EAST PEORIA — In the week since the lending library, located in front of the Tazewell Woodford Family Center Head Start in East Peoria was set up, it's been restocked twice.
“(The response from the community) has definitely been stronger than I had anticipated, because we aren’t on a main drag,” said Lindsey Markle, family and community engagement manager for Tazewell Woodford Head Start. “But there’s foot traffic through here with kids walking to Central (Junior High School) and (East Peoria Community High School). There are also a couple of grade school buses that come through here.”
In appearance and function, Head Start’s new lending library is similar to the Little Free Libraries that seem to be growing in popularity in central Illinois. The difference is that Head Start’s kiosk was not registered with the Little Free Library program.
“We purchased the container the books are in, and the books have been donated to us in some way, shape or form,” said Markle. “Some are books that teachers have used throughout the years and have rotated out. We posted on our Facebook (page) and let parents know it was coming, so we’re hoping the word spreads. The Groveland Library had their book sale and they had books left. They donated them to us, so we were able to replenish it that way.”
Although the lending library is not a Little Free Library, it was the sight of Little Free Libraries around the community that inspired its establishment, according to Donna Ashley, executive director of Tazewell Woodford Head Start.
“We saw many throughout the community and we thought this would be a great place for one because we like to encourage reading and literacy for everyone,” Ashley said. “We put books in there and people can take a book and, when they’re done with it, they can put it back so someone else can read it. We like to encourage reading because that’s so very important. Book can be expensive and some families don’t have access to a lot of them.”
According to Markle, the lending library is way for Head Start to extend its services beyond area children who are enrolled in daily Head Start programs, as well as a way for the organization to show its appreciation for the community’s continuing support. It also matches Head Star’s philosophy that education should begin before a child starts attending school.
“We always stress that the parent is the child’s first and most important teacher,” Markle said. “Providing literature for parents to take home and read with their children at their own pace really helps the home-to-school connection. Head Start is federally funded, but we can’t do all of what we do without the support of the community. This is one way we can give back to the community and show our appreciation. Our kids are eventually going to go out into the community and society, so we want them to be as well-rounded and educated as possible when they do.”
Currently, the lending library’s inventory consists entirely of children’s books, geared toward ages ranging from infancy to 13 years, according to Ashley. She hopes the collection will eventually expand both in the number of books and the number of available genres.
“We’re hoping that, through our Facebook page and notes to parents, we’ll get the word out that any books for any age can go in there,” she added. “If we had to have a couple of lending libraries out there, we’d be happy. Right now, maybe we’re at the stage where people are taking them home and haven’t brought them back yet, since it’s been such a short time. I think it’ll catch on and people will rotate their books in and out.”
The Head Start Family Center is located at 233 Leadley Ave., East Peoria. For more information, visit the Tazewell Woodford Head Start Facebook page.