IM this article to a friend!

October 16, 2003

MSDB students drawn to school's updated, modern library

From: Great Falls Tribune, MT - Oct 16, 2003

Tribune Staff Writer

Nine-year-old Alexander Hofman lounged on a beanbag chair enjoying a picture book in the young reader section of the refurbished Montana School for the Deaf and the Blind library.

Around the corner, newly shifted shelves create a reading space with three cozy armchairs that await older MSDB students.

But there's a lot more new in the library at the Great Falls school than its snazzy and inviting Barnes and Noble look.

The library recently finished a three-year, $153,000 facelift that goes beyond surface appearances.

Not too long ago, the library consisted of "the stacks," three very long shelves of books, many of which were outdated and of little use.

Now the library has:

A fully automated card catalog, making more fun for students to pick books. Automation also eliminates the clerical work of stamping and replacing book cards and makes book loans simpler to the school's outreach students and their teachers.

Some 2,500 new books and online reference materials, purchased for $33,000, that revitalize its collections of both fiction and non-fiction books.

Its first librarian, Staci Bechard, assigned to spend much of her time teaching research and other library skills to MSDB students as part of the school's literacy push.

"Students are showing a lot more interest in the library," Bechard said. "Our circulation has increased hugely."

Students checked out 404 books last month, four times the circulation in September 2000. With about 50 active readers, that's a whopping eight books a month.

MSDB Principal Bill Davis is excited about the increased library use.

Reading is a key to language development and success in later classes, he said, especially for deaf students who don't have the advantage of learning language by listening as they grow up.

Previous MSDB librarians worked hard with fewer resources, he said, and MSDB couldn't afford a librarian for a few years.

Superintendent Steve Gettel said the MSDB Foundation decided to automate the library three years ago, when Tee Holcomb was librarian.

It hired retired University of Great Falls librarian Una Koontz to work with library clerk Rita Campbell to inventory the books and weed out a couple of thousand books. Some dated back to the early 1900s and were no longer relevant or checked out.

The MSDB Foundation raised some $129,500 in grants from six other foundations: D.A. Davidson and Co., the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Foundation, the Steele-Reece Foundation, the Kingbury Foundation and the Montana Power Co. Foundation.

The school budgeted money so that Bechard, a classroom teacher for five years, could teach library skills and encourage greater use of the library. It was her idea to make the library more appealing by breaking up the shelved areas into reading pods.

Library computers allow students to search for a book using its title, author or a key word, such as rabbit. They can call up more information, such as a picture of the book's cover and a brief description, to spur interest.

One large-screen computer is geared for visually impaired students. It reads card catalog information out loud to the student, who can push a button and allow information to be embossed into Braille by a special printer.

The reading area for smaller kids features a free-flowing mural of the river, forests, buttes and sky of the Great Falls area painted by deaf artist Debra Robasky. Children have drawn animals that are attached to the mural with Velcro. In the center of the painting is a big heart.

"(Superintendent) Gettel wants us to make the library the heart of the school," Bechard said.

Copyright ©2003 Great Falls Tribune. All rights reserved.