Friday, October 06, 2006

Young Adult Book Club Gathers in Unusual Location

A cooperative effort between the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) and the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (PLCMC) supports the biweekly meeting of the Freedom Reads Book Club. This reading group is composed of young adult males, ages 16 & 17, housed at Jail North. Their reasons for being in jail are varied but not relevant to participation. The only requirement is an interest in reading.

Until recently, the group met at 8:30 on Wednesday mornings. Most adults would not voluntarily arise and attend a book club meeting at 8:30 a.m. But these young men did and continue to attend on Tuesdays at 3:00 p.m. In addition to reading, activities are planned that replicate opportunities available at ImaginOn.

Club members created puppets and produced a puppet show using folk tales such as the Three Billy Goats Gruff. Four members registered for the summer reading program at PLCMC. They maintained a log of their reading that was recorded by MCSO librarian, Margo Fesperman, on the PLCMC website. Several won prizes at the 10, 20 and 30-hour levels.

Like most book clubs, this group reads a book and discusses the plot, characters and appeal during the meeting. Kelly Czarnecki, Teen librarian from ImaginOn, clearly understands the nature of teenage behavior. The library standard of "Casual but not Chaotic" provides an atmosphere that encourages self expression and exploration of ideas. "We want the teens to feel comfortable coming to the public library once they reenter the community", Czarnecki concluded.

Although the club was formed in January 2006, it has reached several milestones already. It was selected as a GreatStories CLUB by the American Library Association and received an award of 10 copies each of 3 popular young adult titles.

GreatStories CLUBs are an ALA project aimed at "Connecting Libraries, Underserved Teens and Books." The group was also featured at the Diversity Fair during the ALA convention in New Orleans in June.

Reading is not limited to the book club members. Approximately 75% of all youthful offenders at Jail North request to come to the library and nonfiction books are as popular as fiction. During a recent month, 73 kids checked out 370 books.

Because these young men are such avid readers, the partnership between PLCMC and MCSO is invaluable. However, extra support is always needed. Neither library has endless resources. MCSO Library has a special fund for monetary donations that are tax deductible. Liquid funds help us procure designated titles that are specifically needed for the young adult collection, Fesperman said. Another avenue of support is the Adopt a Book Club program. Eight to ten copies of a book are needed for each session of the club so everyone can read the book simultaneously. Interested persons or groups can purchase copies of an upcoming title and donate them to the book club.

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