New library nurtures a ‘culture of reading’

Eighth-graders posed with the books they borrowed recently from the new library at Nativity Academy at St. Boniface. They are, from left, James Tobin, Enrique Izquierdo, Samaria Vaughn and Maya Stills. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

Record Assistant Editor

Eighth-graders at Nativity Academy at St. Boniface learned the great difference between reading a book and watching a movie adaptation when they delved into the Hunger Games trilogy last year.

The students found the first movie somewhat disappointing after reading the books. Samaria Vaughn took issue with inaccuracies in the plot. Her classmate, James Tobin, was insulted that Thresh (one of the characters) wasn’t identified until his death.

“The book is so much better than the movie,” said Enrique Izquierdo.

Their experiences in reading are part of a new effort at the school that emphasizes literacy. And it’s supported in large part by the school’s new library —developed by volunteers during the last two years.

“It has new books that are exciting to us,” said James, who was reading The Strange Case of Origami Yoda at the time of the interview.

Meghan Weyland, principal of Nativity Academy, said the library “has changed the culture of reading here.”

“We have kids who read books now just for fun. That is huge,” said Weyland, noting that some students come to Nativity reading below grade level. The school, located on the campus of St. Boniface Church in downtown Louisville, serves middle school students from low-income families who show academic promise.

Volunteers and school staff began working on the library in the summer of 2010. They’ve created a small but well-organized home for more than 2,000 titles that appeal to young adult readers.

That’s a far cry from where the library began. The second-floor room had been a storeroom full of boxes with a few bookcases containing a wild range of volumes — from cookbooks to outdated science texts.

“It was almost all non-fiction,” said Weyland. “We had lots of books no one wanted, including us. It didn’t look like a library. This was the room were you put stuff.

“I was an English teacher when I was teaching and it was clear to me there wasn’t a culture of reading because books weren’t available to the kids,” she added. “I knew what needed to be done, but I knew as principal I couldn’t get it done by myself.”

The project took off when Cathy Ford, a parent of St. Agnes School graduates, saw the school’s need and helped recruit assistance from the library at St. Agnes, where she had volunteered.

Margi Johnstone, St. Agnes’ librarian, and Mary Radway, a regular St. Agnes volunteer, purged hundreds of unwanted books from Nativity’s stores.

To nuture young readers, it’s critical to offer books that appeal to them, Johnstone contends. “If you can get an up-to-date shiny collection, you can entice kids to read,” she said.

The school now has a wish list on that provides suggestions to those who want to donate books. (A link to the list is on the Nativity website:

A $15,000 grant from The Links Foundation Inc., which raises money for different charities each year with a golf tournament, has enabled the school to manage its growing collection with new software and hardware. Volunteers have affixed bar codes to the books and Sarah Ball, a Nativity volunteer, entered them into a data base, creating a digital card catalogue.

Now, when students visit the library with their teacher on Tuesdays, the new volunteer librarian can scan the books for checkout.

The volunteer, Mary Radway, stays all day every Tuesday when the English classes visit the collection. She shelves books and enters new ones into the system. And she talks to the children about books.

“In the 5-6 weeks I’ve been doing this, many more (students) are eager to check out books,” she noted. “At first, about half of them didn’t want to check out a book.”

“I try to see what they’re interested and talk to them,” she said. “They’ve offered their suggestions to me and I enter those on the Amazon book list.”

Radway also plans to begin a book bee program at Nativity in January. In a book bee, participants read the same book and then are quizzed about the contents.

In addition to all of the volunteer help, Johnstone said Weyland — whom she describes as a great leader for Nativity and a “ball of fire” — and Carol Nord, the school’s executive director, deserve “a lot of credit.”

Nord says the school is grateful to all of its donors.

“I can’t tell them enough how appreciative we are of what they’ve done,” she noted. “It’s a massive project to begin a library and to catalogue everything.”

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