Inspiring youth to read: Ms. Lou

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[December 23, 2013]  Louella Moreland is retiring as the youth services director at the Lincoln Public Library. While this may seem a simple declaration, to be sure, upon further investigation it is apparent that her guidance has had a profound effect, not only on young readers but on the community as well.

Moreland's 11-year career has been crowded with the creation of imaginative educational reading programs geared to persuade the young to read.

Louella Moreland, affectionately called Ms. Lou by her young charges at the library, came to the Lincoln Public Library after a career of teaching. She taught kindergarten and fourth grade in Lincoln and did a stint at Heartland Community College.

"My teaching was always oriented toward kids," she said.

Moreland always took children's literature classes. While at Heartland, she worked with the Lincoln Public Library children's librarian. When that librarian announced her retirement, Moreland, with the encouragement of her husband, applied for the position. She was hired by Richard Sumrall, library director. And with that, things began to change quickly at the library.

The first change was the elimination of the term "children's program" to become "youth services." Moreland raised three children, and with insight into the minds of teens, she felt that referring to a teen as a child would be off-putting to them.

Moreland wanted all age groups to feel welcome at the library. She even moved the teen young adult book section to a different area of the library Annex, away from the preschool and grade school sections and closer to the general book stacks.

When asked what changes she is most proud of, the first one Ms. Lou mentions is the outreach program. Until her tenure as youth services director, kids had to come to the library to participate in reading programs, accompanied by their parents, of course.

A quick assessment of library reading programs for preschool and school-age kids showed that attendance had been declining for several years. Ms. Lou's discernment was that kids could not come to the library during the day because of school or day care, and parents could only bring them after they got home from work. Parents had duties at home in the evening, and a trip to the library was not always possible.

What to do? Well, if the kids could not come to the library, then Ms. Lou was determined to take the library to the kids. Thus began an extremely popular library service with members of the youth services staff going to the schools in Lincoln with age-appropriate programs.

"I want the schoolchildren to associate books with the library," Ms. Lou said, "and it is very important that the association be made as early as possible."

Ms. Lou and her staff travel to preschool programs monthly with story times, serving six Head Start programs and Little Lambs Day Care. The fifth-grade class at Central School welcomes "Book Talks" with library staff into their classroom, as do seventh- and eighth-grade classes at the junior high. The "Reading Is Fundamental" program, another Lincoln Public Library outreach, is available in all local schools.

In addition, classroom teachers contact the library with requests to bring their classes to the library for field trips. "My door is always open to teachers," said Moreland. This attitude has brought a constant stream of classes to the library to enjoy the innovative programs available.

When asked why she is passionate about making a connection between kids and reading and the library, Moreland said, "I am absolutely convinced that reading is essential to academic success."

Her days have been filled with brainstorming with her staff of three about how to further spread the word about the library, books and the fun of reading programs that are available, and creating new programs. Ms. Lou is adamant that the success of the youth services at the library is a collaborative endeavor between her, the library director and, as she puts it, "my absolutely essential staff."

She describes Cindy Harris as the collection guru who can find any book, even if only a small description is available. Marlene Perry was her first assistant when Ms. Lou came to the library. Moreland says that while she can come up with a program idea, Perry is a creative genius who can take the idea from concept to actual program. Deb Owens is the Lapsit facilitator and also works with the arts and crafts programs.

Why arts and crafts in a library? Well, because it gets kids into the library, where they are surrounded by books. The excitement of an arts and crafts event just reinforces the children's love for the library, according to Ms. Lou. She is Lincoln's Pied Piper, leading kids to the library and reading, which will ensure a lifetime of learning and the just plain pleasure of reading a book.

While she is justifiably proud of the library's outreach program, she also mentions the summer reading program as one of her signature events.

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The youth services staff partners with all of the Lincoln schools to choose books for their students to read over the school break in the summer. The schools set the goals for the number of books for students as a whole to read during the summer; the library tracks the individual reading success; and the schools receive a prize for attaining their goals. The library even keeps individual reading records from years past so that students can review their reading history. The book assignments are all age-appropriate.

Ms. Lou is emphatic that the summer reading program is not a competition. Students chose books they are comfortable with and set their own goals. The teen readers have a party when they achieve a goal. Read books and have a pizza party! What an enticement to read.

Several local summer day care organizations include visits to the library as part of their daily routine, including the Methodist church and the YMCA.

For those youngsters not yet able to read, goals are set for the number of books that parents read to their young ones. Ms. Lou is emphatic that reading to youngsters is essential and makes a family connection to reading. "If parents read to kids, the kids are more likely to become readers," she said.

Of course, one essential part of the summer reading program is the Thursday morning entertainment throughout the summer. There have been magicians and clowns and puppets and wild animals of all kinds. To see a roomful of young readers sitting on the floor of the library Annex absolutely mesmerized by the performers is a special moment. The parents are taken up with the moment also, as evidenced by their smiles and giggles during the performance.

What type of person is Louella Moreland?

Well, when asked if she had read a particular book about an aspect of southern Illinois history, she replied: "I read 30 children's books a week. I don't have time for adult books." With a chuckle she added: "Maybe after I retire." She maintains that she will never offer a book to her young readers that she has not read first.

Ms. Lou is a person who says her office chair is often occupied by youngsters whose parents have brought them to the library just to see their favorite librarian. She is a person who describes her littlest followers as knee-huggers, and that brings a big smile to her face.

She is a person who, when cruising through the grocery store, will have a young library patron come up to her and say hello.

She is a person who, when it is time to gather the little ones in the library Annex for a Lapsit session, will sing to the youngsters, calling them to gather with their parents to delve into another fascinating book.

That is the kind of person Louella Moreland is.

She is so passionate about reading and the library that her family caught the library fever. Her son donated the first three Lego sets that started the extremely popular Lego program at the library every January. Her husband has donated prizes for the summer reading program. When her middle daughter was on an overseas study program in Spain and took a side trip to Morocco, she sent a "Franklin the Turtle" children's book written in Arabic for display in the library, thus showing that childhood reading is valued all over the world.

A family friend and artist volunteered to paint the mural that adorns a wall in the youth area of the Annex  a terrific work of art. Hannah VanSlambrouck had Ms. Lou for her kindergarten and fourth-grade teacher and has followed her to the library. Hannah is now a library employee in the Annex.

That is the kind of person Louella Moreland is.

Sumrall, the library director, said: "She has done a remarkable job. Her public programs are some of the finest offered to the community. She is going to be missed, hard to replace. The kids will remember her fondly."

That is the kind of person Louella Moreland is.

The annual and very popular Lego tournament will take place in the Lincoln Public Library Annex on Jan. 18 from 9:30 to 11 a.m. That will be the last youth services event under the direction of Louella Moreland.

Ms. Lou has the last word about her 11 years as the youth services director at the Lincoln Public Library. "This has been a wonderful way to end a working career," she said.

[By CURT FOX]

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