A Focus on Fun and Literacy at Homer Public Library

Ariel Van Cleave

     The Homer Public Library is hoping to focus more on its children’s library. Claudia Haines had her position go from part time to full time a few months ago. 

     On a Thursday morning Haines is getting ready to deliver a story for Smallfry Storytime. It’s one of two readings she’ll give that day. Usually storytime happens at the library, but this reading is taking place at the Kachemak Kids Early Learning Center. There are about a dozen kids who are jumping up and down as she enters the room.  

     It’s almost like herding cats trying to get these little ones to sit back down and listen intently. But eventually they do; as best as preschool age kids can, and Haines starts the story. It revolves around a character named Snappy the Shark. She tells the kids she met him during her recent trip to Hawaii. Haines tells them she also meant an eel, a squid, a crab, a sea snail and even seaweed. 

     She has a felt board with little felt animals to show the kids how the food chain works. When she’s done with that lesson, she gets out a book that was all about catching the perfect wave. 

     The group is mostly attentive and peppers the story with their own experiences and a few questions. Once it’s finished it’s time to pack up and head back to the library for the second Smallfry Storytime of the day. And Haines said although having a room full of kids to read to is, of course, fun; it’s about building early literacy.

     “Whether it’s recognizing letters, or it’s hearing a rhyme sound, or it’s getting the concept of what a story is, it’s relating to your experience. It’s building vocabulary,” she said.

     But it isn’t just about reading; Haines also has brought robotics workshops and LEGO-building contests, among other things to the library as well. 

     “When you can offer kids tools to open up their world, it’s amazing to see what they can create; which is what I think libraries of today and the near future will be about. It’ll be about people collaborating together and using the tools that the library can offer to create and make amazing things,” Haines said. “I mean, I just see the kids in here already and see the sparks flying. And I just love being part of helping them foster that.”

     By 11:30 that morning the room is full of parents and kids with, what seems to be, a never-ending amount of energy. Haines had them focus on the felt animals and talks about Snappy the Shark. She reads them the story about catching the perfect wave. And then it’s time to catch bubbles.

     After bubbles it’s time for general silliness; Haines dances and sings with the kids. Once they’ve jumped up and down just enough, all the parents sit down and chat with Haines or amongst themselves. They all slowly trickle out and that’s when Haines heads back to her office to do a little behind the scenes work: inputting all those books you enjoy checking out into the library’s system. 

     It’s a big departure from performing for two groups of small children. But Haines doesn’t mind, the faster each book gets cataloged the faster it can be in someone’s hands. She slowly works through the stack and prepares for the last part of her day, which is spending about an hour with the kids who trickle into the library after school. Head Librarian Ann Dixon said that’s been a bonus with Haines now being full time. 

     “You establish a relationship with children and families at a young age, and if you stay at it you will see those kids until they leave for college or until they grow up and have their own kids and start to bring them in. It does establish a relationship that goes throughout the years. And that can be really valuable,” Dixon said.

     The library has plans to increase its outreach around the Homer area. And due to popular demand, Haines will begin visiting McNeil Canyon Elementary again soon, and she’ll add a Tuesday preschool storytime starting next month as well. She said sometimes the room is just too full. 

     This is all at the heart of what Haines does every day, whether she’s at work or not. She’s always thinking of ways to engage the kids who live in and around Homer. So what’s Haines’ secret for all this? She said she has the best job in town.