Amherst school librarians keep the books coming for homebound students

  • Susan Wells, a teacher and librarian at Wildwood Elementary school in Amherst, loads her car with bags of books to deliver to students who attend the school in lieu of coming into the library. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Regina You,8, and her mother Wei Zhang, greet Susan Wells, a teacher and librarian at Wildwood Elementary, who was delivering books to students who can not get into the library at the school. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Deborah Rosenbloom and her daughter Kaelyn Brunton, 10, look through the bag of books delivered to their home by Susan Wells, a teacher and librarian at Wildwood Elementary school in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Left, Sally Galman and her daughter Betsy Galman watch as Susan Wells, a teacher and librarian at Wildwood Elementary school in Amherst, delivers a bag of books to other students who live in the complex who can not come into the library to get reading material. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Regina You, 8, and her mother, Wei Zhang, greet Susan Wells, a teacher and librarian at Wildwood Elementary School in Amherst, who was delivering books to students who cannot get into the library at the school. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Susan Wells, a teacher and librarian at Wildwood Elementary school in Amherst, delivers a bag of books Kaelyn Brunton, 10, in lieu of coming into the library to get reading material. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Susan Wells, a teacher and librarian at Wildwood Elementary School in Amherst, waves goodbye to Kaelyn Brunton, 10, and Deborah Rosenbloom after delivering a bag of books to them. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Susan Wells, a teacher and librarian at Wildwood Elementary school in Amherst, loads her car with bags of books to deliver to students who attend the school in lieu of coming into the library. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/26/2020 8:18:46 PM

AMHERST — After several months of pandemic lockdown, 10-year-old Betsy Galman has few children’s books remaining on the bookshelves inside her home that she hasn’t yet read.

So when Susan Wells, the librarian at Wildwood School, dropped by the neighborhood Friday afternoon, delivering a clear plastic backpack stuffed with several books from the school library, it was hard for Betsy to contain her excitement.

“I think all of these books I have never read before,” Betsy said, as she began looking through the bag and seeing realistic fiction books, her favorite genre.

“This is the most fantastic thing ever,” said Sally Galman, Betsy’s mother, adding that Wells is an important part of making Wildwood a special community.

From “Ghost” by Jason Reynolds and “The Crossover” by Kwame Alexander, to series like “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and “Dog Man,” and books penned by cartoonist Raina Telgemeier, Wells has been responsible for identifying and then curating the books for the students, many of whom she has not seen in person since Amherst schools went to remote instruction in March.

“This is awesome,” said Wei Zhang, whose daughter, Regina You, 8, received one of the backpacks. Zhang added she appreciates that Wells customized the books for each student.

Dressed as Disney’s Mulan character, which she will be for Halloween, Regina told both her mother and Wells that she intends to read each of the books, and then write short reviews as she finishes them.

The home deliveries are one aspect of a project in which more than 2,000 books are circulating from the Wildwood School library, with seven to 10 books going to 219 children, 111 of whom requested the drop-offs from Wells or volunteers with the Parent Guardian Organization.

“I wanted to make sure to have a system in place where kids could get books, and keep getting books,” Wells said.

The project is the brainchild of Wells and Lani Blechman, the librarian at Fort River School, who both used federal CARES Act money to buy two backpacks for each child at the schools. It also had the support of the PGOs for both buildings.

Wells said that even though most students have not yet been able to return to in-person learning, they should still have access to the material in the library.

“The community needs this touchstone to school,” Wells said. “It’s been so wonderful to see them.”

Kindergartners and first graders, who returned to the school in mid-October, were able to tell Wells in person the books they wanted. The other students, who have been studying remotely, were encouraged to put holds on materials using the online card catalog, while some interacted directly with Wells virtually as she walked around the library with a laptop, picking out books and showing them covers of books they might like.

Some books were chosen based on Wells’ knowledge of the students and looking up their patron history.

As books came off the shelves, they were placed into the plastic backpacks, which ended up covering numerous tables in the library, before being placed in the main entrance hallway.

Those books not picked up by families were then wheeled on a cart to Wells’ vehicle, where she grabbed a clipboard and examined the route she would use to get to the children’s homes.

“The whole thing is about the home deliveries, especially for the kids who can’t get out,” Wells said.

Katie Pacheco, a paraprofessional at Wildwood, assisted Wells with the project, spending several days getting the books into the bags, making sure the Excel and Google spreadsheets were precise for the deliveries, and adding an encouraging note about the importance of reading.

The results, Pacheco said, speak for themselves. “Feedback we’ve received is that kids are very happy,” Pacheco said.

Since each child has two backpacks, the first allotment of books can be returned and safely quarantined for several days, to prevent the spread of virus, while the next delivery is prepared.

Blechman said Fort River students will be getting their first backpacks this week, with both books from the library and classroom materials, though she expects most will be picked up by families.

For many children, Blechman noted, it will be the first time they have been able to get new books since the spring and summer, when books they could keep were given to them at food drop-off locations in Amherst.

Getting books from the school library, and from classroom teachers for subjects students are studying, is good for both learning and pleasure, Blechman said.

Wells said the project will continue monthly, with the next round to begin Nov. 16. A rolling process of delivery, with PGO volunteers doing many of the drop-offs, will also take pressure off Wells.

Upon seeing Wells arrive at her home, Deborah Rosenbloom said the project has been remarkable, as her daughter, Kaelyn Brunton, 10, was handed a bag of fantasy-themed books.

“Miss Wells has been amazing in setting this up,” Rosenbloom said. “She’s the best librarian, and I can’t say enough about her

As she waved good-bye to Wells, Kaelyn let the librarian know that the personal visit was worthwhile.

“I’m going to go read now,” Kaelyn said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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