Wildwood Librarian Distributes Backpacks With One Month Supply Of Books For Students

Wildwood School Librarian, Susan Wells, with some of the ~200 backpacks of books that were distributed to students this week. Photo: Susan Wells

Program Is Designed To Fill A Void While Public And School Libraries Are Closed

Over 200 Wildwood Elementary school children have a bundle of new books to read this week thanks to the efforts of the school librarian, Susan Wells, with help from the Parent Guardian Organization (PGO) and parent volunteers.

For the past month, Wells has been working on a way to get books into the hands of kids, most of whom have not stepped foot into the school building since March 13th, when it closed with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. With students learning from home, Wells saw it as a top priority to get physical reading materials into the hands of her students. 

Children in Amherst and surrounding towns have little access to free reading materials, given that most are learning remotely, with no access to their school libraries. Public libraries in the area remain physically closed, except for limited services such as curbside pick-up. The Pelham Library has recently begun offering timed, scheduled in-person browsing opportunities.

Designing a complex book distribution system from scratch, Wells invited families to reply to an electronic form that asked if they would like books for their child once per month. Families were offered the option of picking the books up at the school, or having them delivered to their homes. Wells enlisted the support of the PGO and paraprofessional support in the library, and recruited a number of parent volunteers to help with the project. Of the 359 students currently enrolled in Wildwood school, Wells heard from the families of 222 students (62%), with about half choosing home delivery. 

Wells purchased hundreds of clear backpacks with funding provided by the School District under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and filled each one with a selection of 7-10 books, individually curated for each child. Children in the younger grades worked with Wells during their weekly library class to create wish lists of books they would like, while students in the older grades were invited to create “holds” through an online reservation system. Wells included a mix of fiction and non-fiction books suited to each child’s reading level and interests. In each backpack, she included a note that encouraged students to share with her what they liked or didn’t like so she could improve the selections next time around. Over 2,000 books were distributed to students this week, according to Wells.

A backpack for a 5th grade student at Wildwood, filled with 10 books chosen by Librarian Susan Wells. Photo: Toni Cunningham
Wildwood School Librarian Susan Wells and a parent volunteer map out delivery routes for distributing books to students. Photo: Susan Wells

Reached by phone, Wells said, “Reading builds community, and that is what we need right now…The kids were so excited to receive their books, and to see many of them in person made the many hours of pulling books and packing backpacks totally worth it!”

Wells intends to keep the distribution going as long as there are students who are learning remotely. The next round of delivery/pick-up is scheduled for the week of November 16th. Students will be expected to return the books and the backpack at that time, and will receive a new backpack filled with a new selection tailored to their interests. Wells said that returned books will be quarantined for seven days before being returned to the Wildwood library.

The project has already drawn interest from other schools. According to Wells, Fort River Elementary School’s Librarian, Lani Blechman, is planning to undertake a similar project this fall.

 Wildwood kids picking up their backpacks of books at the school on Wednesday. Photo: Toni Cunningham
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11 thoughts on “Wildwood Librarian Distributes Backpacks With One Month Supply Of Books For Students

  1. This is BRILLIANT!!!!!!!!

    Many thanks to Susan Wells for thinking outside the box – er – school building :-)))

    I’m happy to hear that others may replicate this – and that’s exponential growth of a good kind!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Kudos to Wildwood Librarian Susan Wells and her team! This is a brilliant idea and a much needed service. There’s nothing like a book in hand (and not a chromebook!).

    And it’s good to know that the Pelham Library is starting scheduled in-person browsing. The Jones Library is not yet open to the public in any manner but folks can call or submit requests for books and materials through the pick-up area on the side porch. The librarians will be happy to make recommendations. The Jones Library Director is just now developing plans for “winterizing” services.

  3. Mrs. Wells is absolutely wonderful! Not only did she deliver books to the WW kids, she also stopped on the driveway to recommend some reading to a recent WW grad!

  4. I’m a Minnesotan who was alerted to this article by my daughter who’s children are new students to Wildwood!! They are so IMPRESSED by everyone there & their dedication!!! They have yet to even attend their new school, 1 little one has gone some, but everything they’ve seen has been impressive!! And Susan Wells has just gone above & beyond!!! I am SOOOO HAPPY that my kids landed in this district & particular school!!! THANKS, Wildwood!!!
    From a grateful grandmom❣️

  5. Wildwood has been blessed with incredible librarians. Elaine Donahue built an enviable collection of books and supported an active library culture in the school. Susan Wells has continued Elaine’s work and expanded into new heights. I am so impressed, yet not surprised by this huge undertaking that Susan has put into action. The Wildwood community is so fortunate.

  6. Thank you for your unlimited energy and dedication Susan! The library is the heart of the school, even when we are not in the space.

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