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Jerri Nagaruk, Head Librarian, Ernest Nylin Memorial Library  -  Each Year We Try to Add to Our Collection
By Jerri Nagaruk « Prev   Page 2 of 2  

Elim is a very small community of only about 300 people. Most Bush Alaskan communities this size don’t even have a public library, so we feel very fortunate. Each year, through the grants we depend on to keep our library open, we try to add to our collection of adult and children’s books. But our budget only allows for $2,500 for this purpose, and less than half of that goes specifically for children’s books.

Jerri Nagaruk reading
There is a school library for our children. In 1980, when our high school was built, new books were ordered for the “high school” library. My job at that time was to organize the books that had been ordered and set up the card catalog. It was disappointing to see that many of the sets that were ordered were incomplete. We later discovered the missing volumes had been sent to other high schools in the district that had been built that same summer. All the books were nonfiction, and all of them were specifically for older children and adults. Fiction was not included. No complaints were filed, however, as this was better than we had before, and these books were new. What remains of this collection of “new” books is now twenty-one years old!

Until that time, the school had relied on old Bureau of Indian Affairs collections for their school library. Many of those were sets of ten to twelve paperback copies of the same book, apparently intended for classroom purposes—with a pretty limited variety. There were a few picture books for the little ones, some of which were donations acquired by the VISTA volunteers who had run the Headstart Program for a few years in the early 1970s. What remains of those books is more than thirty years old.

In time the high school library became a classroom and the collection was moved to the basement of the elementary school. That space is now used as a computer lab and a classroom where teacher aides hold small group instruction. The library books are on the shelves in that area. Because the children are tired of hearing the same old stories over and over from the school librarian’s limited collection, she comes to the Elim Community Library to get books for her Story Hour. Even the teachers rely on our library for lesson plan supplements or material for their students’ research projects. They usually don’t even look at the school collection because the room is too busy with other activities.

In recognition of the school’s situation, the Elim Community Library has tried to support the school program wherever it could. Besides supplementing the school Story Hour materials, we also offer a special program to the Elim Community Elementary Kindergarten students during the school year. Their classroom is in a different part of town from the school. It is easier for them to visit the public library than the school library. So they come in twice a week to check out new books, return old ones, and become familiar with the library process early on in their school careers. A major portion of our children’s book budget goes into purchasing a complete set of books for the annual Battle of the Books competition each year. Typically the Battle Books aren’t available to the kids until school opens in the fall. The public library offers them a head start during the summer, as well as giving them new books to read for the Summer Reading Programs.

Because our budget is small, the Elim Community Library is primarily a paperback library. Paperbacks have their uses and are usually preferred by Elim residents. However, they are far from ideal for our younger patrons. Many picture books are available in paperback format, but they have a short life. We don’t like to discourage our patrons by loaning fragile materials to young children. Our library has never charged parents for mishaps, but it is still embarrassing to have to return a mangled library book. So, whenever we can, we try to purchase a few hardback children’s books each year. The key word here is few. The budget just doesn’t allow more than that.

There is one more need that I have only become aware of in the last year. We had a small child here in Elim who was very ill. He was not quite three years old, and he dearly loved books and being read to. This child was so ill that his mother couldn’t bring him to the library, or even leave him long enough to come check out books for him. But I could bring books to him, and even spend some time reading to him. I did this until his death last May. It’s comforting to know that such a small gesture can bring so much pleasure even at the worst of times. If I could set aside a small collection of sturdy traveling children’s books that could withstand frequent sanitizing, it would bring me great joy to visit other children who are ill and read to them, or let them select a few books to help them through the difficult days. To have a small collection like this would be a real benefit in times of need.

It may seem like a drop in the bucket for some libraries, but for our tiny library with its even tinier budget, an additional $1,000 would enable us to purchase hardback picture books for our little ones, as well as board books for the very young. For our older kids we could buy non-fiction books to help them with their studies and their personal interests. It would make a huge difference in what we could offer our children.

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About the Author: Jerri Nagaruk is the Head Librarian at Elim Community Library.
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