How the Library Can Change Our Schools (by Guest Blogger Chris Johnson)

I am a huge supporter of volunteering at the Multnomah County Library. I originally started 2 years ago at the Friends of the Library Book Store in the central lobby. Although I realize the money raised from their store benefits the library system, I wanted something more hands-on at a local level. So I am now a Branch Assistant at the Kenton library, helping to shelve books and process holds. While volunteers are asked to send patrons with questions to a librarian, many people have requests or comments that any volunteer can help with, fostering a more friendly atmosphere for families. While it can be a workout, I have greatly enjoyed my time. The staff is ecstatic to have help, the patrons are for the most part warm to volunteers and, as most of the books to be shelved are in the childrens area, you get to interact with tons of great kids. Also this summer I was a Summer Reading Program liason, assisting the kids turning in their game pieces and helping them and their parents choose appropriate prizes.

Beyond Your Vote:  Volunteer to Support the Library

There are many different volunteer opportunities at the library that might be more in the spirit of helping the community.

Go to to see what listings are available at your local library. The one that stands out most to me is being a Book Talker, which is an outreach program going to elementary school classrooms and reading sections from books that might interest the children, and getting books to kids that may not have the ability to visit a library. Other positions directly helping with the public include: Teen Lounge Assistant, helping oversee the teen space; LEARN Tutor, helping adults with low reading levels; Talk Time Facilitator, helping non-English speakers practice conversation; Teen Council; and Chess Instructor.

There are also many other services at the library that serve the public, and may be useful to our Capstone community partners. Go to to see all of the services that the library provides. Most are more geared for adults and/or proficient readers, but there are many that are outreach programs to help kids in the community become more involved with the library and become better readers. The School Corps (under the Services For Educators tab) provides Buckets Of Books to Multnomah County schools to help kids improve their learning skills, helps parents and students with homework and research questions, as well as a number of other services. Books 2 U offers school visits and and afterschool programs as well as a summer program for at-risk children (we all know from this week’s readings how important that is!). The Birth To Six program has a variety of ways to encourage reading skills in preschoolers. And lastly they also have tons of information for teens looking to enter college.

Connecting the Library to Your Community Partner

After looking at all of the ways that the library serves the people of Multnomah County (and I am sure I am missing quite a few!), are there any services they provide that could be helpful to your community partner? Could your partner use an afterschool reading program? Would ESL help be more useful? Would providing books to students at your site that might not otherwise have access to them be more beneficial? Since I am working at Portland Youth Builders this semester and our term project is a college board, I will be sure to guide those students interested in more info to the library’s college information site.

In Support of Library Measure 26-143

Of course election night is coming up, and having the library open 7 days a week is important. I see many families bringing their children in to use the computers because, I assume, they don’t have access at home. Make sure they have access when they need it! So make sure to vote yes on Library Measure 26-143.


14 thoughts on “How the Library Can Change Our Schools (by Guest Blogger Chris Johnson)

  1. Thank you so much for talking about the different ways that we can be involved with our local libraries! When I was a teenager, I used to volunteer for the summer reading program and I had so much fun celebrating with the kids and their parents; I’ve considered doing it again but feel like it might be better suited for younger volunteers. I’m excited to know that I can help in other ways!

    At my community placement, we are running a homework club. One of the rules says that if a child does not have homework, they have to go find a book, and for the most part, we don’t get a lot of push-back from that. The kids are free to read a book from school or one of the books that a local program brings in, and it’s pretty awesome to see a bunch of kids curled up on the couch or the comfortable chair, reading.

    I know that this is the first term of homework club with the current coordinator, so we’re all still figuring out what does and does not work, but I would love to see it expanded in a way that would have homework club twice a week and have one of those weeks include a visit to the local library. I am also trying to see if I could create a day where we do art and someone reads out loud – I remember loving that when I was in school!

    • I love the idea of connecting the library to the program. I would highly recommend visiting or contacting the closest library to talk to the children’s librarian to see what they offer. I’ve always been happily surprised at how many services the library shares with community partners.

      • Zapoura,

        I will definitely bring it up with my coordinator and offer to talk to the local library! It might not be possible to take the kids – we’d definitely need some sort of permission slip – but I’ll bet there’s something that the library could offer!

      • I think that there are actually outreach programs where the librarians come to you…at least this sometimes happens for programs in North Portland 🙂

    • Chris & Savannah, I volunteered in high school at the library too! There was a summer reading program at the Salem library and we even handed out awesome tote bags as a gift to those who finished a certain amount of reading. It was a great experience! I loved going to the library as a kid and I still love going to the library to study or read. Savannah, I would love homework club to be more than once a week! I love seeing the kids and helping out. I also think the consistency throughout the week would help the kids a lot. I like your idea of making an art day, we should plan this with Krista and Elena.

  2. I too have had experience in volunteering at libraries, specifically Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat Springs, CO and while they aren’t able to offer as wide of an array of services as Multnomah county libraries, libraries seem to offer something special to communities. Volunteering at the library for me mostly meant being apart of the Reading Buddy program which paired a child four to eight years old with an older peer mentor to help them learn to read. Being involved in this program was amazing because it was remarkable to be a large part of such an integral and important thing in a young child’s life. The little boy I was partnered with my third year of the program was by far my favorite though because he had such a hunger for reading and learning. He would always try and either get me to keep reading to him or him keep reading to me well past our time and it was just heart-warming to see his love for books. It really showed me how important reading can be to a young child because not only is it teaching them basic reading and problem solving skills , but helping them improve on their speech and in some cases their English as well. Most importantly though, reading a plethora of books allows children’s imaginations to keep running wild and I hope it prolongs the numbing of imagination. Programs like these at libraries are also so important for children because what if they have absentee parents or just overly-stretched parents? Programs like these give the children what they need and perhaps their busy parents a little bit of a break. Volunteering at a library again, especially with a strong community tie would definitely be something I would enjoy getting back into so thank you for all the suggestions! And of course passing Library Measure 26-143 is something that I am voting yes on. Libraries being open 7 days a week would be amazing for the community because it could allow families to spend more time together, students to get more work done, for anyone to get lost in a new book more often and so many opportunities.

    • While I don’t think the Multnomah system has a Reading Buddy type of program, they do have lots of opportunities for kids to read along with adults. The Kenton branch has Toddler, Preschool and Family Storytimes, as well as a nightime Pajama time and a Spanish Hora de Cuentos. They also have Book Babies and Tiny Tots programs which incorporate more singing and language acquisition than reading. Go to the library website and click on the Events tab at your local branch to see when these services are available. Sadly, these are on location services, not outreach, so children have to be present.

  3. Thank you for sharing so much information about public libraries! I have seriously learned a lot more about what exactly a library can do, which was way more than I can imagine. I always thought that library is just a huge book resource where people come in and borrow books. I’ve never thought that it even has outreach programs to help kids to become better readers, after school programs to improve reading skills with kids at-risk, and simply a place for parents to mingle in. This response really discloses that I am not very involved with libraries, and I recall that I only went to a public library in my hometown during middle school years, and I never went again after I was in high school, because we had a big library in our school! However, from now on, I may consider more involvement with public libraries such as volunteering to read to kids, and by the way, great resources described above for anybody who wants to become library volunteers. Yes, I will definitely vote yes to Measure 26-143! Thanks!

  4. Chris,
    Thank you for sharing the diverse volunteer opportunities that are available at our local libraries. I visit our library often with my three year-old daughter and it is one of her favorite things to do. She could spend hours in there if I let her, grabbing book after book off the shelf and demanding that I read it. When she gets older, I am going to encourage her to volunteer at the library. As a child I never volunteered and never remember feeling very connected to my community. I hope that by helping my daughter to connect something she loves to helping others, she will see how fulfilling it is to be a part of a community.

    • Hey Krista – The more, the merrier! Kids are encouraged to volunteer: the Summer Reading program was made up mostly of tweens and teenagers, and there was a really vivacious 5th grader working with us at the FOL bookstore on 23rd. The library website does not mention an age requirement, just that persons under 18 need a parental signature. So get her involved!

  5. Chris,

    In regards to your questions at the end, I think we can definitely connect the libraries and the opportunities they offer to our respective programs. Like you, I am with PYB and I see many areas where going to the library would benefit the students. Not only does it give them a safe learning environment, it surrounds them with knowledgeable people and at a basic level, access to knowledge in general (i.e. books, internet, encyclopedias).
    The program you mentioned about teaching English to ESL students might also be well connected to something like PYB where a strong portion of the population comes from homes where English is not the primary language. Even before a person gets to PYB, give them the opportunity to learn and read at a young age. The fact that the libraries send volunteers to read allowed to kids is extremely beneficial to all involved. Programs like that may inspire a young kid to want to educate their own self and thus, perhaps start them down a road not destined to be somewhere like PYB (I mean that in the nicest possible way though).

    Thanks for all the information.


  6. Wow, I didn’t know about all the amazing programs that the Multnomah County libraries offer to students. I wish more libraries in different counties would offer similar programs in schools because it is so important to integrate reading as much as possible into the lives of students and children. I feel that students just don’t know what is out there in books and if they were find a book that really captured their attention then they would discover how amazing reading is and all the wonderful places books can take you. I am really glad that libraries are offering programs to improve reading in schools because once reading is mastered; everything else gets much easier for students.

  7. Libraries are a great chance to help children get the resources they need. What i wish they would do though is find some money to offer some free classes to help children learn how to use a library properly for research.

  8. The libraries are a great resource for kids and adults as well. I find getting kids in the library in the first place a difficult obstacle. I remember when I was a kid, the library was the last place I wanted to be, which was unfortunate. However, as i was introduced to more books as I grew older, I would find myself going their to rent books that I found interesting. This leads me to the point I am trying to make. We need to get kids interested in reading! ( this can be something they enjoy reading, like syfy books)

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