Rotary members, school staff and students are teaming up to increase the visibility of the small give-a-book/take-a-book libraries in Prineville

JASON CHANEY - One of several little lending libraries can be found in Ochoco Creek Park.Prineville’s little lending libraries are now on the map.

Thanks to a collection of contributors that has grown organically during the past few years, an online map will soon be available to children and their families that will help them locate free-standing, give-a-book/take-a-book structures throughout the community.

Carol Benkosky, the Rotary Club of Crook County’s current president, struggles to identify exactly when or how the lending library effort originated. But it probably began two or three years ago, and it rose from a few people or groups with a similar idea.

“There was a number of people who all at the same time were talking about wanting to get more little library boxes out,” she recalls. “They are representing a number of different organizations and some totally unaffiliated people. We kind of found each other.”

In those days, Kathi Bumblis, a local resident and SMART volunteer, was leading the lend library effort and had helped spearhead installation in a couple different neighborhoods.

“She was able to get a $500 grant to get things started,” Benkosky recalls, “and then Rotary gave a $500 grant to buy books.”

Together, they managed to add two more lending libraries, which were all very popular, particularly when they were first installed.

The little lending libraries do not take up a large amount of space. Not all of them look exactly the same, but they typically resemble a small wooden house and feature a glass door behind which people can find a couple book shelves. The libraries are stocked with books, and kids are free to come and take them and leave behind others.

Up to this point, different community volunteers have built the structures with funding provided by grants and organizations like Rotary. In fact, the Rotary club was recently gearing up to add four more little libraries around town when another individual showed interest in the program – and pitched a way to enhance it.

Sarah Klann is an academic coach at Steins Pillar Elementary. She was drawn to the program and wanted to find a way to not only get more school students involved but raise awareness of the libraries.

“I believe that when you involve multiple generations in projects tied to the community, they become invested in it and it ensures its future,” she said.

Benkosky remembers Klann initially asking how to get some extra lending library boxes.

“She said the school district has been interested in getting some out,” Benkosky said. “I told her we had a box that wasn’t decorated and asked if they were interested in decorating it.”

Klann took it and let her two children, who are students in the district, decorate it. It won’t likely be the last time elementary school students get to decorate the libraries.

“I think we had just enough money from our $500 that we allocated toward the little library project this year for materials to cover building four additional boxes,” Benkosky said.

And this time, it won’t be community volunteers building the libraries. Klann reached out to Jim Crouch, the Crook County Middle School woodshop teacher, asking him if his students would like to build the little structures.

“I will have my eighth grade woodshop classes plan it,” Crouch said. “We are going to copy one (design) that is already done.”

Building projects for community needs is not foreign to Crouch or his students. Past students have built a variety of things, including birdhouses that can now be found throughout the Crooked River Wetlands Complex.

In return, the students get to work on a project that helps expand the skills they get exposed to in class. Safety is always lesson number one, Crouch stresses, but from that point forward, students go through a progression of using different tools.

“By eighth grade, they use pretty much all of the tools in the shop,” he said.

The students will cut all the library pieces, then air-nail and glue them together. Afterward, they will be ready for decoration and installation throughout the community.

In addition to recruiting local students to help build and decorate the libraries, Klann wanted to make them easier for people to find. So, she enlisted the help of Josh Smith, city of Prineville’s planning director, hoping he could build an online map.

Smith put together a “pretty basic” map using a GIS map with library icons noting where each of the structures were installed throughout the town. He acknowledged that the map could evolve and improve as the little library effort grows.

“It could be refined. It could be turned into something more,” he said. “There are a lot of different ways you could do it.”

The growing collaboration pleases both Benkosky and Klann, who have a passion for improving literacy in the community.

“I think any time you connect an idea where you have multiple people doing basically the same thing and making it easier for people to access books, it is a good thing,” Benkosky said.

“If we can just find the perfect recipe,” Klann added, “we can all get together and help advance literacy in our community and involvement at all age levels.”

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