including Head Starts and CDCs, through the efforts of our trained volunteer storyreaders. We will be celebrating all year with posts on the history and future of Books for Wider Horizons.

Picture of Gay DuceyFirst up is an interview with Gay Ducey. Gay is a nationally-known storyteller and has been training our volunteers since the beginning. Her commitment to this program is legendary within the library, and she is a beloved mentor to all our volunteers.

We interviewed Gay on Saturday, October 11.

How and why did Books for Wider Horizons start?

As a group, OPL’s children’s librarians were not happy seeing only the children whose parents brought them to the library. We knew there were children who were not being exposed to the gifts the library can offer and wanted to reach them but knew we didn’t have the time to do it well, or even at all. It began when the Children’s Services Supervising Librarian at the time, Julie Odofin, asked me to put together a proposal and curriculum. The rest is history.   

What is the most important quality of a successful storyreader?

Two come to mind: commitment, a real steadfast commitment to the children; and the ability to share the love and joy of literature and language to children, so that the children carry it with them as they grow older and have choices.

Do you have a most vivid memory of the program?

There are so many… Our first training class started with six people. By the end of the three weeks, two had dropped out. So, on graduation day – a wet, cold, hailing, windy kind of day – there were just four brave souls who attended. We heard the door open and shut, thought it was just the wind, and continued with what we were doing. But it wasn’t the wind. At the door were Martín Gomez, the library director, and Ruth Metz, the assistant director. These two administrators had braved the weather on their own time to honor the four volunteers who were graduating. It was nice for me and wonderful for the volunteers.

The second came from trainings we gave to Head Start directors, staff, parents, and the public. These trainings had been requested by Head Start and organized by one of our earlier coordinators, Zarita Dotson. I'll never forget the comment of one of the mothers. She said, “If this had been available to me when I was little, I would have liked reading, been able to read better, and shared it with my children. It wasn’t, and I didn’t. My children were on their own once they could read just a little bit.”

What is the most important message you have for new volunteers?

Again, there are two. The first is to tell them they are dedicating their time to the children of Oakland, who deserve the very best. The second is that they are sufficient as they are. We provide a tool box; the volunteers can choose which tools they use.

Is there something you’d like to share that I haven’t asked? Gay Ducey with BWH bag

Yes. When our volunteers begin training, they are eager, well intentioned and nervous. The little secret we tell them on the first day is that they are going to be rock stars. They will find that this storyreading experience ranks very high on their list of fun things they have done in their lives. 

Thank you Gay. And thank you for your years of service to the children of Oakland, who deserve the very best.

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Our fall training series is already underway, but if you might be interested in being a Books for Wider Horizons storyreader, please call (510) 238-7453 or e-mail Rochelle Venuto at rvenuto@oaklandlibrary.org for more information about our next series.  A 7-night training session (offered each fall) is required for this program. Upon completion of the training, each participant agrees to prepare and present a weekly storytime at a partnering preschool site for at least 6 months.

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